Bill Clinton made a sharp and perhaps surprising attack on George W. Bush this week, saying in a speech Monday in Philadelphia that the president may be using the war on terror to scare voters away from the polls.
In doing so, Clinton didn’t just put the right-wing Republicans on notice that there’s going to be a major battle over the right to vote. He went further, suggesting that Bush’s electioneering may be a means to manipulate the vote. “I’ve been at home watching TV,” said Clinton, who spent the last few weeks recovering from heart surgery. “Bush is trying to scare undecided voters away from Kerry, and trying to scare decided voters away from the polls because it worked so well in Florida.”
Let’s say John and Jane Doe are driving home from work in Cleveland, ready to stop off and vote. But then they hear on the car radio a mention by administration officials of possible terrorist attacks on polling places. John and Jane Doe go home—then become a federal case. After all, if a sheriff’s roadblock near a largely black polling place can be considered voter obstruction, then can’t other scare tactics, including a crafty use of code red, be considered the same?
If the election actually unfolds along these lines, then there is indeed a real possibility there will be no winner November 2.
Addressing a sea of supporters at the midday rally, Clinton looked thinner but nonetheless chipper as he went to bat for John Kerry. Clinton and Kerry, who spoke afterward, faced a crowd of at least 4,000 that overflowed Love Park, in the center of the city. Thousands more stretched back as far as five blocks. Organizers said the crowds were as large as those when the pope said mass in Philadelphia several years ago.
There were seemingly hundreds of people in wheelchairs, people sporting Clinton-Gore buttons, and thousands of African Americans. Latinos were a heavy presence as well. At least two speakers addressed the crowd in Spanish.
With Kerry inching ahead in Pennsylvania, Clinton’s appearance here, where there is a large black electorate, should propel him further ahead. The key to a Kerry victory in Pennsylvania is to capture the southeastern part of the state, including the Philly suburbs and counties radiating down to the Delaware border, by a strong margin. Among black voters, pollsters and other pros report that ordinary people fail to respond to Kerry, although black officialdom likes him.
Among southeastern voters, who on paper are likely to be Republican, the cutting issues this year are the economy and especially health care, which Kerry has stumped on repeatedly. Social issues in these exurban centers may not carry the impact they do elsewhere. Such topics as same-sex marriage, stem cell research, and abortion rights have been submerged in debate over the economy.
Additional reporting: Laurie Anne Agnese, David Botti, and Nicole Duarte