Eleven months and nine candidates remain, but only one will be elected president this year, or it could simply be a re-election for one. The 2004 presidential election is left with a weak line of Democratic candidates with the highest support in a recent poll showing not even 40 percent support for any candidate. Fund raising remains low for the candidates as well, and instead of the weaker of the nine supporting the few strong, the Democrats turned against one another. So the question is, what will it take for a Democratic candidate to win?
The most dividing barricade right now keeping the nine Democratic candidates at a disadvantage is donations. Howard Dean, governor of Vermont, is the leading moneymaker for Democratic candidates, but there’s a significant gap between his figures and President Bush’s.
The Federal Election Commission fund-raising dollars for the third quarter of 2003 measured Bush at $50 million compared to Dean’s $14.8 million, according to CNN.com. Democratic candidates behind Dean would have to raise a minimum $10.8 million or maximum $14.7 million just to match his figures. But already Bush has sent an election fund-raising record with $150 million total, as ABC News reported last month.
Besides dollar figures, Democratic candidates need to work on figures that have been appearing in a series of recent polls. A CNN/TIME poll in September put Sen. John Kerry, Sen. Joseph Lieberman and Dean in the top three favored. Kerry led with just 16 percent and in more recent months Dean has been the favored Democratic candidate at 22 percent.
In the same poll, numbers showed that only 29 percent would definitely vote for Bush compared to 41 percent who would vote against, with the remaining saying that they might vote against Bush.
Numbers since then have only moved in favor of Bush, with a 56 percent approval of Bush’s job creation efforts. The increase, however, could have been in response to the public relations efforts taken to explain the foreign policy in Iraq and an increase in the Bush administration’s discussions about boosting the economy.
But voters were also responsive after reports of more U.S. soldiers being killed and as the estimated cost of the war in Iraq increased. A month after this news, 50 percent out of a little more than 1,000 said they didn’t want Bush in office a second term. But considering Bush is a wartime president, it will be a difficult election for the Democrats to win. Presidents such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, William McKinley, James Madison and Abraham Lincoln served more than one term while engaged in war.
Keeping this in mind, Democratic candidates will need to focus on solutions for job creation to pull in more voters, while keeping in mind the war in Iraq. Dean, along with Kerry, believes that job creation should come through infrastructure work for schools and roads, while Lieberman said high-tech jobs and research funds could open up the job market. However, on the issue of Iraq, Dean takes Kerry’s opposing view to criticism. Dean, who was against the war, was first to start a line of criticism when at a primary in March he said Kerry was confused because the senator supported the war but later said Bush misled the United States. This has started a stream of criticism among the Democratic candidates that has added to their criticism of Bush, causing them to drift from the issues.
Instead of posing solutions to education reform, leading Democratic candidates have said Bush’s No Child Left Behind will never work without the funds. And for their stance on U.S. defense, they said Bush has handled the war in Iraq wrong, but have offered no real strategies for international relations. Criticizing Bush’s policies is when the Democratic candidates work together best, but it’s their own policies on which they cannot seem to agree. So is there a Democratic candidate that has what it takes to win the election?
The only sure answer will come in November. At this point, Bush remains the favored candidate, as the Democrats still haven’t found a formidable opponent.