NELSON: And we’ll get to that in just a minute, but I wonder, what is it that Bush did differently or had his organization do differently in 2004, to bring about that desired result?
ROZELL: Right. Well, I think there was a greater effort to connect with other campaigns, Senate campaigns, that Bush was not running completely separate from people who are running down-ticket. So there was a lot of coordination going on between [01:00:00] the presidential campaign effort and the legislative races in the House, and especially the Senate. The President was out there campaigning with candidates who were running in open seats, for example, in a number of states, and I think he was directing a lot of resources to states where he could make a difference potentially, to the outcome not only of his numbers in the Electoral College, but also for a number of candidates who needed a boost in the election.
NELSON: And the real gains in the Senate that year, came in the region that you and Charles Bullock have published a book on, updated pretty much every four years, The New Politics of the Old South. The gains–five Democratically held open seats in the South. The Republicans [01:01:00] won all five.
ROZELL: Right. I’m not remembering the numbers, I apologize, but I believe that Bush ran behind a number of those Republicans who ran in the open seats? In other words, there was a coattails effect for sure, but there was somewhat, perhaps a reverse coattails effect too that, you know, Republican candidates who did very well in the statewide races in the southern states, along with the referenda, anti-gay marriage referenda in a number of states, these were all vehicles for boosting the conservative Republican turnout that had the effect of also helping the Bush campaign.
NELSON: The election, as you say, allows Bush to claim, I’ve got political capital. [01:02:00] The political capital to do what? Because as we know, none of his second term legislative initiatives, major ones at least, really went very far.
ROZELL: Right, yeah, well that’s exactly right. I think it’s well acknowledged that he made a very big mistake starting his second term with Social Security reform. It had not been a key issue in the 2004 election cycle and yet again, the religious conservatives in the Republican Party, who had been told time and again, when a Republican is elected, wait your turn, your issues will come later, we need to work on the economy, we need to work on these other issues first, we don’t want to get into the divisive issues. They were ready in early 2005. They felt that was their time, and then to see Social Security reform go to the front of the agenda, I think deeply disappointed [01:03:00] some of the key groups of Bush’s own electoral constituency, who did not feel very strongly on that issue and in many cases were not supportive of the President on that issue. That puzzled many political observers, why he put that issue out there as the one that would frame this sort of honeymoon period of his second term. I think it’s well acknowledged, that was a big mistake.
NELSON: It’s not something he really talked about in the reelection campaign. Was it?
ROZELL: That’s right. No, it wasn’t. He didn’t talk about that issue in the campaign very much at all. He did mention occasionally, about giving people more control over their retirement money, but it wasn’t so specific. And then I think once, as you know, people saw some of the details and heard some analyses of what this would mean, to privatize [01:04:00] even a portion of the Social Security funds, and having that followed by, a couple years later, some real trouble in the stock market, of course killed the issue in American politics, I think for a very, very long time.
NELSON: We’ve been talking a lot about domestic/moral issues. A lot of people look at the 2004 election and say it was really a national security election.
NELSON: Bush got reelected because of the war on terror, and Kerry came as close as he did because of declining support for the war in Iraq, and that was really what the election was about. How does that analysis square with what we’ve been talking about?
ROZELL: Well, that was a key issue in the election, no doubt about it, and given the closeness of the election, right, a hundred-thirty-thousand votes in one big state, [01:05:00] one can claim a number of different issues were decisive in the election. You had mentioned before, the Catholic voters, and that Bush won the Catholic vote. His margin among Catholics in Ohio was bigger than his statewide margin. So you could say the Catholic vote was the key to his victory, you could say security issues were the key to his victory, because that was, I believe second, on the list of those six topical areas in the exit poll, close behind moral values. Bush did very well, I recall, with those who said that security issues were paramount in their voting decision. There was the bin Laden tape of course, just a few days before the election, which I think probably, although it was meant to tweak Bush, probably helped him. Yeah. [01:06:00]
NELSON: Bush was, as you point out, in The Values Campaign, Bush was one of a series of presidents, starting with Carter, from southern states. I mean, all but who in that period? Reagan.
NELSON: Were southerners. What do you make of that?
ROZELL: Yeah. Well, the South of course, is absolutely key in the Electoral College, as you know. What was once the solid Democratic South of course, has become a much more Republican-leaning region of the country, and I think Democrats recognize for sure, that holding down their losses in the South is absolutely key to winning the presidency. It used to be said that winning the South was key for Democrats, but Bill Clinton and Al Gore [01:07:00] proved that wrong. They proved that for a Democrat, the ticket just has to hold down its losses in the South, in order to get the 270 or better in the Electoral College. So it is, I think, very important that the party be able to appeal to southern voters, however it may do so. Of course, some felt that Barack Obama would not be able to appeal to voters in the South, but again, he was able to hold down the party’s losses in that region of the country, due to I think more demographic shifting that has taken place over the past decade in sort of the border-area South states, as opposed to the deeper South states, you know Virginia and North Carolina, which have become most prominently more two-party competitive states. [01:08:00] Virginia used to be the most Republican voting state in the country in presidential election campaigns and now it’s turned blue in two election cycles.