Judy Woodruff, CNN’s top political anchor and senior correspondent, analyzed the 2004 presidential election before about 200 people at the Law School Auditorium Tuesday afternoon.
Woodruff, who covered the election for CNN on her daily show “Inside Politics,” discussed the war in Iraq’s impact on the election and the role it may play in the second term of President George W. Bush ’68. In her lecture, sponsored by the Poynter Institute, Woodruff said issues of moral values and national security led Bush to victory over Sen. John Kerry ’66.
Although the election gave Republicans what she called a “pervasive triumph” and complete majority control over the U.S. government at both the national and state levels, Woodruff noted that Bush won by the smallest margin of any incumbent wartime president.
“The solidarity of the Republican position may not be as great as the fragility of the Democratic position,” Woodruff said, adding that many Democrats are in “deep despair” because of their losses in this year’s election.
Woodruff said news reports that Sen. Chris Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, is considering leaving Congress to run for governor in 2006 symbolize the frustrations among many Democrats in Washington that they are the “permanent minority.”
She said she thinks Kerry performed “superbly” in some areas — notably raising more money than any Democratic candidate in history — but was “haunted” by differing positions on the Iraq war. Kerry voted in the Senate in favor of giving Bush the authority to wage war but against an $87 billion bill to pay for the war.
For Bush’s top political advisor Karl Rove, Kerry’s Iraq positions were the “gift that never stopped giving,” Woodruff said.
She also faulted Kerry for not responding quickly enough to attacks on his military service from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Kerry missed opportunities to define himself, Woodruff said.
“There was no consistent Kerry narrative or compelling argument,” Woodruff said.
The problem today for Democrats, Woodruff said, is that they need to find a way to reach out to voters in a way that seems authentic and credible.
“They have their work cut out for them,” she said.
The public’s concern with safety after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, as well as moral values issues such as abortion and gay marriage, have allowed Bush to make significant inroads among females and Latinos, voting blocs that have been traditionally Democratic, Woodruff said.
Traditional pocketbook issues such as the economy, health care and education seemed to diminish in importance as Election Day grew closer and were offset by terrorism and the war in Iraq, Woodruff said.
“My suspicion is that all these domestic issues will be profoundly affected by one external issue — Iraq,” Woodruff said.
If Iraq goes well, she said, it will prove to be a “strong hand” for Bush. But, if the situation continues to be “an enormous challenge,” she said, increasingly harsh criticisms will emerge and the public will compare the Iraq war to the Vietnam War.
Students said they enjoyed hearing about the election from Woodruff, who as a political journalist for CNN and PBS, has covered every presidential election since Jimmy Carter’s campaign in 1976.
“It was interesting to hear information from someone in the trenches,” Rosi Kerr FES ’06 said.
Some students noticed that Woodruff was careful to “tiptoe” around their questions in an effort to be impartial and not expose her personal beliefs.
“She’s obviously not going to come out with her opinion. It doesn’t lower my opinion of her,” Adam Varner ’07 said. “After watching Judy Woodruff on election night, it was pretty cool to hear about the election from her background.”
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