To judge from the mainstream media, George W. Bush and the Republicans are in trouble. Bush's job ratings are lowerthough just a bit lowerthan they were during the 2004 campaign. Congress's job rating has fallen sharply since the beginning of the year. The mainstream media have been giving lavish coverage to the Democrats' pummeling of Bush and the Republicans on issue after issuethe struggle over confirmation of appellate federal judges, the fight over the nomination of John Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations, the supposed ethics problems of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the charges by Amnesty International and Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin that the Guantanamo Bay prison camp is another gulag. Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean has been lambasting the Republicans in what even some Democrats consider extravagant language.
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Yet polls are one thing and election results are anotheras the 2004 campaign showed. And one thing the polls can't measure is turnout. In the 2004 election, turnout proved to be crucial. Total turnout was up 16 percent from 2000a historic increase. John Kerry received 16 percent more votes than Al Gore did in 2000. George W. Bush received 23 percent more votes than he did four years before. The mainstream media devoted much attention to Democratic turnout effortsa legitimate storyand in fact the Democratic turnout drive was very successful. But the Bush Cheney '04 turnout drive, to which the mainstream media gave very little coverage, was even more successful.
In my view, the big question about the 2006 and 2008 elections will once again be turnout. To judge from the mainstream media coverage in 2005, you might conclude that Democrats, frothing with hatred of George W. Bush, will turn out in large numbers while disheartened Republicans will not.
But the actual election results seem to tell another story. I am referring to the results in the New Jersey and Virginia primary elections held earlier this month. In both primaries, more Republicans voted than Democrats.
In New Jersey, which favored Kerry over Bush by a 53-to-46 percent margin, 298,000 voted in the Republican primary for governor and 229,000 voted in the Democratic primary for governor. That means that Republicans accounted for 57 percent of the total turnout. New Jersey is a party registration state; about 33 percent of registered Republicans voted and about 20 percent of registered Democrats. These results should be used with some caution, however, because the Republicans had a serious contest, between Douglas Forrester and Bret Schundler, while the Democratic nominee, Sen. Jon Corzine, had no serious competition. Nonetheless, this is not a particularly good omen for the Democrats in November.
In Virginia, which does not have party registration, the only office for which both parties had contests was lieutenant governor. Some 169,000 Virginians voted in the Republican primary and 114,000 in the Democratic primary: Sixty percent of the two-party vote was cast for Republicans in a state that Bush carried by a 54-to-45 percent margin. Republicans cast 59 percent of the votes in the three congressional districts in Northern Virginia, which Kerry carried, and 60 percent of the vote in the other eight districts. Democrats got the lion's share of the vote in the black-majority Third District and the Arlington-Alexandria Eighth District, the two districts John Kerry carried; they also got 59 percent of the votes in the Ninth District in southwestern Virginia. But in five districts, 75 percent or more of the votes were cast for Republicans. And in the suburban Northern Virginia 11th District, which Bush carried by only a 50-to-49 percent margin, 62 percent of the votes were cast for Republicans.
This does not ensure that the Republicans will sweep Virginia in the November 2005 Virginia election, but it is a good sign for themand was a pleasant surprise to some knowledgeable Republican insiders. More important, the Virginia results and perhaps the New Jersey results suggest that the balance of enthusiasm, which worked for Republicans in 2004, may still be working in their favormainstream media coverage to the contrary notwithstanding.