Manchester, N.H. — While the eyes of the world saw Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts defeat his Democratic rivals in the New Hampshire primary, President Bush also tasted victory Tuesday night. He beat 13 obscure GOP rivals and secured 79.5 percent of the vote.
Nonetheless, Team Bush should heed Granite State free marketeers. They warn that GOP voters here, like concerned Republicans across America, are tired of runaway domestic spending and ever-expanding government in Washington, all under Republican rule. In a tight race, Democrats could slip past ho-hum Republicans and reclaim the White House.
“Four years ago, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman lost New Hampshire by about 7,000 votes,” says Michael Dennehy, a Concord communications consultant and GOP political strategist. “There’s no question in my mind that a ticket of John Kerry and [North Carolina senator] John Edwards will get at least as many votes, which makes New Hampshire very close and will put it up for grabs in November’s election. The president has to make sure that the Republican base is energized for his campaign in the fall.”
Interestingly enough, Bush won 53,962 of the 67,833 ballots in Tuesday’s Republican primary, according to New Hampshire’s secretary of state. The remaining 13,871 protest votes cast for both GOP and Democratic contenders are nearly double Bush’s November 2000 margin of 7,211 ballots.
“Handing taxpayer money to giant agribusiness, showering benefits on the elderly, and trying to fend off Democratic attacks by tossing cash at nearly every social issue are the actions of someone who is not serious about responsible budgeting,” declared a Manchester Union-Leader editorial Thursday, as Bush visited Merrimack. “The President needs to be reminded that this sort of behavior by a Republican keeps conservatives home on Election Day.”
GOP stalwarts already are aghast. From a $540 billion — originally $400 billion — Medicare drug benefit to an $820 billion omnibus spending bill to astronomic amounts for Bush’s moon base and Mars trip, Washington Republicans have left no boondoggle behind.
A forthcoming Cato Institute study rates American presidents on real domestic discretionary spending. Lyndon Johnson hiked such outlays by 4.3 percent before they grew 6.8 percent under Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter’s 2-percent increase preceded Ronald Reagan’s 1.3-percentreduction. Clinton’s expenditures advanced 2.5 percent, but Bush’s spending boom more than triples that figure to 8.2 percent. Most of this is beyond the war on terror.
It’s tough to dispute former Vermont governor Howard Dean who says: “We can’t afford any more right-wing Republicans. They’re too expensive.”
In the latest outrage, the White House Thursday kicked gravel into conservatives’ eyes by reportedly proposing a 14.7-percent increase in the fiscal year 2005 budget for the National Endowment for the Arts, a frivolous program the American Right has detested for decades. Bush’s political operatives know this. One wonders: Are they deliberately trying to enrage the GOP base?
“I feel like I didn’t get the guy I voted for,” says Niel Young, an aforementioned right-wing Republican. The Laconia talk-radio host and former state representative skipped the primary to decry Bush’s open-checkbook policy, his open-border immigration initiative and open embrace of Senator Ted Kennedy (D., Mass.) on education funding. “I don’t want a ‘new tone,’” he says he would tell Bush. “I want you to be a Republican.”
“Where is the fiscal restraint? Where is the reduction in deficit spending?” asks Merrimack Republican Bob Bevill, chairman of New Hampshire Eagle Forum, who also boycotted the primary. (Official projections Thursday showed the federal deficit zooming from $375 billion last year to $520 billion in fiscal year 2004.) “The president needs to get back on board with the GOP platform.” Bevill expects to vote for Bush in November, but won’t phone voters or knock on doors for Bush-Cheney 2004. “I hope the president enjoys all the money that he’s raised. That’s probably what’s going to help his campaign, because I’ll be staying home.”
“It’s hard to support the president when he constantly expands the size, scope and cost of government,” says the suitably named John Reagan, executive director of the Coalition of New Hampshire Taxpayers in Concord. “Increased spending always leads to increased taxes. We won’t get the bill this year, but we ultimately get the bill for government spending.”
Also in Concord, Charlie Arlinghaus runs the free-market Josiah Bartlett Center, named after a Founding Father, not the president on NBC’s The West Wing. He primarily blames the GOP Congress for this spendorama.
“I think that it’s difficult when you are in Washington not to want to grab a piece of the pie for your state,” Arlinghaus says. “But if everybody grabs a piece of the pie, we all go hungry. Controlling spending is something you have to do every day by asking questions on every bill.”
Senator John McCain (R., Ariz.), who stumped for Bush here, agrees. “It’s a congressional spending spree,” he tells me while speeding down a hotel stairwell to his campaign bus. “So certainly the conservatives are unhappy about it, fiscal conservatives are, with good justification.” McCain adds: “I hope that [Bush] will be vetoing some of these pork barrel spending bills.” So far, Bush’s veto pen remains undeployed.
For now, John Kerry is one step closer to being nominated in his hometown of Boston at August’s Democratic convention. His primary-night celebration here felt like a country-club soiree. Gracious, elegant revelers cheered their man in a Holiday Inn ballroom while sporting cable-knit sweaters, button-down shirts, and razor-sharp suits. They appeared to have arrived in BMWs. Unlike the scrappier, untucked Deaniacs who gathered in Southern New Hampshire University’s gym, Kerry’s fans resembled stereotypical Republicans.
While fine apparel does not an electoral majority make, John Kerry seems like a candidate who could attract affluent, Republican-leaning suburban voters. Should autumn find America closely divided again, President Bush and the GOP will need fired-up Republicans to fight in the trenches, not stand on the sidelines staring at their wing tips.