TCS Daily


Why Ohio Wasn't Florida All Over Again

By James H. Joyner - November 3, 2004 12:00 AM

By the time you read this, Senator Kerry will have done the honorable thing and conceded the election to President Bush. The Associated Press reported Kerry's call to the president thusly:

"Congratulations, Mr. President," Kerry said in the conversation described by sources as lasting less than five minutes. One of the sources was Republican, the other a Democrat. The Democratic source said Bush called Kerry a worthy, tough and honorable opponent. Kerry told Bush the country was too divided, the source said, and Bush agreed. "We really have to do something about it," Kerry said according to the Democratic official.

This step will go a long way to healing wounds that have not healed since the aftermath of the 2000 election and ended fears that we were about to see a repeat.

While there were predictions that Ohio would be the Florida of 2004, that did not happen because of several key differences.

The margin: Bush was only ahead by 200 or so votes after the first count in Florida, a bigger state than Ohio. Bush currently leads by nearly 150,000 votes with all precincts in. The math was incredibly improbable for Kerry -- virtually all of the provisional ballots would have to be ruled valid and they would have had to go almost exclusively to Kerry. Both were, to say the least rather unlikely.

Perhaps more importantly, there was a built in excuse in Florida in that the Butterfly Ballots, Hanging Chads, and other oddities actually created a plausible argument that, had these things not occurred, Gore would have carried the state. Under that circumstance, trying to overturn a razor thin margin was acceptable.

Moreover, the sheer size of the initial count -- with 100% of the precincts reported -- creates a psychological victory for Bush in Ohio in a way that he never had in Florida in 2000. Kerry trying to overturn this result would have seemed outrageous in a way that it never did in Florida.

The national popular vote: In 2000, Gore had a 500,000 plus plurality in the overall vote. While that doesn't strictly matter in our system for a variety of reasons that have been written about ad nauseum, it did give his attempt to overturn a tight election result in Florida more legitimacy. More Americans, after all, had voted for Gore than for Bush. That meant that 1) more people would have been happy with an overturn of the result than would have been angered by it and 2) even people who voted for Bush had some initial sympathy for his cause.

Given that Bush has a national margin roughly six times that enjoyed by Gore -- and even won a national majority - -the Ohio result has even more credibility. The majority of Americans would almost certainly have been outraged by any attempt to change the outcome of the election under these circumstances. Not only did that put pressure on both the Kerry camp and the judiciary to resolve this quickly, but it virtually assured that Kerry could never have been seen as a legitimate president.

The Nader factor: Gore had the additional argument in 2000 that more Floridians preferred him to Bush in 2000 but some of his vote was siphoned off by Ralph Nader. No such excuse existed this time: Nader wasn't even on the ballot in Ohio. Indeed, even if we make the odd presumption that those who voted for the minor party candidates in Ohio all preferred Kerry to Bush and thus added their totals to his, Kerry still comes up short.

John Edwards: Edwards clearly wants to be the main alternative to Hillary Clinton in 2008. He had to realize that 2004 was a lost cause and that a divisive effort to overturn the election would have destroyed his chances for the future.

We've already had one 2000: The fact that we went through this in 2000 mitigated against a repeat. People remember how bitter and agonizing it was last time and had no desire to do it again.

Because of these factors, and a simple realization that dragging out the inevitable would be bad for the country, the Kerry team reluctantly did the right thing. And, who knows, CNN might even call it for Bush before the Electoral College meets.

James H. Joyner, Jr., Ph.D. is Managing Editor of Strategic Insights, the journal of the Naval Postgraduate School. He writes about national security policy at the Outside the Beltway weblog. He is a frequent TCS contributor.


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