Sen. Zell Miller’s white-hot convention speech was a tremendous energizer for delegates and spectators alike.
People repeatedly jumped to their feet in wild applause as the veteran Georgia Democrat and former governor took Sen. John Kerry apart piece by piece, limb by limb.
The former Marine from the hill country bordering Georgia and North Carolina revived a form of campaign oratory from the old-school of Southern Democrats. Some bloggers refer to it as Jacksonian. It’s a take-no-prisoners approach. It’s truth-telling as he believes it.
Mr. Miller has had an extraordinary career. He worked up the ranks of the Georgia Democratic Party as state senator, lieutenant governor, state party chairman, governor and then U.S. senator. With his political skills on full display at the Republican Convention last Wednesday night, it was easy to see why he has had such a successful career.
But … . A big question is whether Mr. Miller’s bravura performance can launch a wave of defections from conservative-leaning Democrats to the Bush camp. It’s also unknown whether such a wave can spill over to conservative independents, people who despite the conventional wisdom remain very much undecided.
A fascinating poll by Raghavan Mayur, president of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence and a pollster for Investor’s Business Daily, strongly suggests George W. Bush has an electoral problem with conservatives. That’s right — conservatives. According to the Mayur survey, Mr. Bush now pulls support from two-thirds of self-identified conservatives, 15 percentage points less than he claimed in exit polls in 2000.
Mr. Mayur finds conservatives made up 29 percent of voters in the last presidential election. So if Mr. Bush could close the 15-point deficit, he would pick up 41/3 percent overall, which would surely give him a decided advantage in November’s tally.
Mr. Mayur also finds conservative Democrats, independents and even some Republicans still are not ready to cast their lot with Mr. Bush. Why? They don’t think he’s conservative enough. On what issues? Government spending and deficits, immigration, the war in Iraq, and a relatively weak jobs recovery. And — get this — independent conservative women are not sure about Mr. Bush’s positions on same-sex “marriage”, abortion and stem-cell research, all of which they strongly oppose.
Going back to Zell Miller’s Wednesday night stemwinder, as effective as the senator was rhetorically, he did not mention spending or deficits or social issues. In fact, not one convention primetime speaker did a good job of that.
Mr. Miller’s most striking success came when he provided new information on John Kerry’s dismal military voting record over two decades in the Senate. The Georgian noted Mr. Kerry opposed the B-1 bomber, the B-2 bomber, the F-14A Tomcat, the modernized F-14D, the Apache helicopter, the F-15 Eagle, the Patriot missile, the Aegis air-defense cruiser, the strategic defense initiative, and the Trident missile.
After that litany of Kerry anti-defense votes, Mr. Miller asked rhetorically: “This is a man who wants to be commander in chief of our U.S. armed forces? U.S. forces armed with what? Spitballs?”
This is devastating stuff. It certainly drives home the point Harry Truman Democrats should cast their lot with George Bush, not John Kerry. Surprisingly, Mr. Miller did not mention the late Sen. Henry Jackson, a more recent pro-defense Democratic icon, and the John F. Kennedy tax cuts (Mr. Miller strongly supports the Bush tax cuts). These oversights are striking as Scoop Jackson and the fiscally conservative Kennedy are much discussed in Mr. Miller’s book, “A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat.”
I interviewed Mr. Miller the morning after his speech. I asked him about bringing Democrats over to Mr. Bush’s side. He said, “Bush himself, who is a likable person and sound on the issues, will get a lot of Democrats and independents from his own efforts and record.” But Mr. Miller will lend a hand; he will be traveling this weekend to battleground states of Ohio and Pennsylvania “in order to change some minds and help people learn about Kerry’s record.” But that still leaves an important set of tasks for President Bush.
The convention has shown the GOP to be a big-tent party. But conservative voters still anchor this tent. The success of the Bush re-election campaign may well rest on his ability to harvest a bigger crop of conservative votes.
Lawrence Kudlow is a nationally syndicated columnist and is chief executive officer of Kudlow & Co., LLC, and CNBC’s economics commentator.