Jewish World Review April 22, 2004 / 1 Iyar, 5764
Bush must start appealing to the estrogen vote
The presidential race seems to have settled into a stalemate as George W. Bush's negative ads were blunted by the daily reports of American combat deaths in Iraq.
While Iraq exploded, voters stopped focusing on whether Sen. John Kerry was too liberal and their attention was riveted on Bush's quagmire in Iraq.
It's likely that Kerry (D-Mass.) has now acquired a measure of immunity to the Bush attacks, and the president has lost the early opportunity to define Kerry before the Democrat can acquire a hold on half of the nation's voters. He has to break the tie that most daily tracking polls indicate. Undecided voters always vote against the incumbent, and downscale Democrats come home to their party as Election Day approaches.
The 45-45 tie that Rasmussen reports in his polling will probably translate into a seven- or eight-point Kerry win if Bush can't change the numbers before Election Day. A comparison of the final tracking polls with the actual results in the presidential elections of 1964, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1992 and 1996 races in which an incumbent president was seeking re-election shows that more than 85 percent of the undecided voters eventually went to the challenger even when it was hopeless types like Sens. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) and George McGovern (D-S.D.).
Key to the president's problems is his inability to explain his strategy in the war on terror to women voters.
Terrorism is Bush's key issue. It is over this question that he must win re-election.
But he has only made his case to men and has left women alienated and unenthusiastic about his policies.
His rhetoric, on display in last week's press conference, is entirely too male-oriented, with its macho toughness and militaristic pledge to honor the "cause of the fallen."
That's no way to get women voters.
The two key themes that characterize female views of the war on terror are domestic safety and the need for international cooperation. Rasmussen reports that while men say they feel safer after Sept. 11 by 15 points (51-36), women do not feel safer (41-42).
Asked whether they would give priority to "letting terrorists know we will fight back aggressively" or to "working with other nations," men want to fight by 53-41 while women seek cooperation as their priority by 54-36 a gender gap of 30 points!
But much of Bush's problem is linguistic. He needs to develop a war-on-terror equivalent of his highly successful 2000 rhetoric about being a compassionate conservative committed to leaving no child behind.
Women are a lot less interested in forcing democracy on Iraq than they are in preventing suffering there and promoting safety here.
While National Security Council apparatchiks want him to speak of American credibility, and the military will press for stand-firm posturing, women want to know how this war will make their families at home safer.
They want to hear about values and human stories. Bush needs to go back to the evils of Saddam Hussein and explain what this war is all about and needs to summon the memories of Sept. 11 to prove its importance.
Bush's Texan delivery won't cut it. He's got to go deeper into the human logic of the war on terror and make people feel the ultimate stakes in preventing human misery and suffering.
Unlike Clinton, Bush is not a president who lets polls determine his policy. But he should, at the very least, let them influence his presentation, style and language.
His handlers need to bring in good speech coaches who can teach him the words and inflections he needs to sell the war on terror to women.
Unless he can do so, he will find his efforts to break the stalemate into which this election has settled obstructed by the barriers of ethnicity and gender. There are not enough white men to re-elect Bush and keep him from suffering the fate of his father.
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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, Off with Their Heads: Traitors, Crooks & Obstructionists in American Politics, Media & Business" Comment by clicking here.
© 2004, Dick Morris