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About-faces

Republicans who voted for Bush in 2000 tell why they changed their minds

RHONDA NIX, LASER-PRINTER TECHNICIAN

People around me in my neighborhood are Bush supporters, and here I am with my yard sign that says JOHN KERRY. A week and a half ago, I believe, someone had taken my sign, and they actually stabbed it to death, and they tore it up, and they wrote on there, "Burn in hell." I fixed it, you know, I flattened it out as much as I could, and I stuck it back in my yard. Itís real raggedy right now, but itís going to stay there. It has to stay there. Iím still a Baptist, but Iím no longer a Republican.

CONNIE COMINSKY, SMALL-BUSINESS OWNER

He said the mission was accomplished. He said Iraq welcomed us. This was going to be an easy thing, a cakewalk. That America is better off today than before we invaded Iraq. Is it? I think weíre more scared. I want to feel good about being an American again. I want someone who is going to give us hope. Iím putting my faith in John Kerry, and Iím voting for him this year.

TODD CLIFTON, ELECTRICIAN

Brandon is 21 years old, and I would, as any parent would, hate to see him have to go to war. But if itís good for the country and itís for a good cause, then thatís what has to happen, and I would be proud for him to be there and proud to serve our America. Right now, the reasons that weíre there are not the right reasons. Getting it done is good, but you need to get the right things done. Not just whatever you decide is the right thing. Iím voting for John Kerry.

ANTHONY PIRRO, FIFTH-GRADE TEACHER

In the beginning, I thought that George Bush was a very likable character. He was very personable, he had a sense of humor, and I just thought, he seems pretty down to earth. So I voted for him. Looking back on it, I thoroughly regret it. The fact is, Iím appalled that I voted for him. Iím embarrassed. He doesnít think things through. We had full support in 2001 from the world community, and now our country is a mess.

RICHARD COFFEE, FORMER EXECUTIVE, NATIONAL STEEL CORPORATION

When I was the vice-president of human resources for National Steel, I always told people, these are the best jobs in America. Many of those jobs are gone now. George Bush is a proven liar. He lied with respect to his support for the steel industry. First he said he would support the steel industry, and then when he got a little pressure, he backed off from it. The real flip-flopper here is George Bush, not John Kerry.

Q: Given that, how did you react when you were watching the Democratic convention, and John Kerry came out to give his acceptance speech and started off with a salute? Did you cringe?

A: I donít want to be one of these guys that second-guesses everybody and says that he knew exactly what to do. I obviously would have liked to participate more fully in this advertising campaign for Kerry. Iíd like to have participated directly through the Kerry campaign or through the Democratic National Committee. And I would have liked to have participated more fully even separate from the campaign.

In interviewing some 40-plus people for these ads, there was a group of people, maybe seven or eight or nine of them, who stated clearly that they had not lost faith [in] the Republican Party. They would remain Republicans, but they would not vote for George W. Bush. They gave various reasons for it which I found very interesting. I donít like to pre-interview people ó if an interview is done properly, itís investigative in nature. Many interviews, people go in with a preconception of what they will hear, certain what they want to hear, and the interview is a formality. I said a number of times, even before we started, "If these interviews are done properly, weíll learn something about the electorate. Consider it a weird kind of focus group."

Itís very interesting what emerged, what these people were concerned about. Fundamentalist Christians saying heís un-Christian, objecting to his use of religion in politics, questioning his sincerity. Military people objecting to his use of the military in Iraq. Among the most powerful is the feeling that this president doesnít really have a plan, that this president doesnít think things through. He says he has a plan for the war on terrorism, he says he has a plan for Iraq, he says he has a plan for the economy. But does he really? The evidence suggests otherwise. Why the switch ó and this is something that came up again and again ó from Osama to Saddam? Have we made America safer? Or are we at greater risk now than four years ago? These are very powerful themes, themes about lying and misrepresentation. Many people would hear these interviews and say, "Why canít politicians speak this way? Why canít they just simply say these things, clearly and forcefully?"

Q: Politicians in general, and also John Kerry in particular.

A: Politicians in general, and also John Kerry in particular. Sorry to parrot back what you just said, but yes. [Chuckles]

What is interesting also is the diversity ó the diversity of people, of backgrounds, of geographical locations, of views. But they all share one thing in common: they voted for Bush, and theyíre not going to a second time! That has to be conveyed first and foremost, and then you hit them with the individual ads themselves, [you] target the ads in very specific areas ó Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin. I would love to see these ads be used more effectively. Iíd like to see them used in conjunction with newspaper advertising. When I posted them on my Web site, I arranged them by subject matter, and I would love to see them used in that way. Thereís also the possibility, with each of these individuals, of editing as many good spots as you can, maybe in some instances as many as nine from a single interview. Unfortunately, I donít think this kind of campaign can benefit from just running one or two ads, particularly if youíre not aware of the underlying idea that they are switchers. Sad but true ó the kind of money thatís available in political campaigns is far, far less than the kind of money thatís available in a merchandising or marketing campaign from a Fortune 500 company. Part of the problem with political advertising is that itís all over the place. People do not chart a course, ads are thrown out higgledy-piggledy, and that in itself makes it very, very difficult.

Q: I canít help thinking that, had every single ad the Kerry campaign has run to date been replaced with one of these spots, the Kerry camp would be in better shape today than it is.

A: Maybe. Like everybody, I have my own theories of what has gone wrong. You could create as many of these ads as you could imagine. To me, you get different people talking about very similar themes, if not the same theme. You take seven ads that are all on the basis of misrepresentation or lying, coming from very different people, and you focus them. I would like to see the campaign focus on many of Bushís clear infirmities. If he says heís a Christian and he follows Christian values, I would like to hear Christians say that they do not consider him to be a Christian or to have followed Christian values.

You can talk to an endless stream of people whoíll say, "Well, Iím an anybody-but-Bush voter. Iím not enthusiastic about Kerry." I feel quite differently about it. Very early on, when I decided that I was going to do these ads, I started reading about Kerry, because I felt I should actually know something about what Iím doing here and why Iím doing it. I had just made this movie, The Fog of War [Morrisís 2003 documentary on former secretary of defense Robert McNamara], which among other things addresses the war in Vietnam. Itís interesting that Kerry, in his own campaign, has neglected his one true act of heroism, in my view.

Q: His opposition to the war?

A: Thatís correct. I once suggested an ad ó "Where is it said that two rights make a wrong?" He was right to fight for his country, and he was right to fight against the war when the war no longer made any sense for his country. My belief is, someone got scared. I can understand it, and maybe theyíre right and Iím wrong, but the fear was that if you bring up the issue of Kerry sitting before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that itís tilting to the left. I donít see it that way. To me, itís not an issue of left or right. Itís an issue of one man who fought in the war telling you that, for him and for his fellow soldiers, this no longer made any sense, and that he had to speak out.

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Issue Date: October 8 - 14, 2004
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