WASHINGTON – As President Bush left the White House to begin a weekend respite at Camp David, he basked in more than merely a hard-fought victory over John Kerry. It was the type of triumph – precisely the kind he had demanded his staff produce – that delighted him.

In a directive to his campaign team nearly two years ago, the president stressed one thing above almost any other: A lonely victory is not good enough. He wanted to broaden his support and begin creating a lasting Republican majority that would trickle down to every level of federal and local government.

Even in the campaign’s final days, when it was unclear whether Bush would achieve a victory of any kind, an under-the-radar Republican network that had been forming slowly for more than a year was working to carry out the president’s command.

And it delivered, not only by seizing the battlegrounds of Ohio and Florida but also by expanding the GOP’s congressional majority and building a popular vote advantage of more than 3.5 million. To reach that goal, the Republicans increased their share of the vote across the country, even in conservative states such as Utah and Oklahoma and Democratic states like New Jersey, where Bush received 300,000 more votes than he did four years ago.

That result rested at the heart of the re-election strategy all along, so Bush finally could claim an outright majority of the people’s vote. It had been a sticking point since the 2000 contest, when he lost the popular vote to Al Gore but won in the Electoral College after a drawn-out legal dispute ended by the Supreme Court.

“Obviously he wanted to win the popular vote, but it wasn’t like we were sitting around obsessing how to win the popular vote,” said Ken Mehlman, Bush’s campaign manager. “We were obsessing about winning the election by the popular and the electoral vote.”

To make sure the vote totals were reaching the campaign goals, a sophisticated telephone system was created in which precinct captains punched in how many people had voted. If the numbers did not hit expectations, volunteers contacted voters by telephone or a knock at the door.

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“This is a victory for a message, this is a victory for an agenda,” Mehlman said. “And this was a victory for a ground game and tactics.”

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Democrats conceded their get-out-the-vote effort was not as good as their competition’s, but they took issue with Bush’s claim of a mandate, considering that 56 million Americans cast ballots for Kerry or another candidate. Critics said Bush was treating his 3-point margin of victory over Kerry – about 51 percent to 48 percent – as though it were as definitive as President Ronald Reagan’s 18-point trouncing of Walter Mondale in 1984.

“What is striking is not the breadth but the narrowness of the president’s support,” said Robert Borosage, president of the Institute for America’s Future, a pro-Democratic group. “Bush only increased the margin and the turnout in the Republican areas.”

Still, as he prepares for a new term in the Oval Office, Bush is freshly emboldened by what he calls a mandate from the “will of the people.” One day after claiming victory and narrowly avoiding another contested election, he declared, “I earned capital in the campaign – political capital – and now I intend to spend it.”

But stepping back to study the election results, questions emerge: Was Bush’s mandate gained by attracting new supporters through ideas or vision, or was it built by mastering the mechanics of the election? And who are the people who make up the mandate?

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In Ohio, Bush won the same number of counties as he did four years ago. But in those 72 counties, he boosted his total by 19 percent, a gain of about 443,000 votes.

His victory in Ohio mirrored those in other industrial states: Rural counties supported him overwhelmingly while Kerry drew his support from the big urban industrial centers. Each of the state’s 88 counties turned out more votes for Bush than in the 2000 election, with 44 counties giving the president majorities of 60 percent or higher.

In Democrat-rich Cuyahoga County, dominated by Cleveland, Kerry won 67 percent of the vote. But at the same time, Bush gained 12 percentage points from his performance in 2000, earning 23,500 more votes.

“The notion of this red and blue America – a red America where Democrats dare not tread and a blue America where Republicans dare not tread – was disproved by this election,” Mehlman said. “You have a president who improved his performance in red America and blue America.”

Still, fewer than 70 counties across the country tilted from Democrat to Republican, leaving the U.S. political map of more than 3,000 counties a familiar shade of red (Republican) and blue (Democratic).

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A study of the electorate, gleaned from exit polls and interviews with party strategists, finds that Bush’s supporters were similar to those who backed him during his first presidential campaign. But this time his campaign did a better job – through an elaborate targeting plan on TV and radio and in the mail – of luring inconsistent voters to the polls who already were inclined to support him.

Exit polls also reveal just how different Bush and Kerry voters were in many respects and offer a window into the kinds of policies they might expect from their president.

When considering matters of race, Bush will know that 88 percent of those who voted for him are white, compared with 66 percent for Kerry.

Bush increased support among Hispanic voters, from 35 percent four years ago to 42 percent in 2004. That shift helped in certain states, but his gains among black voters – from 9 percent to 11 percent – did not meet the campaign’s expectation.

During the campaign, Bush frequently spoke of his support for tax cuts that helped the middle class and reminded audiences that he did away with the so-called marriage penalty in the federal tax code.

And at the ballot box, 7 in 10 Bush supporters were married, compared to only slightly more than half for Kerry.

Half of those who backed Bush go to church at least once a week, including 20 percent who said they typically attend religious services more frequently. For Kerry, just 33 percent of his supporters attend church at least once a week. And more than one-third of Bush supporters identify themselves as “born-again” Christians, while just 10 percent of Kerry backers described themselves that way.

As he considers the prospect of filling court vacancies – from the federal district courts to the Supreme Court – abortion rights is one of the top issues for many of Bush’s core supporters. According to the exit polls, 62 percent of Bush supporters say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, compared with 21 percent for Kerry supporters.

So as political strategists from both parties pored over the election statistics, a White House spokesman said Bush would spend his weekend focusing on a second-term agenda as well as changes to his Cabinet should current members resign, as some have indicated they would do.

In victory, Bush pledged to bridge the divide between the parties in pursuit of his agenda to simplify the tax code, reform Social Security and continue the war on terrorism. Because Bush campaigned explicitly on those issues, the administration believes it has secured a public endorsement for its agenda.

“The American people spoke very clearly,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. “I think there was a very clear mandate from the American people that they support his agenda for the next four years.”



(Chicago Tribune correspondents John McCormick, Tim Jones and Mark Silva contributed to this report.)



(c) 2004, Chicago Tribune.

Visit the Chicago Tribune on the Internet at http://www.chicagotribune.com/

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-11-06-04 1645EST



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