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Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The Road to Damascus 

E.J. Dionne surveys the electorate and is gratified to discover that the scales are falling from many an eye:
"I've never seen a time with so many Republicans expressing consternation about their party and a willingness to support the other party," said Rep. Brian Baird, a Democrat whose district, in Washington's southwest corner, went for Bush four years ago.

Baird, a psychologist who has worked with statistics, is also skeptical of making too much of anecdotes. But he is running across plenty of them on the anti-Bush side. "If you contrast this campaign to the campaign of four years ago, you saw George Bush stickers everywhere and very few Al Gore stickers," he said. "Now, it's at least 50-50" between Bush and Kerry. Baird speaks of a man in a health club wearing a John Kerry T-shirt who told him: "What you have to understand is that I am a lifelong Republican." And the congressman chuckles over a car he spotted that "had an American flag, an 'I'm the NRA' bumper sticker and a John Kerry bumper sticker."

[Rep. Jay] Inslee's metaphor of the 1994 Republican sweep piloted by former House speaker Newt Gingrich is intriguing because the Republican wave was not obvious in the polls at this moment in the campaign 10 years ago. A survey in mid-June 1994 by Republican pollster Richard Wirthlin, for example, found the Democrats with a three-point lead in the House races.

Yet many Republicans correctly argued that intense voter dissatisfaction with Congress, Bill Clinton and the status quo was moving the country decisively in the GOP's direction. Republicans then sensed that the energy on the Republican side could swamp Democrats by producing a turnout heavily tilted toward Republican candidates -- exactly what happened. Democrats feel a comparable energy could work for them this year . . . .

But there is one last bit of evidence suggesting that Inslee and Baird are on to something. In late August 2002, at the beginning of the buildup to the Iraq war, a Pew Research Center poll found that only 37 percent of Americans felt Bush had laid out a case for military action; 52 percent felt he had not.

In other words, millions of middle-of-the-road Americans had doubts about the war before it started. Many of those doubters eventually went along with the president but now question the war and the way the administration handled it. If Inslee is right about his tidal wave, the doubters will give it its power.

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