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Domestic Issues Impact US Presidential Race - 2004-08-06

There is little doubt that terrorism and Iraq will be major issues in this year's U.S. presidential race. But a host of domestic issues will also be on the minds of voters come November.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry refers to it as the middle class squeeze. The daily struggle of average Americans to keep a job, afford adequate health care and find quality education for their children. "Values are more than just words. They are about good jobs, they are about our families, they are about schools for our children that are not separate and unequal. They are about good prescription drug coverage for all of our seniors," he says.

President Bush devotes a fair amount of his standard campaign speech to many of the same issues. He also emphasizes new positive trends in the economy, which he says are the result of the tax cuts he approved early in his term. "Because we acted, our economy since last summer has grown at a rate as fast as any time in nearly 20 years. Because we acted, America has added one-point-five million new jobs since last August," he says.

Political experts say fears of terrorism and the situation in Iraq could very well dominate the election debate in the final three months of the campaign.

But Washington-based analyst Stuart Rothenberg says many Americans often consider a host of domestic issues when they head into the voting booth. "There are a handful of other issues that matter to voters, at least voters say they matter. Certainly education is a big issue. It always shows up at the top of polls. Senior citizens are concerned about prescription drugs and the cost of health care. Issues like abortion and [gun control] are always issues among small segments," he says.

Republican political strategist Ed Goeas says President Bush is starting to benefit from a public perception that the economy is improving. "On the economy, we are beginning to see some [shifting support] positively towards George W. Bush," he says.

But Democratic pollster Celinda Lake says the fear of job losses is still a major concern in several so-called battleground states in the upper Midwest where the election may be decided. "For this economy to be six months into the presumed recovery and still have 62 percent of the voters worried about jobs and half of the swing voters saying they personally know someone who has lost their job is obviously a major, major challenge for the administration," she says.

Experts say that voters will have to decide which candidate best speaks to their concerns over everyday issues like job security, the rising cost of health care and improving the quality of education.

American University presidential historian Allan Lichtman says some of these issues could become more prominent in the presidential and vice presidential debates beginning in late September. "How skillfully Kerry and Bush debate issues like education and health care could play a role in this campaign," he says.

Divisive social and cultural issues could also be a factor in November. Abortion, gun control and gay marriage draw passionate supporters and opponents from both ends of the political spectrum and those issues could play a role in energizing liberal activists in the Democratic Party and conservative voters in the Republican Party come election day.