This week, the battle for the White House was very much the battle for the Midwest.
President Bush seems determined to win at least one of the Midwestern states he just barely missed winning four years ago: Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. (Those states have a total of 27 electoral votes, one-tenth of the number needed to win the White House.)
Bush’s average margin of defeat in those states in 2000 was only one percentage point.
On a tour Wednesday through Wisconsin farmland, Bush continued pressing his theme that the Iraq war was necessary.
He told one crowd, “Although we haven’t found the stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we were right to go into Iraq, and America is safer today because we did.”
On Tuesday, Bush visited Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Bush lost Michigan by 217,000 last time so it is not quite in the same battleground category as Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. But he and Dick Cheney are making an effort in Michigan.
Cheney and former Bush 2000 campaign rival Sen. John McCain are set to make a joint campaign appearance at a rally Friday in Lansing, Mich., underscoring both the importance of Michigan’s 17 electoral votes and the importance of McCain (who won the 2000 GOP presidential primary in Michigan).
Bush feels compelled to attack Kerry, not relying entirely on surrogates to do the job, an unusual role for an incumbent wartime president to take.
In Marquette, Mich., on Tuesday, Bush lambasted Kerry’s vote last October against $87 billion in funds for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Senator Kerry tried to explain his vote by saying this, ‘I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.’ That sure clears things up,” Bush said. “Just recently, he offered a different explanation. Yesterday, my opponent said he is proud that he and his running mate voted against funding the troops. ... members of Congress should not vote to send troops into battle, and then vote against funding them. And then brag about it.”
Edwards fires back
Partly in response to that, Kerry running mate John Edwards fired back that Bush refused to take responsibility for his errors in strategy in Iraq.
Meanwhile, the GOP suffered a setback when Senate leaders failed to arrange a vote on the marriage-defining constitutional amendment to put Kerry and Edwards on the spot. The Senate did vote on a procedural motion shelving the amendment. Kerry and Edwards skipped that vote.
But Bush surrogate Sen. George Allen, R-Va., used the vote to add to the Republican portrayal of Kerry as odd man out when it comes to social issues.
“He was one of a handful that was so extreme and so far out that he did not even want a statute to protect marriage,” Allen told reporters.
In 1996, Kerry was one of only 14 senators to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which permits states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
At the time, Kerry denounced DOMA as “fundamentally unconstitutional” and the debate over the issue as “fundamentally ugly.”
Despite his being out of step with Midwestern and Southern Democrats on DOMA and on the ban on partial birth abortion, which he voted against, this seems like Kerry’s race to lose.
Why? Because according to the customary rules of politics, an incumbent wartime president should not be in as much trouble as Bush is.
But in 2004 a lot of the usual rules do not apply. Just ask Howard Dean.