- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 10, 2004

Three weeks before Election Day, President Bush has consolidated the support of conservative Republicans to a much higher degree than was true four years ago, veteran campaign analysts say.

Terrorism, Iraq and the fear of Sen. John Kerry are the driving factors behind Mr. Bush’s stronger support among conservatives within the GOP, pollsters and activists say. He also has more than doubled the level of support he received from conservative Democrats four years ago, polls show.

As a nemesis to conservatives, Mr. Bush’s Democratic challenger trumps even former President Bill Clinton, said conservative activist Paul Weyrich.

“They fear Kerry the way they didn’t fear Clinton,” said Mr. Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Foundation. “I know conservatives who didn’t vote in 1992 or who actually voted for Clinton because he ran as a centrist and because they felt betrayed after the first President Bush presided over an expansion of the federal government and went back on his promise of no new taxes.”

Mr. Clinton did “promote gays in the military and Hillary’s health-care plan, but he ended up balancing the budget and actually shrank government a little bit for a couple of years,” Mr. Weyrich said. “So while conservatives didn’t like him or trust him, they didn’t fear him. But they feel Kerry is so far left.”

An Oct. 1-3 poll of 1,000 likely voters by Republican pollster John McLaughlin showed Mr. Bush has the support of 97 percent of conservative Republican voters, compared with the 91 percent he had in 2000.

People who identify themselves as conservative constitute the huge bulk of the GOP — 72 percent. By comparison, self-declared liberals make up only 36 percent of Democratic voters, according to the McLaughlin poll.

Mr. Kerry is doing better among Democrat moderates, winning 87 percent of them compared with the 74 percent of Republican moderates who say they prefer Mr. Bush. But only 23 percent of Republicans describe themselves as moderates, while 37 percent of Democrats describe themselves as moderates.

In the latest Gallup poll, Mr. Bush is winning 74 percent of self-identified conservative voters, compared with 59 percent in 2000.

Mr. Bush’s improved performance comes despite warnings by conservative leaders that his lapses from conservative orthodoxy on campaign-finance regulation, education, entitlements, spending, immigration and foreign policy would alienate his voter base.

“The conservative base is looking the other way on government spending and certain other issues and saying, ‘I’m not going to lessen my support for the president when he needs it for winning the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism,’” Mr. McLaughlin said. “They see winning the war in Iraq as tied to winning the war on terrorism.”

Another key factor for Mr. Bush is the unwavering support — more intense than in 2000 — of socially conservative evangelical Christians, who make up a fifth of the Republican voter coalition. Social conservatives are more strongly supporting Mr. Bush because of his opposition to same-sex “marriage,” abortion and certain kinds of stem-cell research.

The Bush campaign expects churches across the land to turn out these voters with at least the intensity that the Kerry campaign hopes to turn out voters in union households, which make up a far smaller percentage of the Democratic voter base.

Republican pollster Ed Goeas says that white evangelicals far outnumber blacks, who tend to vote 9-to-1 Democrat. Polling also shows that Mr. Kerry is not faring as well among black voters as Mr. Gore did in 2000, perhaps because Mr. Bush supports a constitutional amendment banning same-sex “marriage,” while Mr. Kerry does not.

Mr. Weyrich, who presides over weekly strategy meetings with congressmen and conservative activists, said it has “dawned on [conservatives that] Bush will probably get to make several Supreme Court appointments” if he is re-elected.

“They understand if Kerry gets to make those appointments, we’ll be living with that court forever,” Mr. Weyrich said. “And Bush has a good record on judicial appointments.”

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