Campaign '04: How The Wedge Issues Cut

A campaign about Iraq and jobs abruptly shifts to the fraught territory of God, gays and guns. But will the values debate help Republicans this year?

In the summer of 1988, Vice President George H. W. Bush was foundering. His opponent in the presidential race, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, was doing well in the polls. That fall, however, pro-Bush forces deftly used wedge issues--particularly crime and the specter of encroaching liberalism--to cleave white working-class voters from the Democratic Party. The nastiest and most effective '88 political ad featured the hardened visage of convict William Horton, a murderer who had fled Massachusetts during a prison furlough and then stabbed a man and raped his fiancé. Republicans said Dukakis had turned his state's prison gates into "a revolving door." Dukakis pointed out that he had actually ended the furlough program,...

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