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Different Voters Targeted In Primary, Elections

By Michelle Austein

Candidates Target Different Voters in Primary, General Elections

To win primary elections in the United States, presidential candidates must convince members of their own political party that they share the party's political views.

This means that during the nomination season, Democrats hit the campaign trail to discuss issues that matter to liberal voters, while Republicans focus on the topics that conservatives care about.

In the 2008 primary races, Democrats are focusing on troop withdrawal from Iraq and health care issues, while Republicans are highlighting their tough stances on immigration and national security, according to Howard Reiter, professor of political science at the University of Connecticut.

However, history shows this method of campaigning does not work in the November general election. Some of the biggest election defeats have been for candidates who failed to move to the center of the political spectrum.

"In both parties, the constituency they have to win over to get the nomination is not the same constituency they are going to need in the fall," Reiter said.

"Candidates have tried to walk something of a tight rope," Sandy Maisel, professor of government at Colby College in Maine, told USINFO. "What you see is Democrats trying to appeal to the base of the Democratic Party which is left of center, but not to go so far to the left as to alienate independents and moderate Republicans in the general election."

Republicans behave similarly, Maisel said. They try to appear on the conservative side of the political spectrum on social, economic and military issues, but not so far right as to discourage potential independent and moderate Democratic voters.

Once the party nomination is secure, candidates tend to take a more centrist approach to policy to win those independent and moderate votes.

In the general election, according to Reiter, the Republican candidate likely will moderate his stance on immigration in order to appeal to Hispanic voters and will try to appear less hawkish on national security issues than he did in the primary campaign.

The Democratic nominee likely will appeal to moderate and independent voters by proposing a phased withdrawal from Iraq rather than a sudden troop reduction and by presenting a more moderate view on health care, Reiter said.

Both Reiter and Maisel cited President Bush's ability to appeal to his party base in the primary and to those outside his party in the 2000 general election by describing himself as a "compassionate conservative." This phrase implied that even though he was a conservative like his party supporters, he cared about the social issues important to moderate voters.

In recent years, Reiter said, candidates seem better able to secure a party's nomination without straying too far to the left or the right because of a "growing pragmatism on the part of the primary voters."

For example, in 2004, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean was initially a front-runner. However, "as much as [Democrats] admired where he stood on issues, he would not be the strongest candidate in the fall and many of them turned to either John Kerry or John Edwards," Reiter said. There was "kind of a sense among a lot of Democratic voters that while their heart may be with Dean, their head was with Kerry and they really wanted to win."

In 2008, a similar phenomenon might be occurring on the Republican side. Moderates Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney lead the polls, while more conservative candidates are lagging.

Giuliani has somewhat liberal views on social issues that are traditionally important to conservative Republicans, Maisel said. To win the nomination, he must convince primary voters he is conservative. However, because of his record, if Giuliani wins the nomination he will be better positioned to win the election than would other Republican candidates, according to Maisel.


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