- The Washington Times - Monday, October 14, 2002

There has been widespread grumbling for months among the Democrats' rank and file that its leadership has done little to enthuse and excite the party's base to turn out in large numbers in next month's elections.
The AFL-CIO's political director, Steve Rosenthal, tells Democratic audiences that he will "buy dinner for anyone who knows what the Democrats' agenda is." Donna Brazile, the Democratic National Committee's chief turnout strategist for the black vote, says "no one is talking to us, no one is addressing our issues." Entertainer Barbra Streisand, who helps Democrats raise millions from the movie industry's biggest donors, scolded party leaders for not standing up for anything.
Even a loyal Democrat like Sen. Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina says his party has been strong on complaining but weak on solutions. "Our problem is the Democrats whine and whine. The question is, 'what's the solution?' Republicans say the trouble is spending. We say the reason for the trouble is 'we don't know,'" he told the Hill newspaper.
Perhaps nothing angered liberal Democrats more than the sight of their party's two highest elected officials, House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, voting for President Bush's war resolution to disarm and depose Saddam Hussein. A Pew poll showed last week that self-identified liberal Democrats oppose taking military action in Iraq by 56 percent to 37 percent.
All of this raises questions about whether the Democrats' divisions over Iraq and the general unhappiness with party leaders among its base constituencies liberal activists, blacks and women will dampen Democratic turnout in key House and Senate races that are now considered tossups.
"I don't detect [voter] intensity anyplace, not among Republicans or among Democrats. If there is going to be intensity, it will be about economic fear," said Curtis Gans, who heads the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate.
"Nothing is exciting [the electorate] right now, but if the economy gets worse, it can drive the election," he said.
Even so, Democratic pollsters and state campaign officials say they have seen no indication that their voters are not enthused about their candidates and focused on domestic issues like the economy's slump and the volatility in the stock market.
"It's inaccurate to say that Democrats or Democratic base groups are unenthused. There are issues beyond international affairs that motivate these people. The economy is an issue of critical importance to Democrats," said Alan Secrest, a Democratic pollster who is working for several dozen Democratic candidates in more than 30 states.
"The domestic issues are not being drowned out by the debate over Iraq. That is vastly overstated," he said. "If that were true, the Republicans would not be spending the money they're spending in these close races.
"I don't know that we have a clear national trend in terms of the issues or prevailing winds at this point. I don't think either party has a compelling leg up on the overall sentiment, but in the races I'm polling the Democrats are competitive," he said.
Still, he cautions that "the wild card this fall is going to be the discussion about potential war in Iraq, and that's going to have some bearing on the wider range of issues. We don't know how it's going to come out yet."
Pollster John Zogby also said that he has picked up no evidence in his polling that voters are disinterested in the elections, although he finds they are not as interested in the debate over Iraq as Washington pundits might think.
"The No. 1 issue now is the economy, and that in itself leads to some voter intensity," he said.
"I have a feeling this may be another issue where African-Americans and Latinos vote in big numbers because my polls are finding what I call the 'politics of disappointment' on the economy and other issues like prescription drugs. I'm seeing the political disappointment as anti-incumbent, and it's pretty intense," he said.
"Everybody in Washington is talking about war with Iraq, but as soon as you leave Washington, you find everybody is talking about the economy," he said.
State Democratic officials also said that they have not encountered any reduced enthusiasm among their voters.
"I was on a closed conference call with our state chairmen and I heard nothing but positive, upbeat talk," said Raymond Buckley, a Democratic National committeeman from New Hampshire.
"The Washington news media seem to be preoccupied with Iraq, but the people on the streets of Manchester and Nashua are more concerned about the economic situation," Mr. Buckley said.


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