Bush's crucial constituencies
WASHINGTON Now that he has discovered that our elections have margins of errors as big as the polls, George W. Bush has crucial constituencies to deal with, starting with blacks.
Women are another.
The state of Florida is a third.
The need to assure these varied constituencies could mean that Bush will have tension immediately with his conservative wing, for conservatives will expect action on issues that may only exacerbate Bush's problems with the other groups.
But don't expect a repeat of Bill Clinton, a la 1993. One of Clinton's first acts as president was to issue several executive orders easing government restrictions on abortion, aimed at paying back feminists and pro-abortion rights groups that had backed him heavily in the 1992 election.
There is no indication from his inner circle that Bush, who opposes abortion, but who did not feature it in his campaign, will reverse any of those orders.
The gender gap was 22 percentage points this time, higher than any recent election, according to a poll released Thursday by Emily's List, the pro-choice Political Action Committee.
Doing anything bold right now on abortion only would harden that gap. So tension with cultural conservatives who believe they are a big reason why Bush will be president could be inevitable.
The gender gap also may dictate to Bush that he put issues like education reform and health care reform as prominently on his early agenda as tax cuts.
Just as they separated their votes distinctly between Bush and Gore, men and women put different priorities on issues in the 2000 campaign. Men were more inclined to think economic and national security issues - taxes and defense - are important. Women focused more on domestic security issues like health care and education.
But Bush's biggest challenge, by far, is to reassure black voters he is a legitimate president. He lost to Al Gore by 9-1 among blacks after a campaign in which the NAACP ran what Bush defenders said were inflammatory and unfair ads suggesting the Texas governor tolerated the dragging death of a black man in Texas because he was opposed to hate-crimes legislation introduced after the murder.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson has said flat out that Bush is illegitimate, his victory built on disputed votes in Florida, where Jackson and other black leaders say blacks had their ballots challenged in disproportionate numbers, or even were intimidated or prevented from voting. The Justice Department is looking into the allegations.
Jackson's attacks this week - he has said Bush does not have the ''moral authority'' to be president and has used words like ''stolen'' and ''robbed'' to describe Bush's victory - has started a backlash for him to tone it down.
But there is no sign the emotions behind those words will be going away. Some black leaders plan a post-inaugural rally on Jan. 21, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday - to protest Bush's win. It is not a good way to start a presidency.
This is why Bush is likely to populate his Cabinet with prominent blacks, including Colin Powell (as secretary of state) and Condoleezza Rice (national security adviser). Floyd Flake, the former New York representative who backs school vouchers, has been mentioned as a possible education secretary.
Bush said in his victory speech Wednesday night that he wants to be ''the president of every single American, of every race and every background.''
But his standing with blacks will only be judged over the long term, through the accumulation of policy and day-to-day dealings. If anything, blacks became even more suspicious of Bush and the Republicans after a Philadelphia convention in which critics said the GOP used black speakers and entertainers as window-dressing. Seeing Powell and other blacks in the inner circle on a daily basis may be one way to get beyond the trust gap.
This relationship could be a key to both Republican chances in the 2002 congressional elections, as well as his brother's fate in Florida's 2002 governor's race.
Here is one prediction.
Florida will become to Bush as California became to Bill Clinton.
Bush, both in recognition of his Electoral College needs in 2004 as well as the bitterness that remains from his disputed win there in 2000, may feel inclined to pay more attention to Florida than any other state.
Clinton used California as a base for re-election in 1996. He visited so many times there were jokes about his establishing residency. He became a regular in the Hollywood crowd. He lavished the state with federal grants and personal attention.
Bush may feel inclined to do the same thing in Florida, with visits frequent and federal attention generous.
Expect some interesting twists. One Republican strategist predicted Bush might push Everglades preservation to show his support for environmental issues.
Bush ascends to the presidency just as relations with Fidel Castro's Cuba seem to be warming. This is a tenuous position for Bush, for Cuban Americans supported him more heavily than other Hispanic group. He cannot be too engaging to Castro or too harsh, for one path hurts him among anti-Castro forces within the Cuban-American community that supported him, while another turns off those who believe trade and constructive engagement is important.
How president-elect Bush manages relations with an aging Castro could be a key to whether he has to fight for Florida again in 2004 and, by extension, his presidency.
Some were surprised that, in his victory speech, Bush did not mention an obvious initiative that virtually all Americans could agree on: Fixing the Edsel of a voting system that exists in some states. If that's not on the Bush agenda soon, people are bound to start asking why.
Chuck Raasch covers politics and national affairs for Gannett News Service
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