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2004 Presidential Election

In 2003, ten people were seeking to become the Democratic candidate for president. Among them was John Kerry, a senator from the state of Massachusetts. Another was Howard Dean, a doctor and former governor of Vermont. There was John Edwards, a lawyer and first-term senator from North Carolina. Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut also was seeking the nomination. In 2000, Senator Lieberman had been the Democratic candidate for vice president. Another senator and a former senator were also seeking the nomination. So were two members of the House of Representatives, a former general and a civil rights activist. Former Vice President Al Gore was not among the candidates.

This year, two of the nine Democratic candidates were not competing in Iowa. They were retired Army General Wesley Clark and Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman. They are saving their money and energy for later events. Iowa public opinion changes from day to day. But Howard Dean, Congressman Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts all had strong support. Public opinion research shows that Senator John Edwards of North Carolina and Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio have little chance to win in Iowa. The same can be said for the Reverend Al Sharpton of New York and former Senator Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois.

Howard Dean is a medical doctor. He served in the Vermont House of Representatives and later as lieutenant governor. Since he opened his campaign, supporters have provided him with large amounts of money through the Internet. He raised at least fifteen-million dollars in the last three months alone.

Wesley Clark entered the competition several months after the other candidates. But some political experts believed he had the best chance against Doctor Dean. Wesley Clark earned military honors in the Vietnam War. And he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in England. General Clark rose in leadership positions in the Army. Before retiring, he served as NATO commander. He led NATO troops during the operations against Serbian forces in Kosovo.

In the Iowa caucuses -- the first step in the nominating process, in January 2004, John Kerry won with thirty-eight percent of the state's delegates. John Edwards finished second with thirty-two percent. Howard Dean was third with just eighteen percent. Senator Kerry continued to win delegates and gain support in other states. Several candidates, including former Governor Dean, withdrew from the campaign. In early March, Senator Edwards also withdrew. He did so after Senator Kerry won victories in nine state caucuses and primary elections that were held on the same day.

The Massachusetts senator named John Edwards as his choice for vice president. The combination of John Kerry and John Edwards balanced the Democratic ticket in several ways. Senator Kerry was considered a liberal. He came from the Northeast. Senator Edwards was considered more moderate. He came from the South. Kerry was Roman Catholic. Edwards was Protestant.

By mid-2004, with the United States facing a violent insurgency in Iraq and considerable foreign opposition to the war there, the country appeared as sharply divided as it had been four years earlier. Public opinion research showed that a majority of Americans approve of the job George W. Bush is doing as president. Political experts noted that the improving economy and the capture of Saddam Hussein have helped those approval ratings.

To challenge President Bush, the Democrats nominated Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts. Senator Kerry officially received the Democratic Party nomination for president at the party's convention in Boston. JOHN KERRY: "I'm John Kerry, and I'm reporting for duty. We have it in our power to change the world, but only if we're true to our ideals. And that starts by telling the truth to the American people. As president, that is my first pledge to you tonight. As president, I will restore trust and credibility to the White House."

Kerry’s record as a decorated Vietnam veteran, his long experience in Washington, his dignified demeanor, and his skills as a speaker all appeared to make him the ideal candidate to unite his party. John Kerry received many honors for his military service during the Vietnam War. But later he opposed that war. He was now serving his fourth term in the Senate. As president, he said he would try to reduce American dependence on oil from the Middle East. He said his plan also would create a half-million jobs in new energy industries. His initial campaign strategy was to avoid deep Democratic divisions over the war by emphasizing his personal record as a Vietnam combatant who presumably could manage the Iraq conflict better than Bush.

In the 2004 campaign, Bush strategist Karl Rove sought to define Democratic candidate John Kerry in a negative light before voters had a chance to make up their own minds. The Republicans highlighted his apparently contradictory votes of first authorizing the president to invade Iraq, then voting against an important appropriation for the war. A group of Vietnam veterans attacked Kerry’s military record and subsequent anti-war activism. The strategy was effective in that it put Kerry on the defensive over what was his supposed strength — his military service during the Vietnam War. Early in the campaign, opponents of John Kerry's candidacy formed a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Its leader was a military veteran who, like Kerry, fought in the Vietnam War. The group argued that the senator was unfit to serve as president because of comments he made about his military service and his activism in the anti-Vietnam war movement. TV COMMERCIAL: "John Kerry gave the enemy for free what I and many of my comrades in North Vietnam in the prison camps took torture to avoid saying." The group even questioned the combat medals awarded to Mister Kerry.

Other Vietnam veterans, including several who had served with Kerry, denounced the charges against him as completely false. Some people believed the accusations and his campaign's delay in answering them had an important effect on the results of the election.

Bush, by contrast, portrayed himself as frank and consistent in speech and deed, a man of action willing to take all necessary steps to protect the country. He stressed his record of tax cuts and education reform and appealed strongly to supporters of traditional values and morality. Public opinion polls suggested that Kerry gained some ground following the first of three debates, but the challenger failed to erode the incumbent’s core support. As in 2000, Bush registered strong majorities among Americans who attended religious services at least once a week and increased from 2000 his majority among Christian evangelical voters.

Senator Kerry and President Bush debated three times on national television. They campaigned hard across the country. Foreign policy was the major issue during the campaign. Mister Bush centered his campaign on national security. He said he was the best candidate to keep America safe from terrorists. He said Americans could trust him to be strong against terrorism. He presented himself as a decisive leader. He said Senator Kerry had changed positions on issues and would be unsure in the face of danger. In 2002, the Senator had voted to give President Bush the power to use force against Iraq. But Mister Kerry now criticized the way the Iraqi conflict was being fought. The organizational tempo of the campaign was as frenetic as its rhetorical pace. Both sides excelled at getting out their supporters; the total popular vote was approximately 20 percent higher than it had been in 2000. Bush won by 51 percent to 48 percent, with the remaining 1 percent going to Ralph Nader and a number of other independent candidates. Kerry seemed to have been unsuccessful in convincing a majority that he possessed a satisfactory strategy to end the war. The Republicans also scored small, but important gains in Congress.

The vote was especially close in the state of Ohio. Kerry supporters reported problems with voting machines. They also said many people were illegally prevented from voting. The state had enough electoral votes to decide the winner of the presidential election. But the day after the voting, Senator Kerry decided not to question President Bush's win in Ohio.

As George W. Bush began his second term, the United States faced challenges aplenty: the situation in Iraq, stresses within the Atlantic alliance, in part over Iraq, increasing budget deficits, the escalating cost of social entitlements, and a shaky currency. The electorate remained deeply divided. The United States in the past had thrived on such crises. Whether it would in the future remained to be seen.

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Page last modified: 24-09-2017 18:56:10 ZULU