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A 51 Percent Mandate?

By Brian Faler
Thursday, November 11, 2004; Page A06

When is a mandate a mandate?

President Bush won more than 59 million votes last week -- more than any other presidential candidate in history and enough, his supporters have said, to claim a mandate. But other comparisons between this year's election results and those of previous contests suggest his win was somewhat less decisive.

Bush's unofficial three-percentage-point margin of victory, for example, was the fifth smallest since 1920. John F. Kennedy won in 1960 with 0.2 percent more votes than Richard M. Nixon. Nixon, in turn, won in 1968 with a slim 0.7 percent advantage over Hubert H. Humphrey. In 1976, Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald R. Ford by 2.1 percent. In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the electoral one. Conversely, 10 of the previous 21 presidential races were won by at least 10 percentage points -- and five of them were decided by more than 20 points.

Bush's chunk of the popular vote -- unofficially, 51 percent -- also places him in the middle of this historical pack. Thirteen of the winners of the previous 21 elections won a larger share of the vote. Lyndon B. Johnson won the highest percentage, when he swamped Barry Goldwater in 1964 with 61.1 percent. Bill Clinton won with the lowest, when he took 43 percent in 1992. Bush, however, is the first to win a majority of the popular vote since 1988.

While he won more votes than any previous presidential candidate, second place goes to John F. Kerry, who took 56 million votes. Ronald Reagan came in third with 54.5 million in 1984, when he defeated Walter F. Mondale by 18 percentage points, followed by Al Gore with 50.9 million in 2000 and Bush, again, who won 50.4 million votes the same year.

Falwell's Second Coming

Call it the second coming of the Moral Majority. Jerry Falwell said yesterday he is launching a political organization that will be "a 21st century resurrection" of the Moral Majority, the Christian lobby he founded and led from 1979 to 1987.

The new group, named the Faith and Values Coalition, will "utilize the momentum of the Nov. 2 elections to maintain an evangelical revolution of voters who will continue to go to the polls to 'vote Christian,' " Falwell said.

At 71, Falwell said he is committing to a four-year stint as national chairman. Mat Staver, founder of the conservative legal group Liberty Counsel, will be vice chairman. Tim LaHaye, co-author of the Left Behind series of novels, will head the board of directors. And Falwell's son, Jonathan, will serve as executive director, the evangelist based in Lynchburg said.

Falwell's old antagonist, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, called his announcement "just another fundraising gimmick."

"After Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, Falwell sent letters to religious conservatives nationwide asking them if he should reopen the Moral Majority and seeking donations. Falwell never reactivated the group, but he did keep the money," Americans United said in a statement.

Staff writer Alan Cooperman contributed to this report.

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