High turn out swamped by Republican tide
WASHINGTON - As "cold reality set in," one TV newsman's words for the U.S.
election returns, Indian country awoke to a chillier political climate.
Republican Pres. George W. Bush won re-election with the first popular vote
majority since 1988, and his party gained seats in both the House and
Senate, the first such political combination since the reelection of
Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1936.
Support for Bush was stronger than pre-election polls and even usually
reliable exit polls at voting places had indicated. In a clue to cultural
and religious currents missed by mainstream media, referenda banning
same-sex marriages passed in all 11 states where they were on the ballot.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. an advocate for Native issues
with strong support from his state's nine Sioux reservations, lost narrowly
to persistent Republican challenger John Thune, in what some Republican
leaders called the second most important race in the country. His defeat
opened a hole in the Senate Democratic leadership, and his likely
successor, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., has drawn harsh criticism for his
treatment of Western Shoshone land claims.
Although Indian voters turned out in unprecedented numbers, reaching 75
percent of those eligible on some reservations, conservative religious
voters also surged to the pools, swamping the Native influence in some key
races. In Oklahoma, a landslide vote for Bush swallowed up the Senate bid
of Democrat Brad Carson, an enrolled Cherokee, who lost to the
controversial conservative Republican Tom Coburn with only 41 percent. In
Alaska, a delayed count of absentee ballots in some Native precincts kept
hopes alive overnight for Democratic challenger Tony Knowles, a former
governor who supported Native subsistence hunting rights, but in the end he
was unable to overcome the margin for incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa
Murkowski, who had been appointed to the job two years ago by her father
Frank Murkowski, the present governor.
The retirement of U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., also left
leadership of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in question, although in
post-election speculation, the name of U.S. Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz.,
emerged as a possible successor. McCain, respected by Indian leaders for
his military record and reputation for forth-rightness, won re-election by
75 percent with strong support from Arizona Natives.
In spite of the disappointment of Democratic candidates, including
Presidential contender John Kerry, who hoped to eke narrow wins from Indian
turnout in swing states, Indian leaders saw some positive results. "It
looks good," said Jacqueline Johnson, executive director of the National
Congress of American Indians, about the outcome of the drive for new Native
After a conference call with field workers and contacts with tribal leaders
through the post-election morning, she told Indian Country Today that on
some reservations 40 to 75 percent of the eligible voters had cast early
ballots. She said that the Tlingit Haida in Alaska, her own tribal
affiliation, had a voting turnout of 98 percent of tribal employees. She
said that NCAI was commissioning a study of the Native turnout, based on
county-by-county analysis and for New Mexico and Arizona, data from state
The report, by Russ Lehman of First American consulting, should be
available by early December, Johnson said.
In the meantime, some election night commentators, such as William Kristol
of the conservative Weekly Standard magazine, did note that Indian votes
kept several undecided states in play through a very long election night.
By 5 a.m., the networks found six states still too close to call and, from
their color on the map, brought a new phrase into the political lexicon,
the "green states." A 30,000 vote margin for Bush in New Mexico shrank
steadily as pueblo votes came in, keeping his electoral college vote total
just one shy of the 270 needed for election.
Bush and Kerry each took one of the three large swing states, Pennsylvania,
home of the challenger's wife Theresa Heinz Kerry, swinging for the
Democrat and Florida going clearly this time for the Republican. Although
Bush maintained a 130,000-vote lead in the third large prize, Ohio, the
Kerry campaign clung to a hope that a count of "provisional votes" might
overtake it. If Kerry swept the smaller green states, an Electoral College
tie at 269-all seemed at least theoretically possible. (In mid-day Nov. 3,
Michigan did swing to Kerry.)
But such a sweep became increasingly implausible, and Bush surrogates began
to press Kerry to concede. Ohio's two Republican senators issued a
statement that it was mathematically impossible for Kerry to take their
state. At 5:30 a.m., White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card came to a
victory party of Bush supporters, some of whom were sleeping on the floor,
to say that the President had decided to give Sen. Kerry "the respect of
more time to reflect on the results of the election" before issuing a
By mid-day Nov. 3, Kerry called the White House to concede, in a brief
conversation that presidential aides quickly reported to the Associated
Press. At 2 p.m., he addressed a packed and emotional crowd at Boston's
historic Faneuil Hall, site of the political meetings that produced the
American Revolution in the 18th century and called for a healing of
national divisions. President Bush responded with a conciliatory victory
speech in Washington, D.C.'s Ronald Reagan building, sketching an agenda of
improved schools, tax and social security reform and pledging to bring
troops home "with honor" from Iraq.
Nearly 24 hours after the close of polls, the vote stood at 59,026,014, 51
percent, for Bush and 55,443,808, 48 percent for Kerry, the most decisive
popular vote since the election of the president's father, George H. W.
Bush, in 1988. But the Electoral College count was an extremely narrow 279
to 252, 30 "red" states for Bush and 20 "blue" ones for Kerry.