How Do They Top 50% This Year?

With the country polarized between factions, the winner may need to appeal to some very special interests indeed

For decades, an axiom of American politics holds that Presidential contests are a 40-40-20 proposition: 40% of the voters support the Democrat, 40% the Republican, and the race is ultimately decided by the 20% of independents and undecideds up for grabs.

Not this year. George Bush's Presidency has galvanized the electorate in ways not seen since the 19th century. Ticket-splitting is at a 30-year low. Polls show a solid 48% of Americans support Bush, while an almost identical number literally can't wait to boot him out of office. Fewer than 5% of voters appear to be fence-sitters in Campaign 2004.

This poses a big challenge for any campaign strategist. With this year's electoral map looking like a delicate tapestry of Democratic-leaning Blue States and Republican-leaning Red States, opportunities to gain the edge for victory are few. But as Karl Rove and company know so well, elections are won by turning out your core base of committed voters (let's assume it really is up to 48% for the two major parties this time) and then building from there, brick by brick, with targeted appeals to key voting blocs -- tiny, precisely defined voting blocs. Hey, every vote will count in this election. It's going to be tight.

Douglas Harbrecht

BusinessWeek Online was recently afforded access to the top-secret strategy blueprints of the major contestants (well, not really). So how will they top 50% this time? Read on:

How George Bush Gets to 51%

"Red State" GOP base (48%)

The key voting blocs needed for victory:

• Nascar Dads who think Mars rovers look like cool, battling 'bots. What's not to like about spending a gazillion dollars to tear across the Red Planet? (1%)

• Blue-collar Democrats who ultimately decide John Kerry is even more of a blue-blooded elitist than the one already in the White House (1%)

• Mamas who swoon at the thought of gay people getting married (some of these voters are Soccer Moms, tracking polls show. Two-fer!) (0.5%)

• Floridians 80 years of age and older who still can't figure out the Sunshine State ballot. (Note to Jeb: Make sure your brother's name appears in big, bold letters this time.) (0.025%)

• TV viewers who think Donald Trump's reality show provides valuable clues to achieving wealth and success (minuscule, we can only hope)

How John Kerry Gets to 51%

"Blue State" Democratic base (48%)

The key voting blocs needed for victory:

• Baby boomers who A) know who is; B) know the last names of Peter, Paul, and Mary; C) think the film A Mighty Wind was a significant historical drama. Action plan: Target bloc with a phone-in quiz on public TV. Do these voters know what the Internet is? (1%)

• Cultural conservatives who fume every time George Bush spits on the White House lawn. (0.5%)

• Gay Republicans, now that Bush has endorsed a Constitutional amendment outlawing all marriages except those between "a man and a woman." Elephants never forget, especially those who live in log cabins. (1%)

• The powerful phonetics lobby (it's nu-CLE-ar, damn it). (0.4489%)

• College students who took a poli-sci course with professor Mike Dukakis and think he's chill. (0.001%)

• Rich, white, female Republican immigrants from colonial Africa with social consciences who married well but don't like their husbands kissing them in public. (Hint: Kerry is married to one.) (0.0001%)

How John Edwards gets to 51%

Blue State Democratic base (48%)

The key voting blocs needed for victory:

• Sons of millworkers. (2%)

• People who happily admit that they'll vote for a guy because he's cute. (0.25%)

• Rural males who would vote for Kerry if only he had a Southern accent.(1%)

• Rural males who would vote for Kerry if he hadn't injected Botox in his forehead. Even a wrinkle-free guy like Edwards knows real men don't inject Botox. (0.5%)

• Trial lawyers who didn't vote for Clinton/Gore. (0.25% -- maybe)

How Ralph Nader Gets to 51%

Independent base (1%)

The key voting blocs needed for victory:

• Americans who believe that global corporations are bent on stealing "our genetic inheritance" (see Nader's dog-eared announcement speech). Note: Those who believe corporations are only out to steal "our future, our politics, our economy, our military expenditures, our education, our environment, and our culture" will probably vote for Kerry or Edwards this time.

• Oops, can't get to 50% with Nader. Gee, can't even get to 3% this time. Heck, not even 2%. Sorry.

Douglas Harbrecht

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