- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 29, 2004

NEW YORK — President Bush will try to win back the vote of Muslim citizens in America this fall, despite the apparently severe erosion of that voting bloc after taking the United States into war against Iraq, Bush campaign Chairman Marc Racicot said yesterday.

“I do think that we are just coming as a country to know and understand Islam,” said Mr. Racicot, a former Montana governor and close friend to Mr. Bush. “And I think once we understand, we’re fine with respecting and engaging with virtually all of our fellow citizens.

“But I’m not sure we’re as far along in that process of maturation, in becoming as familiar with and knowledgeable about them as we need to be,” he said during a luncheon with reporters at a Times Square hotel.

Mr. Racicot acknowledged that Mr. Bush and the Republican Party have lost ground with Muslim voters and Arab Americans, both of Christian and Muslim faiths, due to the war and since his backing of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s policies toward Palestinians in the West Bank.

“We got close to 75 percent of the [Muslim] vote in 2000, at least in certain parts of the country like Dearborn, Michigan. And I know the numbers are much, much closer than they were then,” he said. “There is some polling that reveals that the numbers aren’t quite the same as they were in 2000.”

A Zogby poll taken earlier this month found that Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry would reverse the poor performance of Al Gore in 2000 and collect more than two-thirds of the Arab-American vote if the election were held tomorrow.

Battleground states like Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania have heavy concentrations of Muslim and Arab-American voters who could tip the November election one way or the other.

Meanwhile, Anna Greenberg reports her new poll finds that 75 percent of Jewish voters favor Mr. Kerry and only 22 percent would vote for Mr. Bush. She said her findings show the president has made “literally no progress” among Jewish voters despite his strong support of Mr. Sharon’s government.

The finding is essentially identical to the 76 percent-21 percent margin by which respondents in the same poll voted for Mr. Gore in 2000.

Mr. Racicot agreed there appears to have been less racial divisiveness in this election than in previous ones and thought it was a sign of maturation in the political process.

But, he added, “There are people of the Muslim faith who feel — I think there are some extra responsibilities to reach out in that regard — but not to give up on our other efforts.”

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