Did the Florida Hurricanes Cost Kerry the Election?

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How
is it that from 2000 to 2004 Florida went from counting chads on
individual votes to becoming a "decisive" victory for
President Bush? Republicans
were prepared to blast George Soros
and others for spending
a fortune on changing minds if Bush lost to John Kerry, but some
well-placed federal funds in the sunshine state may just have tipped
the scale in Bush's favor.

It
has been said that those who do not remember the past are condemned
to repeat it. The
White House website biography of Grover Cleveland
, 22nd
(and 24th) President of the United States, mentions that
Cleveland took a principled position against offering federal disaster
aid:

“President
Grover Cleveland vigorously pursued a policy barring special favors
to any economic group. Vetoing a bill to appropriate $10,000 to
distribute seed grain among drought-stricken farmers in Texas, he
wrote: ‘Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of
paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness
of our national character. . . .’”

Cleveland's
re-election bid in 1888 was one of the tightest elections of the
19th century
. In the end, he won the popular vote,
but lost in the Electoral College to Benjamin Harrison. While Cleveland
carried Texas, with such a narrow margin of victory or defeat, an
issue such as the denial of federal disaster relief could have easily
been a deciding factor in the election.

But,
as Cleveland pointed out to his party leaders, “What is the use
of being elected or re-elected unless you stand for something?”

Fast
forward to the 20th Century and George W. Bush's father.
Disaster relief actually became an issue during his campaign, and
in Florida no less. In August 1992 Hurricane Andrew hit Florida
and the Bush Administration came under fire for its slow response
to offer assistance. There is less of a sense that this was motivated
by principled politics, but the result was the same: President Bush
lost the election.

His
son would not make the same mistake. According
to an article shortly after the disaster
, “Even before Hurricane
Charley struck, the second Bush White House was poised to act. Hours
after Hurricane Charley made landfall, federal aid was flowing."

On
an individual level, people from all walks of life donated their
time, money and resources to aid those in need. But when aid flows
from the federal government, especially in an election year, the
danger of an unspoken quid pro quo relationship develops. The Bush
camp even openly admitted that their use of taxpayer dollars was
in some ways an investment that might pay off come November.

According
to David Johnson, a Republican consultant and former state party
executive director, “This cut through a lot of good Republican turf,
and then I-4 – that’s a lot of swing voters."

Florida
has 27 Electoral College votes. As in 2000, this state alone could
have determined the outcome in 2004. This election may have proved
that money can indeed buy votes, but instead of the money coming
out of the pockets of the rich, it came from taxpayers all across
the country.

November
9, 2004

Matthew
Hisrich [send him
mail
] is a policy analyst with The Buckeye Institute for Public
Policy Solutions.

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