How Kerry Can Win
In 1992, when Perot drew 19 percent of the November vote, George Bush Senior got only about 80 percent of the Republican vote. Most of the "unbase" and part of the base deserted. If McCain had been well funded in 2000, he might have been able to get 30-40 percent in GOP primaries nationally, and even without serious money, he did win the primaries in seven states, including New Hampshire, Michigan and Connecticut. Sticking with the idea that the GOP "unbase" is somewhere between 20 percent and 25 percent, Bush can afford to lose 5 to 7 percent of the overall Republican electorate. But if he loses 10 percent, he's probably done for, and if he drops 15 percent, he's finished.
It could happen. Back in late winter, when Kerry still had a winner's aura from the primaries, one CBS News poll showed 11 percent of those who had voted for Bush in 2000 were unprepared to do so in 2004. That was enough to put Kerry ahead, at least until the GOP's spring advertising blitz.
Kerry looked better by late June, but part of the reason for Kerry's--and the Democrats'--failure to capitalize on Bush's weaknesses is that they seem unable to decide between two very different strategies. One might be called the Wall Street strategy, which includes rhetoric about failed policies in Iraq and GOP tax cuts that pander to the rich, but avoids most specifics or bold indictments of Bush failure. Critiques of US economic polarization, NAFTA or globalization are sidestepped, and the example of Clinton-era federal deficit reduction so admired by Wall Street is held up. Indeed, Kerry's demeanor is appropriate to a man married into one of the biggest US corporate fortunes.
It is plausible to think that this will enable Kerry to draw a slightly improved vote among upper-middle-class and even fat-cat Republicans disenchanted with Bush as an incompetent cowboy who has bungled Iraq and pandered to Falwell, Robertson and Bob Jones University. Pinstriped caution has already helped the Massachusetts Senator to haul in record levels of Democratic contributions, some from Republicans and independents. Still, for all its success in Manhattan, the Hamptons and Santa Barbara, this is not a strategy that resonates with swing voters in battleground states from Ohio to New Mexico.
The alternative--at once bolder and riskier, but with a larger potential electorate--involves targeting the ordinary Republicans who rejected at least one generation of Bushes to back Perot or McCain. These voters--not a few thousand elites but millions of the rank and file--are concentrated in the middle-class precincts of swing states like Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Colorado and the Pacific Coast.
Even by the campaign's own polls, it is precisely the Perot-McCain states that Kerry most needs to win. For Democratic and left-tilting progressives, the second benefit is luring voters drawn to the outsider economics of Perot and McCain, not to the insider calculations of big donors and fundraisers like former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. It is the Perot-McCain constituency, more than the elite Democratic entente, that could best catalyze a bipartisan progressive coalition. A partial analogy, at least, can be made to the role that GOP progressives like George Norris, Hiram Johnson and Robert La Follette Jr. played during the 1930s in launching the New Deal. Convincing John McCain to run for Vice President in a Kerry fusion ticket would have been the strongest tactic, but Edwards is a persuasive alternative. Now for Kerry to repeat the boldness and refreshing candor would be an important further change of pace.