2004 U.S. presidential election
|A guide to|
|Hail to the Chief?|
|Persons of interest|
Kerry was the centrist brain genius to navigate the tumultuous political times: a veteran who threw his medals over a fence. Boom! Appeal to patriots and anti-war people at the same time. And what did the Republicans do? Call him a French fag with fake purple hearts. Devastating at the time (but in retrospect it's hilarious).
The '04 election also pivoted on gay marriage, which was a threat to Western civilization...somehow. At the time, papers thought America was turning into a Christian theocracy, but as it turned out, it's more like a casino now.
The Democratic challengers
Given the sting felt from the previous election, the recount and the loss of Florida in the Supreme Court decision Bush v. Gore, many U.S. citizens felt it was time for a change. There was a big desire among Democrats to win in the wake of the many failures of the Bush administration.
Got really excited about taking down Bush, but became a sound bite that made him sound crazy.
Howard Dean went from being an obscure candidate early on to being the presumed frontrunner leading in the polls by the end of 2003, largely on the positive response to a speech he gave declaring himself a member of the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" and asking why most Democrats in Congress rolled over and voted with the Bush administration on the Iraq War. However, Dean soon became the target of nasty attack ads in Iowa from the Richard Gephardt campaign which, among other things, portrayed Dean as being weak on national security. Gephardt, who had won the Iowa caucuses in 1988, was counting on a repeat in 2004 to put him in frontrunner status going into the New Hampshire primary. Instead, the combination of Gephardt's going negative, and hordes of undisciplined Dean supporters descending on the state, turned Iowa voters off from both candidates. John Kerry and John Edwards, both of whom had played it cool and stayed above the fray, surged in the polls at the last minute. After Dean finished third in the Iowa caucus behind Kerry and Edwards, he gave a speech that was punctuated with an unusual... scream. This gaffe's popularity on Fox News and other media channels was seen as sinking his campaign, and he eventually dropped out of the race after Kerry swept almost all state primaries and caucuses. (Dean won only Vermont and the District of Columbia.)
One-term Senator from North Carolina, previously notable for deposing Monica Lewinsky and being on the shortlist for Al Gore's VP in 2000. Supported the individual mandate before it was cool, wanted a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, made the first "carbon-neutral' campaign, but voted for the Iraq War so none of it mattered. Eventually got picked up as Kerry's running mate, lost, tried to run in 2008, got beaten by some other people, then eventually got caught cheating on his wife with cancer and covering it up with campaign money. As a future president would say, Sad!
Tearfully dropped out after coming in fourth in the Iowa caucus. Gephardt had run, as in 1988, as the candidate of organized labor, but in 2004 John Edwards also played to that constituency and won over many voters eager for a fresher face and turned off by Gephardt's going negative against Dean.
Was a late entry into the primaries, the product of a draft Clark campaign, and endorsed by among others Michael Moore. Part of the appeal of Clark was voters who wanted somebody with a military background, thus who might be more immune to the "weak on national security" attacks being made on Howard Dean, but who was still opposed to the Iraq War. Clark only won one primary, Oklahoma, and soon dropped out.
A formerly-obscure congressman from Ohio, Dennis Kucinich caught a lot of people's attention when he gave speeches on the House floor vehemently denouncing the buildup to the Iraq War, and the PATRIOT Act, while proposing the creation of a cabinet-level Department of Peace. A draft Kucinich for President campaign followed. With Dean and Clark capturing much of the anti-Iraq War vote and Kucinich considered very much a longshot, his campaign failed to take off. As a sidenote, Kucinich had voted pro-life on consistent life ethic grounds up to that point, but reversed his position and declared himself pro-choice at the time he entered the 2004 presidential primaries.
Having been Al Gore's running mate in 2000 and a "hawk" on the Iraq War, Joe Lieberman was a candidate in the 2004 primaries. His campaign went nowhere. Two years later a grassroots primary campaign defeated him in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, and he narrowly kept his seat by running as an independent in the general election. In 2008 he endorsed and spoke at the Republican convention in support of John McCain.
“”Kerry's theatrics did not improve as the primary campaign wore on. The Massachusetts senator all but asked Republicans to ridicule him, with ad-libs such as, 'Who among us does not love NASCAR?' In an interview in the men's magazine GQ, he joined he reporter for a beer (alcoholic—no teetotaler he!) while confessing to a modicum of lust for Charlize Theron and Catherine Zeta-Jones. One day during the campaign he invited reporters to follow him around on a 'day off,' when his errands included buying a jockstrap.
|—Frank Rich, The Greatest Story Ever Sold|
The ultimate challenger would be Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who swept every state primary excepting Oklahoma (Clark), Vermont and D.C. (Dean), and North and South Carolina (Edwards). North Carolina Senator John Edwards resigned from his Senate seat to campaign full-time with John Kerry, expecting to win. Bad move.
The Kerry campaign attempted to emphasize an expanded national service plan, including a proposal for four years of prepaid college tuition for two years of (either military or non-military - the latter presumably involving an expanded Americorps or something like it) national service. Kerry did not, however, emphasize issues that rank and file Democrats wanted to hear at the time, namely seriously challenging Bush on his foreign policy and domestic homeland security agenda. He went on a whistle-stop tour infamous for many gaffes - such as purposely not stopping in states like Kansas which were considered Bush country, leaving Edwards to have to go back and do damage control, and Teresa Heinz Kerry's opening words "Hello, Nevada" at a stop in Arizona. Having been for the war before being against it, but not willing to cut and run from Iraq either, his campaign's only strong point was that he was indeed not George W. Bush, despite being a wealthy Yale graduate who was a member of Skull and Bones. Most of his policies were vague and too similar to the GOP's. He ended up as Bush-Light, which like the beer of the same (sounding) name, proves weak and disappointing.
Republicans went negative against Kerry in the same way they had against Michael Dukakis in 1988. Like Dukakis, Kerry tried taking the high ground and responded too little, too late. In both cases, this strategy backfired.
Kerry was made fun of for his Botox injections, which made his face appear fake and hard, much like Frankenstein's monster. Some GOP pundits called him "Frankenberry" or "Frankenkerry", so as to equate him as a pinko commie bastard (or possibly the other pink).
Kerry famously stated that he was against the War in Iraq before he voted for it (or was it the other way around?). Kerry had in fact voted for the Iraq War resolution, and as the war was already underway during the 2004 race, could not or would not bring himself to call for bringing the troops home.
Republicans jumped on this inconsistency as a weakness, still under the belief that someone who was horribly stubborn in his ways was preferable to someone who was willing to look at both sides of an issue. Many GOP supporters started carrying flip-flop sandals around and stapling them to signs to hammer in this point, much to the dismay of Jimmy Buffett fans.
Kerry was targeted by a group called "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth." Their claim was that Kerry was not the Vietnam War hero he claimed to be. Despite all evidence against the claims (as well as the ironic/Newspeak name for the group), the tactics were partly responsible for the eventual outcome of the election. Jerome Corsi (conspiracy theorist, abiotic oil crank, and WorldNetDaily columnist) and John O'Neill (who had been recruited by Chuck Colson of the Nixon White House to be a pro-war foil against Kerry in the early 1970s, and later co-founded Swift Boat Veterans for Truth) rushed their book Unfit for Command, published by Regnery Publishing, to market to coincide with the campaign. The book focused in part on attacking Kerry for his anti-war activities after coming home from Vietnam.
Ralph Nader, the candidate of the Green Party in 2000, chose to run as an independent in 2004. The Reform Party endorsed him rather than run their own candidate. They couldn't stomach Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot was not available. He was not particularly a factor in the 2004 race. The Green Party's own nominated candidate, David Cobb, also was not a factor.
The Libertarian Party had a nasty primary battle between Aaron Russo and Gary Nolan. The nomination wound up going to one of the also-rans, Michael Badnarik, after he caught the convention off-guard with a rousing speech shifting much support in his direction. Nolan, more eager at that point to stop Russo from getting the nomination, released his delegates to vote for Badnarik.
The Republican Party chose to run its incumbents, then-current President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Their campaign strategy was largely "Let us finish the job" they started when they failed to finish the job in Iraq and Afghanistan, even though finding WMDs and Osama bin Laden was apparently very low on their list of priorities.
One grocery goods manufacturer released "W.", the
torture "American Flavored" ketchup. While the "W" in the name was obviously a plug for George W. Bush, the manufacturers claimed that it was set up to support the Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund after the death of Ronald Reagan. In actuality, the ketchup was created to offer an alternative to Heinz Ketchup, as John Kerry was married to a Heinz.
Unable to prove that Americans were incapable of making a bad decision twice, they re-elected Bush/Cheney. Stung again, some Democrats continued to keep their "Kerry/Edwards" bumper stickers on the back of their Volvos and Subarus until the popular Obama "Hope" stickers were made available three years later. Others had a 1/20/09 bumper sticker, noting Bush's last day. For some reason 3 of Captain Planet's rings were also on the bumper sticker.
There was very little change in the electoral vote from 2000 to 2004. New Hampshire flipped to the Democratic column in 2004, and Iowa and New Mexico flipped into the Republican column. Otherwise the geography looked the same as in 2000, cementing in place the "red state/blue state" map popularized after 2000 by some pundits.
Because Ohio was the state that determined the outcome of the presidential election, and because there were myriad election irregularities that occurred on election day in Ohio, conspiracy theorists focus most of their time on Ohio. Had Ohio flipped blue, Kerry would have won in a 271-266 vote, the inverse of what Bush got in 2000.
Voters who haven’t voted in the last two presidential elections are considered inactive, and thus are purged from the voter rolls. Kenneth Blackwell, who was the Republican Ohio Secretary of State during the 2004 election, ordered the purge of some 300,000 inactive voters. However, about 10% of the voters purged were active voters and were unfairly disenfranchised. Since a non-negligible number of active voters purged were from Cleveland, a pro-Kerry constituency, RFK Jr. believes that Ken Blackwell’s decision to purge these voters from the rolls was an arbitrary and deliberate attempt to rig the election. But it wasn’t arbitrary or deliberate – it was codified in state law. The Ohio code says that inactive voters must be purged. Blackwell’s decision to purge voters from the rolls followed state law.
If a voter believes that they are registered, but they don’t show up on the rolls when they go to vote, they can fill out a provisional ballot, and the vote will be counted if it is determined that the voter in question is a registered voter. One in every four provisional ballots cast in Ohio were found to be invalid. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. writes that Kerry voters were disproportionately more likely to cast provisional ballots “thanks to GOP efforts to stem the unprecedented flood of Democrats eager to cast ballots,” citing the Democratic Party’s report on Ohio as evidence for this claim. But the report in question does not say that Kerry voters were disproportionately more likely to have to fill out a provisional ballot. In fact, the report says that 4.2 percent of Kerry voters and that 4.1 percent of Bush voters were forced to cast a provisional ballot – a far cry from RFK Jr’s claim of an astounding partisan bent.
Black voters were more likely to experience voting irregularities on election day than whites. They were more likely to face long lines and cast provisional ballots. RFK Jr claims that Republicans deliberately suppressed the black vote, pointing to Republican politicians distributing insufficient amounts of voting machines to predominantly black inner-city precincts, while allocating sufficient amounts to white Republican suburban precincts. The low number of voting machines in inner-city precincts meant that black voters faced longer lines, and according to Kennedy, these long lines dissuaded enough black people from voting for Kerry, costing him the state of Ohio, and thus the election. There are three responses to this claim:
- The Democrats’ report on the 2004 election in Ohio showed that voters who didn’t vote due to long lines would have split evenly between Kerry and Bush.
- Hanlon's razor applies here: There’s no direct evidence that Republican politicians did this with malicious intent. Incompetence is a much more reasonable explanation, as Ohio politicians failed to adequately respond to new changes in election technology.
- Farhad Manjoo of Salon writes, “[I]n Ohio, decisions about voting-machine allocation and precinct location are determined by local boards of elections, which are bipartisan; any Republican effort to allocate machines in a way meant to harm Democrats would have necessarily involved Democratic officials.”
The early exits pointed to Kerry winning the election, but Bush won the actual vote; therefore, the early exits were wrong in predicting the winner. Mitosfky International, the polling company responsible for the early exits during the 2004 election, said that the polling error occurred as a result of Kerry voters being more likely to fill out exit polls, leading to a pro-Kerry bias in the exits.
Nevertheless, this hasn't stopped conspiracy theorists from believing that the exit polls accurately predicted the winner.
Exit polls are actually accurate
Conspiracy theorists will claim that exit polls are accurate by cherry picking the instances in which exit polls accurately predicted the winner. RFK Jr. claims that the exit polls accurately predicted the 2004 Ukrainian election. But exit polls have a bad track record in Europe. In addition, exit polls are notoriously unreliable, since anyone can participate in an exit poll, which can lead to a biased sample. This is what happened in 2004, according to the exit pollsters: Kerry voters were oversampled, leading to a pro-Kerry bias in the exits.
Kerry had an insurmountable lead in early exits
RFK Jr, writing for Rolling Stone, claims that Kerry had an insurmountable lead in ten battleground states, according to early exits. But Kerry's lead in those ten battleground states was within the margin of error. It was not an insurmountable lead.
- 2000 U.S. presidential election
- 2008 U.S. presidential election
- 2012 U.S. presidential election
- 2016 U.S. presidential election
- 2020 U.S. presidential election
- "Turning democracy into theocracy", Guardian (10 November 2004, 6:54 PM EST).
- W Ketchup
- Kennedy Jr., Robert F. "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?." Rolling Stone, no. 1002, 15 June 2006, pp. 46-114.
- Ohio code, 3503.19
- Democratic National Committee: Institute of Voting Rights (2005), Democracy at Risk: The 2004 Election in Ohio
- Farhad Manjoo, Salon, Was the 2004 Election Stolen? No. – Critique of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s Rolling Stone Article June 3, 2006
- Edison Media Research; Mitofsky International (January 19, 2005), Evaluation of Edison/Mitofsky Election System 2004, archived from the original (PDF) on June 14, 2007.