Republicans seize Democrat issues ahead of 2004 vote
July 4, 2003
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Republicans are seizing the initiative on key issues championed for decades by opposition Democrats, who fear they may run out of
causes to rally voters before next year's presidential election.
From Medicare reform approved by the Republican-led Congress, to
a 15-billion dollar anti-AIDS package announced by President George
W. Bush ahead of a visit to Africa next week, Democrats are finding
themselves pushed to the margin on a host of their own policy
The president stepped up the pressure this week with a major
speech on education -- another cause traditionally seen as a
non-starter for Republicans.
"Each child matters. We believe every child can learn," Bush
said Tuesday. "We know a more hopeful America depends on this
nation's capacity to educate each and every child."
Such issues are vitally important to Democrats, whose chances of
regaining the White House and Congress in November 2004 elections
hinge largely on convincing voters that they are the party with the
common folks' interests at heart.
For his part, Bush is eager to show he has an activist domestic
agenda, even while tackling international terrorism in Afghanistan,
Iraq and other global hot spots.
Washington-based liberal analyst Robert Borosage said Bush was
following a shrewd strategy that "does allow Republicans to
cross-dress ... on the kitchen table issues that have some force
Legislation passed last week mandating a sweeping overhaul of
Medicare, the health care plan affecting some 40 million elderly,
was particularly important.
The bill, backed by the president, helps Bush to ease the
concerns of one of the most coveted bloc of US voters.
"This takes the wind out of their (Democrats') sail," said
Republican strategist Scott Reed. "It allows Bush to have an
offensive, programmatic answer to health care and rising costs. It
takes that away from the Democratic Party."
Jumping on the bandwagon after the fact is a familiar Bush
tactic, said Washington political analyst Stuart Rothenberg.
Bush "likes to get out front on an issue, and when he finds
himself on the wrong side of it, he spins around and ends up where
he wants to be," Rothenberg said.
But if the Republicans have been guilty of sometimes
deliberately blurring their message, so have Democrats, who have
eased their party's liberal rhetoric so as not to offend a more
conservative post-September 11 America.
Presidential candidate Bob Graham told a Democratic rally last
week that the party is making a strategic mistake.
"We must remember where we've come from as Democrats ... a party
for retirement security, for jobs, for health care, for education,"
he said, adding that Democrats must emphasise traditional party
ideals to win back voters.
Democrats had hoped to benefit from two major Supreme Court
decisions last week, which were widely viewed as having advanced
gay rights and minority rights -- traditional Democratic agendas.
Nevertheless, the rulings were seen by some pundits as a setback
for Democrats, who lose two potentially galvanizing social justice
issues they had hoped would spur followers to turn out at polls.
The Republican makeover is also evident on the international
stage, as Bush travels to Africa next week -- an untraditional
destination for a conservative Republican president.
His first stop, Goree Island off the coast of Senegal, was once
a grim shipping point for enslaved Africans being sent to Europe
and the Americas.
It now serves as a memorial to the black Diaspora, and Bush's
stop there is calculated to impress African-American voters -- a
consituency the president has had little success in wooing.
Some Democratic pundits are predicting the trip will flop.
"Twenty-five percent (of African Americans) should vote
Republican, based on income. (Bush) will get five percent if he's
lucky," said liberal political analyst Robert Borosage.