Updated Sun, 12/20/2015
Tucked halfway down the first page of a May 25 article in the Washington Post titled "Bush Poll Numbers On Iraq at New Low" was a statistic that to some observers was more interesting than the headline. Between April and May, Bush's approval rating among Republicans declined almost 7%. Republicans still overwhelmingly support Bush, according to the Post (82%), but in a close race, defections among Republicans could be a significant factor.
Perhaps reflecting the trend revealed in the Post poll, members of Congress in vulnerable districts have begun distancing themselves from Bush policies. Pollster Frank Luntz commented to USA Today that Republican members of Congress "can get tarred if things don't go well" in Iraq. The continuing drop in Bush's approval ratings "creates an emotional drag" that could "make Republicans depressed and could have a negative impact on turnout," Luntz said.
Hot House Seats
Representative Heather Wilson, Republican of New Mexico has compared the Abu Ghraib prison scandal to the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam war, earning her the ire of Bush supporters and conservative commentators. But Wilson is unswayed. A former Air Force officer, Wilson remains an ardent critic of the Bush administration's handling of the investigation into abuses at Abu Ghraib. "We should be doing this directly and bluntly, and in the House we are not. It's been very disappointing to me," Wilson told the New York Times.
The New Mexico GOP state organization has been described as "in sorry shape." The Bush-Cheney coordinator for New Mexico is from out of state, but with Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson under consideration as John Kerry's running mate, observers have speculated that the national GOP presence may not help in state contests. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in Wilson's district, but Republicans have been elected since the early 1980s.
Rep. Robin Hayes' of North Carolina, and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, has called the abuse of Iraqi prisoners "disgusting" and "unacceptable." Hayes voted against the resolution to demolish the Abu Ghraib prison -- something human rights advocates have opposed on the grounds that evidence might be destroyed. Hayes' district is heavily Democratic, and his free-trade views have come under criticism from textile company executives among his constituents.
In Georgia's 12th district, Rep. Max Burns, while generally supporting the war in Iraq, has called for troops who have been there a long time to be rotated out. The district Burns represents is generally acknowledged to have been created to elect a Democrat. The Atlanta Journal Constitution noted last month that both parties are watching Burns' re-election bid closely.
But it's Rep. Bob Simmons' House district in eastern Connecticut that pollster Lutz calls a "bellwether" for the nation. Simmons is running for a third term in a Congressional district that is nationally among the most Democratic-leaning of those that elected a Republican. In the 2000 election Bush fared worse there than in any other Republican-controlled Congressional district.
And Simmons is criticizing the administration -- accusing them of "still fighting the Cold War, not the new war" against Islamic extremists. Simmons background includes ten years as a CIA spy, giving him an informed perspective on how "very damaging" the Abu Ghraib scandal has been to the national reputation. He has given indications that he believes undersecretary of Defense for intelligence Stephen Cambone should resign.
Simmons' military and CIA background serve him well in a district that includes 80,000 veterans, the Groton submarine base, and the Coast Guard academy. Five National guard units from the area have been to Iraq. But among Simmons' constituents, support for the troops does not translate into support for the war. Rich Swanson of Waterford, CT, who works with several Navy wives told USA Today, "I don't know of anyone who supports the war." Jean Church, 54, of New London, said that she was less likely to vote for Simmons because of his support for the war in Iraq. Two of her children are in the military. "I don't want to lose a son. It would kill me."
Simmons recently declined to appear with Vice President Cheney on the occasion of Cheney's address to Coast Guard Academy graduates in New London, CT. Simmons' public statement was that he didn't want to miss a vote on a defense authorization bill, although reporters pointed out that his vote was not needed for passage. While apparently avoiding Cheney, Simmons has suggested that he'd like to campaign with Sen. John McCain, who has criticized the administration on a variety of issues.
Republicans for Kerry
McCain is a revered figure among many moderate Republican voters, including those who, despite a recent NPR claim that evidence of their existence was "mostly anecdotal", identify themselves as "Republicans For Kerry."
A March 26 article in Salon.com documented the grass-roots organization that began its existence as a Yahoo group (email list), and has grown in a short time to its current membership of more than 500. The group is particularly sensitive to charges that it is a Democratic front; the informal core governing group is made of up several lifelong Republican party members, and non-Republicans are requested not to post messages.
Republican for Kerry member Peter McLaughlin, a 42-year old small business owner and volunteer firefighter from Connecticut, was a McCain intern in Arizona in 1985, and a McCain delegate from New York at the 2000 Republican Convention. "... What first attracted me to Kerry as a viable candidate was his experience in the Vietnam war," McLaughlin wrote in a message posted recently on the Republicans for Kerry '04 web site. "He not only served with distinction, 3 purple hearts for wounds in combat and the silver star, but he volunteered!"
A lifelong Republican, McLaughlin also wrote of his belief that Kerry represents traditional Republican party values better than Bush. "On the important issues of foreign policy, fiscal responsibility, tax policy, energy, the environment, media consolidation, civil liberties and trust," Kerry will be a better steward than the current administration, he suggested. "It is our hope that after this election our party will return to the roots of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt and again represent the main stream of Republican thinking...."
Far from what the Bush campaign has portrayed as Kerry's "waffling," for McLaughlin, Kerry's willingness to re-assess positions in light of changing circumstance is a sign of leadership.
Some have attacked Kerry for protesting the war after he came home from Vietnam. To me, this was an act of courage. If a leader believes strongly in an issue, they should exercise courage in pursuing it regardless of political consequences. A leader, or any person, should have the intelligence and humility to change course if they recognize that it's no longer working.
For Dan Rakowski of Sterling Heights, MI, the realization during the primary season that he agreed with many of the Democratic candidates "more than the president I supported a few short years ago" caught him by surprise. Rakowski, a 31-year old software engineer and father of three, described himself as in many ways "typical of the 'Christian Right' you often hear about in the mainstream media." "I'm an evangelical Christian, passionately pro-life and pro Second Amendment, and anti-anything that stifles free expression of religion."
Rakowski's oldest child, Jacob, age 5, was diagnosed as having regressive autism, a side-effect, Rakowski believes, of environmental toxins, including mercury, contained in a vaccination Jacob received as an infant. "As a result," Rakowski wrote, "I've become much more aware of what's in the air we breathe and water we drink."
Mercury happens to be one of the most potent neurotoxins known to man. So naturally I became outraged when a hard-left co-worker shared an article with me about how President Bush's so-called "Clear Skies Initiative," which pushes back regulations, "delaying and diluting cuts in power plants' sulfur, nitrogen and mercury pollution compared to timely enforcement of current law." (source: http://www.nrdc.org/air/pollution/fclearsk.asp)
Despite his self-identification as a member of the "Christian Right," or perhaps because of it, Rakowski wrote, "I believe that too many Christians want to simply outlaw everything that's in conflict with their belief system so they don't have to teach their children the icky details of life, or influence their society for the better." And while he wrote that he is "strongly pro-life and moderately against gay marriage," he is "tired of them being federal election issues."
A question that enjoyed active discussion on the Republicans for Kerry '04 list was Reagan's famous "Are you better off now than four years ago." For Gale Carol Georgalas of New Jersey, the answer was a resounding "No."
Georgalas, a retired systems analyst who worked on the original 911 system in New Jersey, lost one-third of her savings over the last four years -- "catastrophic for people on a fixed-income," she wrote. Georgalas acknowledged that others were worse off than she and her husband of 26 years. " We should not just read the sentence as prose but as poetry.... You is not just singular. Unlike I and me, you is also plural. Aren't we all you in that question?"
Georgalas echoed Peter McLaughlin's feeling that the Republican party has lost its way.
I am so mad because I am a Republican. If I were anything else, I would be smug about what those stupid Republicans have done to the country.... I feel responsible for the mess my party has brought to this country to the world. My problem is the right-wingnuts have stolen my party while I was waiting for someone else to fix it.
Although as yet they are somewhat disparate groups, there are a number of other Republicans for Kerry organizations with an Internet presence. A recent Google search turned up 3,400 entries, including web sites, email lists, online stores selling buttons and bumper stickers, regional groups, and even an article by the former chair of Republicans Abroad, who is supporting Kerry this year.
Moreover, there's some evidence that Republicans for Kerry are not confined to the grass roots. John Kerry's cousin, Grant Winthrop, a Republican Party loyalist who was a Gerald Ford delegate in 1976 and supported Rick Fazio's campaign against Hillary Clinton, serves on the finance committee of Kerry's New York campaign. Interviewed in mid-May, Winthrop told the New Yorker, "There isn't any official [Republicans for Kerry] organization.... It's a growing movement." Winthrop and his wife had raised $200,000 at the time the New Yorker article appeared, and twenty of his contributors were registered Republicans. Winthrop was joined at an April two-thousand-dollar-a-plate Kerry fundraiser by Theodore Roosevelt IV, namesake of one of the icons of moderate Republicanism.
Delay Applies His Experience
One faction within the Republican party is apparently out to purge it of moderates, however. The anti-tax Club for Growth lobbying group has raised funds to support right-wing candidates in primary contests against moderate incumbents. The group actively supported Patrick Toomey's unsuccessful challenge to Arlen Specter, the moderate Pennsylvania senator, and bought $170,000 worth of broadcast ads to help defeat moderate Curt Bromm in a Nebraska primary contest with Jeff Fortenberry. The Club for Growth plans to raise $15 million for similar efforts, according to Salon.com.
Former pest exterminator and now House majority leader, Tom Delay, contributed $50,000 to the Club for Growth through his political action committee. In the House, Delay has used his power to assign committee chairs to penalize representatives whose views diverge even slightly from the party line. Delay prevented Rep. Chris Shays of Connecticut from assuming the chair of the Government Reform Committee because Shays supported campaign finance reform. Rep. Marge Roukema of New Jersey left Congress after Delay denied her several committee positions. Delay, who is under investigation for allegedly funneling corporate donations to political campaigns in Texas -- illegal under Texas election law -- also supported less electable conservative candidates instead of more electable moderates in some primary races this year.
Opposition to the leadership from within the Republican party is not confined to moderates. Conservatives such as former House majority leader Dick Armey have criticized the huge increase in government spending under the Bush administration. A study by Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation estimated that government spending exceeded $20,000 per household for the first time since World War II. While conceding that additional defense spending was necessary after September 11, 2001, Armey took issue with the Bush Medicare bill (the largest entitlement program since the Johnson administration), record deficits, and corporate farm subsidies (which Armey fought to kill during his tenure).
"We're letting the political hacks overrule the policy wonks in this town," Armey complained to Salon.com's Mary Jacoby, recently. Echoing members of Republicans for Kerry '04, Armey complained that Republican principles are being compromised in the pursuit of short term political objectives. The tactic may backfire, Armey warned, if fiscal conservatives stay home on election day.
But in the faith-based policy world of Tom Delay and George W. Bush, there's apparently no room for even reasoned conservative criticism. During the Medicare bill debate, for instance, Delay declared the American Enterprise Institute's research "uninformed." (AEI's assertion that the administration had underestimated the measure's cost turned out to be true.) Delay also publicly criticized Armey for saying that high deficits would complicate the task of making the tax cuts permanent -- something Armey regarded as obvious.
As he traveled through the country last fall promoting a book, Armey found conservatives throughout the country discouraged by the administration's prodigal spending. "Wherever I went," Armey told Jacoby, "I had people who were the natural constituency of the Republican Party say, 'Oh, the heck with it. I'll just stay home.'"
Conservatives for Kerry?
Recent comments by some major conservative donors are consistent with Armey's report. In an interview with the New York Times, Tucker Andersen, a key supporter of the conservative Club for Growth, said that he planned not to support Bush financially or with his vote, and believed that another ten leading members of the group might do the same. "There is no spending program that this administration doesn't like," he said. "Except for the tax cut, I can't find that much to support."
Other Club for Growth members oppose the administration's conduct of the war in Iraq, and the Patriot Act, which they believe violates individual rights. "The more libertarian-leaning Republicans are by far the ones who are the most angry at Bush," Club for Growth president Stephen Moore told the Times.
Tucker Andersen went on to suggest that proponents of limited government might be better off with a Democrat in the White House, and Republicans in control of one house of Congress, because each side would block new programs for the other.
Whether because they share Andersen's obstructionist view, or for other reasons 19% of self-identified conservatives surveyed by the Zogby organization in mid-May said they supported John Kerry. Even though 71% said they support Bush, "That's really intriguing to me," pollster John Zogby observed, "because the president and the administration have spent the last four years shoring up their conservative base.... [T]he tide may be going back out for them."
Supporters to the Right of Them, Supporters to the Left of Them
Kerry stands to gain some support from the left, as well. With the slogan "Register Green. Vote Kerry. Beat Bush." a group calling itself Greens for Kerry urges voters in swing states to "vote strategically" and support Kerry. In indirect refutation of Ralph Nader's claim that there are no significant differences between Bush and Kerry, the Greens for Kerry web site features a quote from Noam Chomsky, a leading voice on the left: " ...there are differences (between Kerry and Bush). In a system of immense power, small differences can translate into large outcomes." The site also features a concise recap of Kerry's voting record on issues important to Greens, citing lifetime ratings of 90% from the League of Conservation Voters, 90% from the AFL-CIO, and 100% from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and the National Education Association.
The Greens for Kerry web site notes that even Ralph Nader has made statements in support of John Kerry
Well, he's certainly better than Bush.... He's got a lot of good in him, but there's got to be a lot of good citizens on his back to push him.
Whether Republican defections, support from disenchanted conservatives, and strategically voting Greens constitute enough "good citizens" to push Kerry into the White House, of course, remains to be seen. But in a close race, they just might make the difference.
"Rep. Max Burns: On the Run, Again" Morning Edition. NPR 10 Jan. 2003
Jacobs, Sonji "ELECTION 2004: Cheney stumps for Georgia congressman" Atlanta Journal Constitution 18 May 2004
"Congressional Rollcall" Winston-Salem Journal 23 May 2004
DavidNYC "Outsiders Running NM GOP Efforts (Into the Ground, Hopefully)" Swing State Project. 16 Feb. 2004
"Romero, King win in Democratic congressional contests" USA Today 3 Jun. 2004
"The Nation; Handicapping the Hot Races for Congress " New York Times 3 Nov. 2002
Stone, Andrea "Some Republicans fear Iraq will color campaigns" USA Today 28 May 2004
"Kerry Courts Dissatisfied Republicans" Morning Edition. NPR. 2 Jun. 2004
Goldberg, Michelle and Paul J. Caffera"Republicans for Kerry?" Salon.com 26 Mar. 2004
Konigsberg, Eric "A Kerry Republican" New Yorker 17 May 2004
Thompson, Nicholas "The exterminator" Salon.com. Sep. 2003
Jacoby, Mary "House divided" Salon.com. 24 May 2004
Kirkpatrick, David D. "Some Big Conservative Donors, Unhappy With Bush, Say They Won't Back His Campaign" New York Times 4 Jun. 2004
Novak, Robert "Bush's shaky base" TownHall.com. 20 May 2004
Novak, Robert "Pentago fall guy" TownHall.com. 15 May 2004
Republicans for Kerry Bumper Stickers
San Francisco East Bay Republicans for Kerry
Greens for Kerry