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Friday, November 26, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Guest columnist
Dry your eyes, Democrats; it's not as bad as it looks

By Carl Jeffers
Special to The Times

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A DAY after President Bush was re-elected, a British tabloid asked how "59 million Americans could be so dumb."

In fact, Americans who voted to re-elect George Bush were not dumb at all. They made a deliberative choice that reflected their evaluation of the candidates and issues, based on their values and priorities. We must all applaud that.

But the 55 million Americans who voted for John Kerry seem to be going through a self-flagellation process in which they feel sad, angry, hopelessly lost, and pessimistic about the future of the country and the Democratic Party. Thanks to the re-emergence of "red state" moral issues, they also feel somewhat isolated in their own country.

Those voters do not need to feel so pessimistic about the future of their party, or of progressive liberal thought. Let's review some facts. In losing, Kerry received more votes than any other previous presidential candidate, including Al Gore and two-time winner Bill Clinton.

And while President Bush's numbers moved up among several important voting groups, particularly Hispanics, here's the reality. Kerry won the Hispanic vote by almost 10 points, he overwhelmingly won the African-American vote with close to 89 percent, he won the Jewish vote and those of gays, liberals and independents, single moms, working moms, and the 18-to-30-year-old group.

This demographic breakdown represents a major coalition that is still in place for the future, and it also represents a collective base of support that is more diverse, expansive and encompassing than the voter base that supported Bush.

Now that immediate passions and disappointments are receding, these 55 million Americans can also celebrate their unity and strength for the future; not give up and say "what's the point" or talk about the appeal of Canada.

What's more, many of the components of the Kerry base will only grow in the future, while some reasonably argue that the president's voter base may be "maxed out."

Right now, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain appear to be the strongest early favorites for the Republican nomination in 2008. Neither agrees with the president on the social-moral issues that motivated the red-state voting bloc in 2004. One could argue that the evangelical vote could drop in 2008 if either of these candidates heads the GOP ticket, particularly Giuliani, who supports a woman's right to choose and does not take as hard a line on gay rights and stem-cell research as the president.

Meanwhile, the potential for boosting Kerry's base of Hispanics, single and working moms, young voters and many other constituencies should encourage Democrats.

Kerry will retain a national profile in his position as a senator from Massachusetts. That is clearly a platform for Kerry to continue to fight for issues important to him.

But perhaps his most important effort will be to hold his voter base in place and continue to motivate and unite it for battles ahead, even if the Democratic nominee four years from now is someone other than himself.

That is a tough assignment, but he should pursue that with the same honor he showed in not wanting, for the good of the country, to prolong the Ohio vote count.

Such a passionate voter base deserves the nurturing Kerry can provide, along with the attention it will get from John Edwards and Hillary Clinton, the early favorites for the 2008 Democratic nomination.

But all bets in the red-blue stakes are off if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee. I predict that many women who now consider themselves red-state voters may tilt blue because of the significance of Clinton's candidacy.

And unless Jeb Bush changes his mind — don't worry about Bill Frist, Tom Ridge or George Pataki — it'll be Giuliani or McCain for the Republicans. And neither will motivate the moral-issues, red-state voters like George W. Bush.

The Democrats do need to look inward, determine just what their party's message is and decide how they can deliver it better. But they should never sacrifice the base they now have, with all its potential for growth, to go after a base they will never get.

They may find that a blend of blue and red produces a vibrant hue that signifies the future looks bright and confident.

Carl Jeffers is a Seattle- and Los Angeles-based columnist and KIRO-AM (710) political analyst. He hosts a KIRO Seattle radio talk-show program and is a lecturer and national TV political commentator. Contact him at cjintel@juno.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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