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Inside Politics

Conservatives hope gay marriage strikes chord at local level

Republicans dialing for voters; Democrats debating VP picks

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America Votes 2004

This week in The Inside Edge, how same-sex marriage may play out in the campaign, why Republicans are picking up the phone, which country might be next to buck an incumbent and which former Clinton official Kerry might consider as his running mate.

The politics of gay marriage

As hundreds of same-sex couples exchange vows in Massachusetts, it seems that gay marriage may not end up being as big a political issue this year as most would have predicted.

Events in Iraq -- from prisoner abuse, to civilian deaths, to Nicholas Berg's beheading -- have grabbed news headlines and pushed most domestic issues off the radar, including gay marriage.

But despite the relatively quiet reaction to the historic events in Massachusetts this week, gay marriage may yet return as a significant political force before November.

Indeed, while polls show that many Americans are somewhat neutral about gay marriage (they neither support it, nor are they strongly against it), many Christian conservatives passionately oppose it. And Karl Rove, the president's chief political strategist, has said repeatedly that one of his major goals is to turn out those conservative voters in November in droves.

So expect to see this issue raised by evangelical Christian groups this fall - not necessarily through television ads, but through old-fashioned grass-roots efforts including phone calling, distributing flyers and door-to-door canvassing, very similar to successful efforts employed this spring to encourage viewers to see the movie, "The Passion of the Christ."

In addition to grass-roots efforts, the gay marriage issue is also likely to resurface in the form of state ballot initiatives opposing gay marriage.

While gay marriage may not be part of the larger national debate, the controversy could play out at the state level. As many as 15 states may put anti-gay marriage initiatives on the ballot this fall, potentially keeping the issue alive in critical battleground states like Oregon, Ohio and Missouri.

Can you hear me, now?

While some Republicans are understandably dismayed by the latest CNN and Pew national polls that show President Bush down by five points to Democratic challenger John Kerry, the reality is that Bush's political situation may be even worse than the polls suggest.

Indeed, Bush's numbers are down and John Kerry has yet to hit his stride. The senator's biographical television ads have just recently hit the airwaves and still do not portray a simple, clear and compelling message.

Moreover, the news from Iraq is beginning to seep deeply into the body politic, dragging down all of the president's approval numbers, from Iraq to the economy.

But President Bush has a secret weapon that may help him keep his base together and live to fight another day. It's not his large stash of money (he still has almost $100 million in cash on hand) or even new ads (expect to see more soon) but rather his grass-roots campaign efforts.

Indeed, below the radar of many political observers, the president's team has built a robust network of phone callers, door-to-door volunteers and e-mailers who are helping to keep Republican spirits up (the president's ratings among Republicans still hovers near 90%) and recruit new volunteers and supporters.

Notably, while the Kerry campaign has celebrated an online database of almost 600,000 volunteers, President Bush's campaign regularly connects with almost 6 million supporters via e-mail.

Moreover, in each of the 17 key battleground states, the Bush campaign has assigned thousands of county and precinct leaders, while as recently as two weeks ago the Kerry campaign had yet to build even the most basic campaign organization in key battleground states like Florida and Ohio.

This coming weekend the president's team will kick off perhaps its most impressive display yet - a round robin set of phone calls made by an army of volunteers to voters in the 17 battleground states.

While the campaign has declined to speculate on how many calls will be made, it is conceivable that as many as one million phones may ring. If so, such efforts may quietly help the president retain his support at a critical juncture in the campaign.

Will Japan follow suit?

Keep your eye on July's parliamentary elections in Japan where a "coincidental trend" may be emerging.

Over the last two months, voters in Spain and India have surprised political pundits and thrown out ruling parties, both of which were considered friends of the Bush administration. If the same happens in July in Japan -- where the government is also a Bush-coalition member -- anti-incumbency may begin to emerge as a genuine and significant 2004-05 global political phenomenon.

Significantly, if the anti-incumbency trend extends to the U.S. in 2004 and England in 2005, it is conceivable that by next fall, half of the world's most powerful leaders could be first-termers -- three of the five U.N. Security Council members (China, England, U.S.) as well as the heads of Japan and India, two of the world's largest economies.

At this point, it is too speculative to say definitively what such a rapid, large-scale change of world leadership may mean. Some will say it may mean a fresh start on a series of difficult issues, others will say leaving the fate of the world to so many "rookies" is a dangerous phenomenon in such an unsettled time.

In either case, it is likely that such enormous turnover would lead to significant new global policy directions on a host of questions including the war on terror, international trade, the role of the U.N. and pre-emptive war. From safety against terrorism to outsourced jobs, those new policies would have a real impact not only abroad, but in the U.S. as well.

Southwestern veepstakes

A former U.S. Congressman, Ambassador to the U.N. and Secretary of Energy, Bill Richardson, now governor of New Mexico, certainly has one of the broadest and most impressive resumes in politics.

Moreover, as the popular governor of a key swing state (Al Gore won New Mexico in 2000 by only 366 votes), and the next door neighbor of another critical state (Arizona), Richardson has quickly become a favorite in many Democratic circles as a VP for Kerry.

While Richardson has both resume and geographic appeal, the fact that he is Hispanic (his mother is Mexican and he speaks Spanish) has led some strategists to argue that his selection could also help Democrats rally Hispanic votes in as many as a half dozen key states including Nevada, Colorado, Florida and New Jersey.

If they are right, Richardson could potentially be the most transformative candidate among John Kerry's potential running mates.

Indeed, if Hispanic voters realigned heavily to the Democratic Party as a result of Richardson's selection - voting at an 80% or 90% rate for Democrats instead of in the low 60s as they did in 2000, Democrats would potentially enjoy a huge advantage in key state and federal elections for years to come.

Critics of Richardson's point to the infamous Wen Ho Lee affair at the Los Alamos nuclear lab while he was Secretary of Energy. Others think that the Richardson name is not distinctively "Hispanic enough" to provide an immediate draw among Hispanic voters in states where he is less well-known.

So will he be on the ticket? I think so -- but not this year. Instead, I believe that after being considered seriously this year, like John Edwards, Richardson will move from VP consideration to his own run for president in 2008 or 2012.

And that run will ultimately serve as his springboard to greater national recognition and a spot on a national ticket. Next week, I'll tell you about a former professor who could help Kerry drive home a key election theme.

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