Meaning, Cultural Symbols,
and Campaign Strategies
DAVID C. LEEGE AND KENNETH D. WALD
In a New York Times article published midway during the 2004 presidential campaign, Katharine Seelye (2004) argued that nominee John Kerry's appearances were aimed at reclaiming the endangered Democratic advantage among women voters. On Live with Regis and Kelly, Senator Kerry described his handling of a rape case during his first political position as a prosecutor. The following day he championed his health care proposals in Florida, a state loaded with seniors, disproportionately women. Then he met with an audience of women in Iowa to discuss national security. Polls had shown that security, personal and national, had become a major concern, especially among women.
For his part, President George W. Bush had effectively linked images of 9/11 with the anguish of mothers in southern Russia who had lost family members in a terrorist hostage and bombing catastrophe at a school. He had looked consistent and strong throughout the summer, while Kerry had failed to defend himself for weeks from scurrilous attacks by a campaign front organization called Swift Boat Veterans and POWS for Truth. Seelye implied that Kerry had reminded women of another Massachusetts nominee, Governor Michael Dukakis, who, responding during a nationally televised debate to a hypothetical question about the rape of his wife, icily framed it as a constitutional issue rather than showing masculine outrage.
There is little question that voters expect to know presidential candidates as humans and that, as Dan Schnur (chapter 15 in this volume) emphasizes from the perspective of a campaign manager, candidate biography is critical to message credibility. Voters like to see emotion where emotion would normally occur. They like to know that candidates are like them. Bush's father, born into a family of Connecticut Yankees and Wall