Barbour predicts close race for Bush

Turnout to decide winner, says ex-chairman of RNC

April 18, 2004|By Rafael A. Olmeda | Rafael A. Olmeda,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - This year's presidential election will probably be even closer than the 2000 race, and the outcome will be determined by turnout, the former head of the Republican National Committee told a gathering of activists yesterday.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who served as RNC chairman for most of the 1990s, said the American voting population is about evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, with very few open to changing their minds between now and November.

"In the last three presidential elections, neither candidate got a majority of the vote," said Barbour, referring to the 1992, 1996 and 2000 contests. "This is going to be a close election. The best-organized campaign will win it."

Barbour spoke to hundreds of Republican activists from 14 states at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference at the Fontainebleau Hilton on Miami Beach. The conference opened Thursday and featured top-level party figures, including RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New York Gov. George E. Pataki.

Opening a day of speeches and workshops at the conference, Barbour encouraged Republicans to concentrate on substantive issues such as taxes and energy policy. But he also used his speech to take swipes at presumed Democratic nominee John Kerry of Massachusetts.

"An issues-based campaign makes a comparison between President Bush and John Kerry inevitable," Barbour said. "We have been blessed with an opponent, John Kerry, who is just a taller, thinner version of Ted Kennedy. The only difference is, if Ted Kennedy tells you something, you can count on it."

He repeated the frequent Republican portrayal of Kerry as "flip-flopping" on major issues. "At a time like this, our country can't stand to have a weather vane for president," he said.

Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele echoed Barbour's criticism of Kerry. Margaret Spellings, assistant to the president for domestic policy, spoke glowingly of the No Child Left Behind Act, the faith-based initiative, tax cuts and other signature Bush policies.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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