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Small-town Americans spurned Kerry

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

Washington — Whether he knew it or not, Karl Rove, the master strategist of George W. Bush's political victories, was bathed in praise yesterday as the President made his acceptance speech at the Ronald Reagan Center.

"The genius of the Bush campaign is that they took their extremely narrow base in 2000, and they focused their energies on boosting participation in Republican-leaning areas," said Tom Riehle, president of Ipsos-Public Affairs, a Washington polling firm. "It was very targeted."

Using opposition to same-sex marriage and other emotional issues such as abortion, as well as concerns over security, Mr. Rove managed to make sure these voters turned out in droves on election day. He sought out millions of uninterested voters and transformed them into enthusiastic Bush backers.

The results were striking, particularly in places like the I-4 corridor from Tampa to Orlando and Daytona Beach. "Every one of the counties in that broad swath of Central Florida did better for Bush this time than last," Mr. Riehle said.

"Rove's strategy from the beginning was to get out the base," said Brian Russell, who teaches political economy at Georgetown University. "I really think that they had the most effective get-out-the-vote machine."

Prof. Russell was struck by the fact that 22 per cent of voters on Tuesday told exit polls that they believed moral values were the most important issue in the election, more important than the economy and terrorism, which were emphasized by the Democrats.

"George Bush tapped into a vein that's a lot richer than a lot of people would have thought," he said.

Throughout the campaign, Mr. Bush constantly referred to the role of faith and prayer in his personal life and in his presidency. One of his campaign billboards read simply, "One nation under God. Bush-Cheney 04."

Marshall Whittman, a onetime Republican aide who is now a senior fellow at the Democratic Leadership Council, said the Republicans have learned how to use a range of cultural issues to build electoral support.

"It's a whole raft of issues including faith and flag and family, and the Republicans are exceedingly adept at playing that card. These issues managed to upstage economic issues like jobs and health care.

"For many Americans, even for low-income Americans, these cultural issues are far more salient than economic issues," Mr. Whittman continued, noting that Mr. Bush's support among senior citizens increased on Tuesday even though Republicans should have been vulnerable on proposals to shake up social security, the federal pension system.

Helping the Bush campaign on values was the fact that 11 states included on the ballot propositions banning gay marriage, all of which received substantial support. The marriage proposition in Ohio was seen as particularly effective in encouraging evangelical Christians to work actively for Mr. Bush's re-election.

"People came to the polls to vote to uphold traditional marriage and they stayed to vote for George Bush," said David Frum, a former Bush adviser who is now a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Mr. Frum denied that the Republicans had exploited the issue for political purposes, blaming the Massachusetts court decision permitting gay marriage for forcing the issue on to the agenda. He accused the media of attempting to tar socially conservative voters as extremists for daring to oppose gay marriage.

"From the point of the voting mass of the American public, the extreme position was to be in favour of this thing, not to be in favour of marriage as it has existed for the past 2,000 years."

Evangelical Protestants were overwhelmingly favourable toward Mr. Bush and are believed to have played a major role in assuring that there was record turnout in six states, all in the South.

Political analyst Chuck Cook said the problem for the Democrats is that they have failed to connect with small-town Americans, who tend to be quite religious.

"The Democrats aren't connecting with these voters, and they have to find a way of doing it," he said.

Peverill Squire, a political scientist at the University of Iowa, said the Republicans were able to turn a narrow win in the state for Democrat Al Gore in 2000 into a small victory for Mr. Bush on Tuesday by increasing their vote in rural areas and small towns.

"The Republicans were able to mobilize their rural constituency most on values . . . and this in face of an agricultural economy that's not terrific," Prof. Squire said. "The people in small towns and on farms stayed with the Republicans largely because of concerns over larger social issues."

Mr. Whittman, the Democratic analyst, said the importance of cultural issues in vast stretches of the South and West remains a major challenge for his party. "It's shrinking the electoral map for the Democrats."

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