Courting the NASCAR Dads' Vote

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report with Brit Hume", Feb. 16, that has been edited for clarity.

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PRESIDENT BUSH: Gentlemen, start your engines.

DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE JOHN KERRY: We don't need a president who just says, "Gentlemen, start your engines." We need a president who says, America, let's start our economy and put people back to work.


BRIT HUME, HOST: A few elections back, the key was said to be winning over the nation's Soccer Moms. Then in 2002, the target voter was said to be the so-called Security Moms, mothers worried about terrorism and safety after 9-11.

This year as President Bush visits Daytona 500 (search) suggests it's the NASCAR Dads. And you heard John Kerry's response to his comment down there, or at least his starting the race down there.

So what's this all about? Well, who better to answer other than the man who knows more about the intersection of demographics and politics than anyone we know. Fox News contributing Michael Barone of "U.S. World and News Report," co-author also, of course, for the "Almanac of America Politics."

So who are the NASCAR Dads? I mean obviously they are the parents, I suppose, adult men who go to NASCAR races or NASCAR fans. But why are they so important?

MICHAEL BARONE, SENIOR WRITER, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT: Well, because the NASCAR people claim that 75 million people are their fan base. You saw they had 135,000 down in Daytona Beach. That's bigger than the crowds for pro football or baseball or whatever the other sports.

They tend to be southern and border state people. Although, the sport is attracting more from other areas. They've been part of the Bush base really. I mean this is the southern, white males that have been strong supporters of President Bush in the 2000 election, that were strong supporters of Ronald Reagan going back in the 1980s, of the Republicans when they took over the House in 1994.

HUME: So if he is campaigning among them, is he campaigning to hold ground or gain ground?

BARONE: Well, he is campaigning to gin up the base. I mean Karl Rove (search), his political strategist has long said this election is really as much about turnout and getting the voters out as it is about winning over the middle ground.

And the Democrats have been ginning up their people's enthusiasm in the primary over their hatred of George Bush in many cases. And so Bush is going to one of his core constituents.

And what John Kerry is suggesting, and you see it in candidate John Edwards as well. They're saying we're going to win over these people on economic issues. We're going to give them a fair shake economically.

They are not the privileged whom John Edwards campaigns against, the special interest who John Kerry says that he has been a staunch opponent of. Though he has taken quite a lot of money from lobbyists in Washington in his campaigns.

And they say, you know, we should go on the issues that really matter, the economic issues, says Howard Dean. Not God, guns, and gays.

The White House, I think, is -- the president's campaign thinks that they want to get these people enthusiastic and on their side. You can see some of the tone of it.

If you look at the White House web site today, they had an interactive interview from people on the web joining the interview of Michael Waltrip (search), one of the NASCAR drivers who speaks about a Christian organization -- which he works on -- and is a charitable organization that's connected with the NASCAR effort.

This is not the sort of tone that you hear from John Kerry or John Edwards in the course of their campaigns.

HUME: Michael, is there a history here that indicates, first a couple of things. One, is this a constituency that largely may be and pro-Bush as it may have been in previous -- in this last election, is growing dramatically in any way?

BARONE: Well, the sport is growing. The fact is that you have people, you know, with strong religious bases. Many of these people, have in traditional cultural values, tend to have more children than people that don't. Their numbers tend to have some going up in time. There's definitely a sort of religious aspect to this sport in a way that you don't see...

HUME: Because of the danger involved in it perhaps?

BARONE: Well, perhaps. And just because the people that are attracted because you are talking about the South, which has always had a stronger culture, among blacks as well as whites than the other parts of the country.

HUME: Is there evidence that this constituency can successfully be appealed to by this economic message that we're hearing, the populous message that we're hearing from Kerry and the others? It sounds a lot like, it should be noted, the "us" against the interest message that Al Gore had in 2000. I don't suppose Al Gore did very well among these people, or did he?

BARONE: He did not. No. If he had done well among them, he would with have carried his own state of Tennessee, among perhaps several others.

HUME: Well, he had some southern pedigree, as you note.

BARONE: He was a southern Baptist.

HUME: Well, let's assume that John Kerry, who is the presumptive nominee at the moment tries to get votes there, does he seem...

BARONE: Well, I think we get some hints of this Brit, as we look at the turnout in some of the Democratic primaries this year and compare it with the turn out in the Republican primaries of four years ago.

HUME: Why are those numbers important?

BARONE: Because those are -- these -- the four states that we have up on the screen are states, which don't have party registration. That means that you can go to the polls on Election Day and vote for the candidates of either party. So the turnout for the party tends to indicate the amount of enthusiasm

HUME: And we're comparing '04 against 2000 because there's no real Republican contest this year.

BARONE: Yes. And South Carolina, which John Edwards won, had a pretty good turnout for the Democrats, but it was nearly double four years ago for the Republicans in that big, climatic race between George W. Bush and John McCain.

HUME: Quickly!

BARONE: In Missouri and Virginia as well, more people turned out for Republicans in 2000. The only exception was Tennessee, which voted later, March 14 in 2000 when the election was over.

HUME: Right.

BARONE: So, what it means, I think, is less enthusiasm on the Democratic side than the Democrats would have you believe in the south. They're getting a left-wing group, 72 percent against the war in South Carolina. But it's not -- they're not getting yet to NASCAR Dads.

HUME: Got you. Michael Barone, thanks for coming in, great to have you.

BARONE: Nice to be with you.

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