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Election 2004: State of the Races

David Broder
Washington Post Staff Writer and Columnist
Monday, November 1, 2004; 11:00 AM

The presidential race is still too close to call with Election Day just hours away. Both sides are feverishly courting undecided voters, rallying their base and aggressively pushing their candidate.

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and columnist David S. Broder takes your questions on the 2004 election and the state of the races.

Peggy Noonan talks with Vice President Dick Cheney (top). Donna Brazile teaching a course at the University of Maryland. (The Washington Post)

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Philadelphia, Pa.: I don't know about you, but I think that it is healthy to have close elections. The reason is that when there's an eight to 10 point margin in the polls, the pundits basically stop short of predicting that the leading candidate will win. Polls like that also discourage the party of the trailing candidate to the point where they won't feel like getting out the vote. Plus, undecideds or unlikely voters will think that there vote won't make a difference. When you have a close race, people will realize that they're vote is important. It's also refreshing to see pundits say that they don't know what will happen on Election Day. What do you think?

David Broder: I agree with you on almost all points. It is certainly healthy that the so-called experts have to admit they have no way of predicting the outcome. People are plenty motivated by the issues and personalities in this election, so I think the turnout would be high in any case. But the apparent closeness of the race just adds to the interest.


Milford, Conn.: Mr Broder:
Was this campaign nastier than others in recent years, or did it just seem that way?

David Broder: I'm in the minority in thinking this was about normal in terms of negativism or nastiness. And I think there was more substance in the debates than in many other years.


Hong Kong, China: When push comes to shove, who has better (historically) Get Out the Vote? Unions? Church groups? Old people?
Who does it favor?

David Broder: How about all of the above? Unions have improved their showing markedly in the last six years; church groups have been very effective in years when they saw much at stake, as is the case this year; and seniors almost always vote in higher proportions than the 18-29s. I expect all three to show up in force this year.


San Diego, Calif.: Historically, high voter turnout tends to favor the national Democratic candidate. Do you feel this "conventional wisdom" will hold true if, say, voter turnout is 55 or 60 percent?

Thank you for your time.

David Broder: The best answer I can give to a speculative question is what one very smart Republican told me last week. He said that while he could not predict which side would have the better voter mobilization effort, "the Democrats have a bigger pool from which to draw than we do." Because voter participation is usually linked to education and income levels, Republicans generally have a higher percentage of their supporters who are self-motivated to vote.


Burke, Va.: Mr. Broder -- 32 years ago, you broke out of the pack by knocking on doors in New Hampshire and reported back to your colleagues that Senator Ed Muskie's large lead in the polls for the Democratic nomination was illusory and not supported by your face-to-face contacts with voters. Have you detected anything similar this year that might suggest the polls have failed to capture a major trend?

David Broder: You are kind to remember that 1972 experience; I am tempted to say that was the last time I was right, but there may have been one or two other occasions since then. I have no strong conviction this year based on voter interviews. Some people have told me the jobs picture is uppermost in their minds; others, the threat of terroism. In the last few weeks, the headlines about Iraq probably made that issue the first thing people wanted to talk about. Iraq and economy voters are going for Kerry; terrorism voters for Bush. My gut feeling is that Bush has been hurt on the margins by the run of bad news from Iraq.


Champaign, Ill.: What is your take on the charges of "voter suppression?" If this occurs, is there any recourse this year?

David Broder: "Voter suppression" is described by Republicans in states such as New Mexico as an effort to prevent "voter fraud." My guess is that both sides will have enough lawyers out there to making it a fairly clean election. I said "fairly clean," not unblemished.


Ann Arbor, Mich.: I read your colleague Richard Morin's article about the challenges of being a pollster these days -- more refusals; people switching from copper line to cell phones. What's your take on what this year's experience will mean for what the media covers pre-election?

washingtonpost.com: Don't Ask Me (Post, Oct. 28)

David Broder: If you are asking whether we will de-emphasize the "horse race," because of the problems with polling, my answer would be, "No." Public curiosity about "who is going to win" remains strong, even if we are unable to answer. But I do think that there has been an unusual amount of perceptive reporting on other aspects of this year's election campaign--smart explorations of the character and governing styles of the candidates and serious attention to the major issues.


Brussels, Belgium: What do you consider to be the sources of the extreme polarization in the US today?

David Broder: Someone far smarter than I am would have to give you a full answer to that question. Beyond the racial and economic lines we have known for decades, there appear to be deeper cultural divides. Many Americans find the changes in society--such as the emergennce of a gay lifestyle--deeply threatening. Others accept or even welcome such change. differences show up in the sharp break between urban and rural areas and in many other patterns. But the question you raise is a profound one.


Falls Church, Va.: The Columbus (OH) Dispatch polled 2,880 likely Ohio voters the other day. Kerry led Bush by eight. Not percent—eight people.

Are we doomed to another year of recounts and lawsuits? Or do you think something will break definitively by Wednesday morning?

David Broder: I don't know. In the first calls I've made today there is no evidence in tracking polls of a big break in either direction. But I'm still reporting and have a lot more calls to make.


Syracuse, N.Y.: How are you going to spend election day?

David Broder: I'll vote in my home precinct in Virginia and be in the office by early afternoon, prepared to stay until 3 a.m. or so on Wednesday, if it's like last time.


Dyersburg, Tenn.: What is your take on the honesty of early voting? Do you think it makes fraud more likely?

David Broder: The reporters we have in Florida and Nevada say they have not observed anything that looks suspicious to them. That is the best guide I have.


Louisville, Ky.: What races do you think will be crucial with regards to control of the Senate?

David Broder: Democrats are defending five open seats in the South and Republicans have hopes of winning all of them. If Democrats can salvage at least two, they should be able to hold their own. They have a chance to pick up Republican seats in Colorado and your state of Kentucky. We expect a swap in Illinois and Georgia--the former going to the Democrats and the latter to the Republicans. It is pretty hard for me to see the Republicans losing control, even if Kerry wins and John Edwards becomes the new vice president.


Strattanville, Pa.: Due to the proliferation of news outlets -- newspapers, "big three" networks, cable news channels, Internet and bloggers, do you see a change in the electorate whereby we only want to see "news" that is congruent with our own slant, our own beliefs? Does this lack of a "common denominator" of information reduce our ability to empathize and understand each other's position? Don

David Broder: I have no evidence to support this view, but I suspect that most people rely on the local TV and newspaper accounts more than any others. But it is clear that some of the cable news operations are identified as being partisan. While their audiences are no large, they are significant because the activists look to them for cues.


Fort Worth, Tex.: What's your take on the provisional ballot issue? It seems that many states (Colorado and Ohio especially) have not nailed down the processes and procedures necessary to ensure a smooth election.

David Broder: You are right about the vagueness of the procedures in those states. Congress mandated the use of provisional ballots, but did not--probably could not constitutionally--tell the states how they were to be handled. If the election is very, very close, this is a likely area of contention.


Boulder, Colo.: In your opinion, is this "the most important election of our lifetime," as many believe?

David Broder: I have heard that line before; in 12 campaigns I have covered, the most consequential turned out to be 1964, 1968 and 1980--as measured by the changes in policy direction that resulted. None of them stirred stronger emotions than this one and the odds are pretty high that this one will rank up there with the others in terms of consequences. Just thinking about the Supreme Court appointments likely to be made in the next four years--let alone the course of foreign policy and the future of Social Security and Medicare.


Boulder, Colo.: Mr. Broder, I've heard from a couple of professors that undecided voters tend to break against the incumbent at the last minute, and they predeict a strong Kerry victory. Is this just wishful thinking on my professors' behalf?

David Broder: No, it is the conventional wisdom, based on past campaign experience. Whether it will be true this year is another question.


New York, N.Y.: Ok, let's cut to the chase. Who's going to win tomorrow?

David Broder: I don't know. Can you help me?


Thank you.: This closing quote from your latest column was a big help.

"...A closing personal thought: Emotions are running high about this presidential choice. Take a moment, before you vote, to remind yourself that this republic has weathered worse storms and, thanks to the Constitution, has never failed to recover its bearings and adhere to its principles. Resolve not to let the defeat of your favorite candidate shatter your faith in America or turn you away from politics. There will be another day. Remember the Red Sox...."

Thank you.

David Broder: If it helped you, I'm delighted. By the way, now that the Red Sox have won a pennant, don't you think it's the Cubs turn?


Rockville, Md.: What are your feeling about singers and celebrities promoting the candidates? I may like Kerry, but what's Springsteen got to do with it? Shouldn't the candidates be more focused on what they will accomplish while in office and less on who's entertaining them?

David Broder: Lighten up. The celebrities and entertainers are used mainly to draw crowds to rallies. I see no harm in that and I think both these candidates are damned serious about the challenges of the presidency.


Montreal, Canada: Mr. Broder,
Some analysts have speculated that the Democrats have a realistic chance of taking control of the Senate, but this seems like a longshot. What do you think?

David Broder: It looks like a real longshot to me. We said in our Sunday roujndup that Democrats would have to win all four tossup races--including Senator Daschle's--and knock off one favored Republican in order to reach 50--and then see Kerry win and put John Edwards in a position to break a tie. That is quite a burden.


Rochester, N.Y.: What do you think will be the biggest surprise of the election results?

David Broder: I don't know that it will happen, but if Bush won Hawaii, it certainly would represent a dramatic break with the past.


Andover, Mass.: Which one state or which bloc of states do you think will make the difference in this election?

David Broder: Everyone has pointed to Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio as key battlegrounds, and that remains the case. Behind them,. I would mention Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. If you know who wins most of those electoral votes, I think you know the winner.


Virginia: Do you think the Bin Laden tape makes any difference in the election?

David Broder: There's no evidence yet in the polling that it has made a difference, but it certainly is a reminder he's still out there and still poses a threat.


Amman, Jordan: I have benefited greatly from the changes made after the 2000 elections, particularly the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, which made it easier for overseas Americans to register and vote.
What would be your checklist of issues that can and should be addressed after the 2004 elections?

David Broder: Thank you for your question. I have run out of time and it's a good note on which to end. Whoever is in the Oval Office on Jan. 20 will face difficult decisions on how to bring order and a degree of democracy to Iraq, how to cope with the nuclear threats in Iran and North Korea, and here at hom, how to plug the severe deficxits in the federal budget and begin preparing for financing the retirement and health care costs of the Baby Boomer retirees, while stemming inflation in medical costs and bringing diwb the number of uninsured.


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