Archive for Friday, July 18, 2003

Family ties fall in campaign strategy

July 18, 2003


Like father, like son? Well, not exactly.

To be sure, many Democrats hope and some Republicans fear the second President Bush could emulate his father's dubious example. Beset by economic woes, he went from being the popular liberator of Kuwait to a defeated former president.

There are some surface similarities.

But if there is any doubt that George W. Bush is determined to avoid his father's fate, fund-raisers this weekend in Dallas and Houston provide important evidence.

He is making the same stops the elder Bush made when he began his 1992 fund raising -- with two major exceptions.

The first President Bush went prospecting in Texas at the end of October 1991, one year before the next election. The second President Bush is coming in mid-July, 3 1/2 months earlier.

That trip kicked off the father's re-election fund raising. The son already has held a half-dozen fund-raisers from coast to coast.

The early start reflects his determination to avoid what happened when his father delayed the start of his campaign because of what at least one former aide said was a diminished enthusiasm for re-election after a thyroid illness in the spring of 1991.

That determination is just one difference. Here are others:

  • The first President Bush had to run for re-election without his top 1988 strategist, the late Lee Atwater, who died of brain cancer in March 1991.

But the current president's chief strategist, Karl Rove, is very much in command of the Bush political apparatus.

Unlike his father, this President Bush enjoys campaigning.

  • Despite continuing turmoil in Iraq, the continuing focus on the U.S. role contains some good news for Bush. It keeps attention on national security, the political strength for the son as for the father, and relegates the economy and the Democratic domestic agenda to secondary status.

Those issues surely will be prominent next year, especially if the long-promised economic rebound is delayed or cut short. But the president still will be able to stress the war on terrorism, which gave his presidency its biggest boost.

In 1992, the election was fought on domestic terrain and on the inability of the first President Bush to end a lingering recession.

  • Two other factors helped make the first President Bush an early odds-on favorite: the late start of the Democratic race and the seeming lack of a strong candidate when leading party figures decided not to run.

Only well into 1992 did it become clear that Bill Clinton was a dynamic candidate.

While the 2004 Democratic race has gone on for some time, there is little sign of a candidate with Clinton's skills and appeal. Indeed, the best natural politician in this contest is Bush, something that never would have been said about his father.

  • Finally, the prospect that Ralph Nader will reprise his 2000 bid could help Bush by draining off normally Democratic votes. The longtime consumer advocate says exit polls show his 2000 vote came 40 percent from Democrats, 25 percent from Republicans and the rest from people who otherwise wouldn't have voted.

By contrast, exit polls after the 1992 election showed that Ross Perot's vote, while inherently more Republican, would have split almost equally between Bush and Clinton had the Dallas computer magnate decided against running.

Bush can enter his 2004 re-election race with considerable confidence that the stars are aligned for him to succeed where his father failed.

Carl P. Leubsdorf is Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News.

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