Skip to comments.Military could be swing vote in '04
Posted on 11/30/2003 3:29:16 AM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
WASHINGTON -- U.S. soldiers leapt to their feet and whooped in elation Thursday when their commander in chief unexpectedly appeared at a Thanksgiving celebration in Iraq.
"He's got to win in '04. No one else can prosecute this war like he can," Capt. John Morrison of Butler County, Pa., told a reporter at the gathering.
Earlier in the week, President Bush got an equally gratifying reception at an Army base in Colorado: approving grunts of "hoo-ah," chants of "U-S-A" and, from one section of the audience, cheers of "Four more years."
"I'm glad you're on my side," Bush, wearing an olive green Army jacket over his shirt and tie, declared to the 5,000 flag-waving soldiers and family members at Fort Carson, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, which has deployed 12,000 of its 15,000 troops to Iraq.
The two presidential appearances, both drawing heavy media coverage, gave the impression that the political bond between the U.S. military and the Republican Party remains strong. Out of the glare of the cameras, however, there are indications that bond has weakened.
In fact, the military might have become yet another special interest group of swing voters to be wooed in tight elections.
Reasons include the mounting casualties in Iraq, uncertainty over the president's plans for occupying and reconstructing that country, and what some critics interpret as a lack of respect and financial commitment from the Bush administration for veterans.
"If your job is to recruit military voters to your party, it's going to be easier if you're a Republican, even in 2004," said Peter Feaver, a political science professor at Duke University. "But if you're a Democrat and your job is to woo military voters to your party, it's going to be easier in 2004 than it was in the last presidential election, which was the high-water mark in terms of Republican appeal to military voters."
No political expert is predicting a wholesale exodus of military voters to the Democrats in next year's presidential election. "The cultural divide is still too great for that," Feaver said. But since a state's electoral votes can turn on hundreds of ballots, as occurred in 2000, rather than millions, every group will be courted heavily by both parties, even if it means just peeling off a few votes here and there in targeted states.
Defense spending bill
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Lindsay Taylor dismisses any suggestion that American soldiers are not solidly supporting their commander in chief.
"President Bush enjoys the support of our men and women in uniform because he has significantly increased defense spending to provide the resources they need to carry out their duties, as well as increasing their pay," Taylor said.
Before visiting Fort Carson, Bush signed into law a record $401.3 billion defense spending bill that included a 4 percent pay raise for soldiers and significant boosts in family separation allowances and imminent danger pay.
The signing ceremony, held at the Pentagon rather than the White House, came after months of criticism from military and veterans circles.
That criticism prompted Benjamin Wallace-Wells to raise the prospect of a military "swing" vote with a cover story in the November issue of Washington Monthly magazine.
Wallace-Wells, like other journalists trying to assess the political leanings of the military, relied heavily on anecdotes to make his point because the Pentagon prohibits political polling of soldiers.
There is widespread acceptance, however, of the notion that military officers favor the GOP by 8-1, while the ranks of the enlisted, even with their higher proportions of women and minorities, still tilt 3-2 for Republicans.
The 2000 presidential contest provided the most convincing evidence of the consensus view that the military is pro-GOP. In the Florida recount, Bush's partisans fought vigorously to prevent Al Gore's advocates from excluding disqualified military absentee ballots from the presidential vote recount.
"There may be something to this idea that the military is no longer in lock step behind the Republicans," said Stewart Nusbaumer, a disabled Marine veteran from New York who organized Veterans Against the Iraq War earlier this year. "We're hearing from soldiers every day who are fed up with the mess the president has made in Iraq."
While the Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter Shoomaker, recently told a Senate committee that "morale is solid" among the troops in Iraq, a mid-October study by Stars and Stripes newspaper found half the soldiers there reporting low morale and complaining of insufficient training and equipment.
There are 1.4 million active-duty personnel in the military. Guard and Reserve forces total 1.3 million.
There are about 3.6 million military dependents. And so far, it has been the dependents of soldiers who have been most vocal in their criticism of the president.
Families air concerns Families at Fort Carson have generally supported the war, but there were expressions of concern during the president's visit this past week, especially about the president's failure to attend any funerals or memorials for soldiers who have died in Iraq.
"What makes me mad the most is, past presidents have gone to funerals and he hasn't gone to any," said Lori Hartman, whose husband, Spc. Corey Hartman, heads to Iraq in February. "It's like he wants to turn his back and not realize what's really going on."
To blunt such criticism, Bush met for almost two hours with about 100 relatives of killed and wounded soldiers from Fort Carson. It was his third meeting with families of fallen soldiers since the war in Iraq began.
A bigger political problem for the president than "swing" military voters may be the 26.4 million military veterans, who constitute 13 percent of the nation's adult population.
Veterans are fuming over the Bush administration's attempt last summer to cut billions of dollars from the Department of Veterans Affairs budget over the next decade and to close some VA hospitals. It was an "in-your-face insult," said Joe Fox Sr., head of Paralyzed Veterans of America.
They also are agitated over the president waiting three years to change a 19th century military regulation that prohibits a retired soldier from receiving both a pension and disability benefits.
Ultimately, the administration agreed to a compromise that only partially repeals the law and phases in over 10 years, too late for thousands of aging veterans.
The compromise was "borne of political expediency, to make an embarrassing issue go away," said Thomas Coreny, national president of Vietnam Veterans of America.
Feaver, in his studies of civil-military relations, lumps soldiers and veterans together as "national security voters."
These voters are culturally more conservative than the general population and are, to some degree, disdainful of cultural elites found most frequently in the Democratic Party. They have tended to support the Republican Party since the Reagan presidency and its unprecedented defense buildup.
Feaver said the Clinton presidency and the perception of an anti-military sentiment in the Oval Office solidified the national security voter preference for the GOP, culminating in robust support for Bush in 2000.
"Many factors push someone to vote," he said. "And now, there is the potential for forces which have always pushed toward the Republican to be neutralized, or even pushing a little bit towards the Democrats."
"A little bit," said Veterans Against the Iraq War's Nusbaumer, "may be all the Democrats need."
Iraqi Governing Counsel member Ahmad Chalabi (C) smiles while U.S. military troops applaud U. S. President George W. Bush who surprised U.S. military troops stationed in Iraq with a secret Thanksgiving Day visit to personally honor their service and sacrifice at the Baghdad International Airport, November 27, 2003. The president arrived in Iraq unannounced and met with troops before returning to his Central Texas ranch for the weekend. REUTERS/Larry Downing
Al Gore -- who fought counting the military's absentee ballots -- is deeply saddened.
I've heard Hillary's sock puppet, General Wesley Clark, is about as popular in military ranks as a skunk at a picnic.
DISQUALIFIED ballots? Lots wrong with that statement. I believe this article is wishful thinking.
you said the magic word Hillary
Do you think military folks would buy all the socialist, anti-american crap the democrats stand for if they'd just run Zell? Looks like a massive 'bait & switch' to me.
Have the Democratic candidates taken a different position on this issue?
If not, then how will Bush's position cause disabled vets to vote for the Democrat?
Of course it is and another nice thing about it is, it helps reelect Bush. A strong military and superior national defense is what a GOP government invests in.
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