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An Entire Year of Campaigning...

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                   January 15, 2008

An Entire Year of Campaigning (So Far)
By George Will

WASHINGTON - The first year of the 2008 campaign -- think 
about that -- has clearly established that the Republican 
Party's prospects are cloudy. In the first two major 
contests, Mike Huckabee has finished first and third, John 
McCain fourth and first, Romney second twice. Rudy Giuliani 
has been treading water, waiting for Florida, which on 
Jan. 29 will allocate more convention delegates (114) than 
Iowa, Wyoming and New Hampshire have combined (92). So, 
clinging to cliches as to a lifeline, Republicans 
congratulate themselves on how evenly the party's 
strengths, such as they are, are spread among their 

But although only one-third of 1 percent of the national 
electorate -- those who have participated in the Iowa, 
Wyoming and New Hampshire nominating events -- have spoken, 
the Democrats have even more reason than they did three 
weeks ago to look forward to a rollicking November. 
Realistic Republicans are looking for shelter. 


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Nov. 4 could be their most disagreeable day since Nov. 3, 
1964. Actually, this November could be even worse because 
in 1964 Barry Goldwater's loss of 44 states served a 
purpose, the ideological reorientation and revitalization 
of the party. Which Republican candidate this year could 
produce a similarly constructive loss? 

Today, all the usual indicators are dismal for Republicans. 
If that sweeping assertion seems counterintuitive, produce 
a counterexample. The adverse indicators include: shifts 
in voters' identifications with the two parties (Democrats 
now 50 percent, Republicans 36 percent); the tendency of 
independents (they favored Democratic candidates by 18 
points in 2006); the fact that Democrats hold a majority 
of congressional seats in states with 303 electoral votes; 
the Democrats' strength and the Republicans' relative 
weakness in fundraising; the percentage of Americans who 
think the country is on the "wrong track"; the Republicans' 
enthusiasm deficit relative to Democrats' embrace of 
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, one of whom will be 

Iowa and New Hampshire were two of the three states (New 
Mexico was the third) which changed partisan alignment 
between 2000 and 2004 -- Iowa turning red, New Hampshire 
blue. This month, Democratic participation was twice the 
Republican participation in Iowa and almost 22 percent 
higher in New Hampshire. George W. Bush won Iowa by just 
0.67 percent of the vote. Whomever the Republicans nominate 
should assume that he must replace Iowa's seven electoral 
votes if he is to reach Bush's 2004 total of 286. 


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Republicans try to take comfort from the fact that 61 
Democratic members of Congress represent districts that 
President Bush carried in 2004. But 37 of those won 
with at least 55 percent of the vote. Furthermore, 14 
Republican representatives won in 2006 by a single 
percentage point, or less. 

Granted, in the last 150 years, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon 
Johnson and Jimmy Carter (barely) are the only Democrats 
to achieve 50 percent of the popular vote. And this year 
Democrats might still give Republicans the gift of Hillary 
Clinton, who probably has a popular vote ceiling of 52 
percent. A subliminal -- too much so -- subtext of Obama's 
message is that Clinton cannot receive the big mandate 
required for big changes: Enactment of Social Security in 
1935 followed Franklin Roosevelt's 57.4 percent victory in 
1932, and in 1965 Medicare came after Lyndon Johnson's 61 
percent victory over Barry Goldwater. 

But even if Democrats nominate Clinton, Republicans must 
remember that Bush's 2.4 point margin of victory in 2004 
was unimpressive: In the 12 previous re-elections of 
presidents, the average margin of victory was 12.9 points. 
Bush's 50.7 percent of the vote in 2004 was the third-
smallest for a re-elected president (Woodrow Wilson and 
Bill Clinton won 49.2 percent in 1916 and 1996 respective-
ly). Kerry's 48.3 percent was the largest ever against a 
president being re-elected. (In the 12 previous re-
elections, no losing candidate received more than 46.1 
percent; nine of the losers received less than 45 percent.) 

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Tuesday's Republican primary is in one of the nation's 
worst-governed states. Under a Democratic governor, 
Michigan has been taxed into a one-state recession. Native 
son Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate who best under-
stands how wealth is created, might revive his campaign by 
asking: Who do you want to be president in 2010 when the 
Bush tax cuts, which McCain opposed, expire? Can automakers 
endure more regulations such as the fuel efficiency 
mandates that climate-fixers such as McCain favor? Do you 
want a president (Mike Huckabee, proponent of a national 
sales tax of at least 30 percent) pledged to radically 
increase the proportion of federal taxation paid by the 
middle class? 

Republicans should try to choose the next president. They 
cannot avoid choosing how their party will define itself, 
even if by a loss beneath a worthy banner. 

Questions? Comments? email: Email your comments   

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