Friday, May 25, 2012

2012: A 2004 Election Rerun?

It's always tempting to look at past elections for signs of how this year's will go.  Republicans were hoping for a rerun of the 2008 Obama-Clinton primary cliffhanger by having proportional primaries instead of winner take all contests for delegates.  What happened instead was a sort of rerun of the 2004 democratic primary contest.  Think back to the spring of 2004, Barack Obama was an unknown State Senator from Illinois and Sarah Palin was a former sports reporter-beauty queen in her first term as Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.  

John Kerry was an uncharismatic snooty Senator from Massachusetts with a lot of money (his wife the ketchup heiress' money really).  Like Mitt Romney on Healthcare, Kerry thought he had to play both sides of the fence of the Iraq war to win reelection and play down his past as an anti_Vietnam War protester.  His main challenger then was John Edwards, a young charismatic North Carolina Senator who gave up his first term to run for President who wasn't born rich but earned millions as a trial lawyer.  With a crowded but weak field, Edwards survived the other contenders by being charismatic and vague in just the right way (Kucinich was that year's Ron Paul, Wesley Clark that year's Gingrich, and Al Sharpton that year's Rick Perry/Gingrich/Bachmann). Edwards only won two primaries but finished a strong second in many others and was picked as Kerry's running mate against George W. Bush.

The main issues of that election were the economy, the war in Iraq, abortion, the swift boat veterans, and the surprise wedge issue, same sex marriage.  In the 2004 exit poll voters said the most important issue was 'Moral Values' as can be seen in the table below.  In 11 states (9 of which voted for Bush) ballot measures passed which banned same sex marriage.  Most of these measures occurred in the safe states for Bush and gave him higher turnouts there which in turn gave him a win in the popular vote.  Pundits saw this as a sign that voters were more concerned about this issue than the others when the term moral values is very ambiguous. War, the economy, health care, and terrorism can all be moral issues.

Taxes (5%)
43% 0%
Education (4%)
73% *
Iraq (15%)
73% 0%
Terrorism (19%)
14% 0%
Economy/Jobs (20%)
80% 0%
Moral Values (22%)
18% 1%
Health Care (8%)
77% *

This time around, Obama seems to be using support for same sex marriage as a wedge issue against the wealthy uncharismatic former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.  He was forced to pander to the tea party/Christian conservatives during the primaries because of Santorum's challenge and Obama seems to hope to keep him cornered just as he is on healthcare.  

Other issues of this campaign are the economy, the war in Afghanistan (little discussed in 2004)  the death of bin Laden (Saddam Hussein was captured and put on some kind of trial before being executed), health care (Romney did enact the beginning of Obamacare), and as always the economy.  The election looks to be close and hopefully the exit polls will provide a clue about how well the strategies work.  Romney's choice of a running mate should reflect how concerned he is about the challenges on the culture wars, especially if he picks Santorum or a clone of him.

**Related Posts**

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Deep South Primaries


Santorum's "Bounce"