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The 2004 Presidential Election Series


The 2004 Democratic Primary

The 2004 Democratic Primary was defined by its opposition to the policies of President George W. Bush, particularly in the economy and over the Iraq War. Initially, former Governor of Vermont Howard Dean, known for his centrist policy record as Governor, led the primary both in polling and in fundraising through populist fervor. His campaign also was innovative in using the internet to raise donations, a tactic that would only increase until it became one of the top ways to fund campaigns by the 2020 primary.

Going into Iowa, Howard Dean and Congressman Dick Gephardt were the expected leaders for the caucus, but just before the caucus was held Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, favored by the establishment, and upstart Senator John Edwards of North Carolina surged ahead, eventually coming in the top two places in Iowa. Kerry then won New Hampshire and from there proceeded to dominate the primaries and get the backing of the Democratic Party. Edwards managed to come close in several states, notably Wisconsin, as well as win the Carolinas, but ultimately could not stop Kerry from becoming the nominee.

The other interesting bit from the 2004 Democratic Primary is the candidacy of Retired General Wesley Clark. The last of the ultimately 10 candidates to enter, Clark was part of a draft campaign that sought to get an antiwar general into the primary as a way of offsetting George W. Bush's popularity following 9/11. While initially showing strong support, Clark's campaign had media troubles from the start that would cause his candidacy to fail, even as he managed to carry the Oklahoma Primary.

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The 2004 Presidential Election

The 2004 Presidential Election featured John Kerry, with primary runner-up John Edwards as his running mate, facing off against the then-popular George W. Bush in a battle for control of the country. The campaigns came to focus squarely on issues related to 9/11, as the attacks cast a long shadow over the campaign, along with the resulting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Conservative voters focused on a strong leader against terrorism while liberal voters wanted a strong leader for the Iraq situation.

Military records in particular for both candidates famously were scrutinized. When Bush's record with the Texas Air National Guard was looked into by CBS less than successfully, major leadership changes and firings occurred over the uproar resulting from the way they handled the investigation. Perhaps most infamously was the work Swift Vets and POWs for Truth did to cast Kerry in a negative light in questioning his service and his discharge from the US Navy. "Swifboating" became a term used in elections after this, used to mean a candidate is treated harshly and personally in an unfair manner. Ultimately, Kerry's Swiftboating was far more successful on the Republican side.

While the debates went better for Kerry, the Bush campaign and Bush's latent popularity were enough to help push him over the top when it came time for the election. It also helped that the terrorist most wanted for the 9/11 attacks, Osama Bin Laden, released a video just days before the election mocking the United States and Bush, which gave Bush more of a lead. While Kerry would still keep the election close (close enough that a few more percentage points in Ohio would have won him the election), Bush won the election both in the electoral vote and popular vote. This marks the only election since 1988 in which the Republican candidate has won the popular vote.

Thank you all for reading! Next up in January is 2008 and maybe some stuff on Senate, House, and Governor races!


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