- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 2, 2004

NEW YORK — Jeffrey Katz, an Al Gore supporter in 2000, says the past four years have made him happy George W. Bush was the winner that year.

Sen. John Kerry has touted Bush voters in 2000 who support the Democratic presidential nominee this time around. But former Gore supporters backing Mr. Bush have not been a major presence in the Republican’s campaign — other than the high-profile defection of Sen. Zell Miller.

Mr. Katz said, however, that they are out there and that for many, “plainly, it’s the war on terror.”

“In my opinion, taking the war on terror to Iraq is so brilliant, because we could have bombs going off in Manhattan and Chicago and L.A., but instead we’ve taken the war to them,” said the 42-year-old lawyer from Long Island. “I think there’s a better-than-even chance that Gore, if he’d been president, or Kerry, if he’d been president, would have negotiated with the Taliban.”

One conundrum in the election this year is that the polls show a neck-and-neck race, just as in 2000, yet finding former Bush voters who plan to support Mr. Kerry has been easier than finding former Gore voters who will support Mr. Bush. That disparity has been a frequent topic for political Web sites and columnists.

Yesterday, the Democratic Response Team showcased five Republicans who will be supporting Mr. Kerry this year, though two of them also voted for Mr. Gore in 2000.

The five men pointed to the economy, job losses and the failing social safety net as key reasons for their decision.

Retired Air Force Gen. Merrill McPeak, a member of “Veterans for Bush” in 2000, is a staunch supporter of Mr. Kerry this year, saying Mr. Bush has shown he cannot win the war in Iraq or the war on terror.

He said the lack of officials from the administration of the first President Bush at the convention this year shows that the Republican Party has changed.

“Where is Jimmy Baker? Where is Brent Scowcroft? Where is Colin Powell?” Gen. McPeak said yesterday.

But Republicans are countering such changes of heart with Gore supporters who say the war on terror is exactly why they switched in the other direction.

David Dermer, the mayor of Miami Beach and another Gore voter who is supporting Mr. Bush now, cited the president’s response after September 11. He said the confidence of his community, whose economy is dependent on tourism, was restored by the quick action of Mr. Bush and brother Jeb Bush, the governor of Florida.

“Our city bounced back quicker than any other resort destination in the country,” he said.

Mr. Dermer, a lifelong Democrat, said the issue of most importance to him is Israel.

“Simply put, I think he’s been the best president in history. There’s simply no one that’s ever been better,” he said of Mr. Bush’s support for the Jewish state against Palestinian terrorism.

Mr. Katz and Mr. Dermer were attending the Republican convention, though the latter flew home yesterday to prepare for Hurricane Frances.

For Mr. Katz, an orthodox Jew, Mr. Bush’s support of traditional marriage also was a critical factor in his favor.

“I never signed on to a Democratic Party which would not defend absolutely the right of marriage to be sacred for a man and woman,” Mr. Katz said.

At the Democratic convention in July, strategist James Carville said that other than Orthodox Jewish voters, Mr. Bush probably wouldn’t pick up any Gore supporters.

But other groups are taking a second look at Mr. Bush this year, including those disappointed by Mr. Kerry’s choice of Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat and a former personal-injury lawyer, as the running mate.

Dr. John Scmitt, who used to practice in Mr. Edwards’ hometown and knows doctors sued by Mr. Edwards, said that “the moment he chose John Edwards, all of his credibility just went out.”

Crossover voters are always a plum for campaigns, and Mr. Kerry highlighted dozens of them during his nominating convention.

Republicans responded last night with the highest-ranking crossover to date, Mr. Miller, a Georgia Democrat who gave the keynote speech. The convention also showcased actor Ron Silver, who backed Bill Bradley in the 2000 Democratic primary, and Rep. Rodney Alexander of Louisiana, who switched parties recently to become a Republican.

Convention staffers had hand-painted “Dems for Bush” signs to give out to those in the guest and alternate delegate seats last night. However, one staffer, who wouldn’t give his name, said they were giving the signs out to anyone who wanted to hold one.

But there’s still the conundrum of the polls — which Republican pollsters say probably is due in part to people’s reluctance to admit voting for the loser in 2000.

Mr. Dermer said it may just be a matter of anti-Bush people being very vocal.

“A lot of times people may not be as vocal in their support for the president as the other way around,” he said. That may be a result of Mr. Kerry’s supporters being more opposed to Mr. Bush than enthusiastic about the Democrat, he added.

“Very few people do I run into that are pro-Kerry, traveling in my community and around the country.”

Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

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