- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 30, 2002

Forget about soccer moms. They're yesterday's news.
What's hot now is "NASCAR dads," the folks who show up by the hundreds of thousands for what used to be called "stock car races."
They're the fastest growing spectators of America's fastest growing sport, they're blue collar and are you ready for this? vote Republican.
The Democrats appear to have just discovered this electoral fact and are publicly admitting they have a "NASCAR-dad gap."
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake says her party needs to focus attention on NASCAR dads, and forget about the "office-park dads."
However, rival Democratic pollster Mark Penn says that for Democrats to become the majority party again, they have to "find the next electoral target group in the post-soccer-mom era." He thinks he has found that new target group in those office-park dads who account for a good chunk about 15 percent of the electorate but who "broke for Bush in the 2000 election and now prefer the GOP." These office-park dads are Republican-leaning, upscale suburbanites.
But, says Miss Lake, "NASCAR dads are a better opportunity for us. Office-park dads are a dead end because of their Republican leaning."
Miss Lake says that the Democrats need to target the combined attendance of the biggest speedways, which make up 48 percent of all men (she defines a NASCAR dad as a man who watched a National Association of Stock Car Racing event in the past year).
She says the Democrats need to court the NASCAR-viewing crowd to help the party overcome the "values gap" that has hurt them with independents and conservative-leaning voters.
Some Republicans agree, saying Miss Lake is on to something.
"I think Mark [Penn] is off and Celinda has it right," said Republican consultant Patrick O'Malley, who heads the D.C.-based Federal Capital Communications Corp. "The NASCAR dad is a conservative white male voter who, if he lives in a city, it is a small city. But he is more likely to live in an ex-urban or rural area."
"They may identify themselves as Democrats by birth but are conservative in their values," he says. "These are gun-owning, game-hunting guys who vote their values more than the party labels they inherited. It's the whole NASCAR identity being a race fan is an expression of values."
Mr. O'Malley says stock-car-racing fans and drivers are, unlike office-park dads, "directly responsible for their own livelihoods in that they either own or run businesses farms, ranches, construction outfits, towing companies."
When it comes to promoting conservative values, NASCAR Internet sites regularly boast that the sport is one of the few remaining that lends itself to whole families coming out for a day or entire weekend event.
Also, its ardent supporters say that race-car driving is one of the few sports where incidents of stars being arrested for murder, rape or drugs is almost unheard of.
But how does anyone know how NASCAR dads vote?
"Look at the red and blue on the election-vote map and where race fans live is all red," said Mr. O'Malley, referring to the 2000 presidential map used by TV networks on election-night in which red states were designated to have been won by George W. Bush, while the states painted in blue went to Al Gore.
Miss Lake says that, like men in general, NASCAR dads are by five percentage points more Republican than Democrat in party identification. And a majority of them voted for Mr. Bush in 2000. But these same dads are now leaning toward the Democrats when asked which party's candidate they plan to vote for in the November congressional elections.
Tom Sadler, a retired Air Force major general, saying he relies on his eyes and ears instead of polls, estimates that "99 percent of the drivers, sponsors and the fans themselves are Republican or at least very patriotic and certainly family oriented."
"Very few drivers fail to mention God when thanking people in the stands for attending," says Gen. Sadler, who as executive director of Raceway Children's Charities, has been spending most of his daily, post-military life at one of the hundreds of major raceways throughout the country.
The military believes its kind of people are attracted to stock car raceways. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps each sponsors a car in the NASCAR race circuit.
Republicans have long regarded stock-car fans as political supporters. Both the elder President Bush and the current president have attended stock car races, knowing they could count on receiving a warm reception.
Elizabeth Dole, who is running for the Republican Senate nomination from North Carolina, showed up and addressed the crowd at the raceway in Charlotte a few weeks ago.
"But I never saw Bill Clinton at one," said Gen. Sadler.
Noting that NASCAR-viewing men in opinion polls support Republicans over Democrats by 15 percentage-points on economic issues, Miss Lake offers this advice to Democratic candidates:
"Buy ad time on NASCAR television and radio and be seen at the local racetrack. The man with the deciding vote in your election may well be watching."


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