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Analysis: Comparing post-war politics in 1992 with 2004

President Bush hopes history won't repeat itself

By Bill Schneider
CNN Political Unit

President Bush, left, doesn't want to find his administration ending on the same note as his father's.
President Bush, left, doesn't want to find his administration ending on the same note as his father's.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Will 2004 be 1992 all over again? That's the Democrats' dream -- and the Republicans' nightmare.

In 1991, the first President Bush was riding high in the polls, savoring victory in the Persian Gulf War, but he was defeated in his bid for re-election one year later. In 2003, President George W, Bush is riding high in the polls, savoring a still-undeclared victory in Iraq. But what about next year's election?

A poll taken immediately after the fall of Baghdad this month shows the economy and jobs outweighing the war in Iraq and terrorism as the voters' number one concern.

Asked to name the most important problem facing the nation, 33 percent of those polls cited the economy and jobs, compared to 17 percent who pointed to the war and terrorism, according to the CBS News/New York Times poll.

The 1992 campaign was about one issue, summed up by Democrats who came up with this campaign slogan: "It's the economy, stupid."

The Persian Gulf War simply vanished from the 1992 campaign. Bill Clinton certainly never talked about it. It wasn't on Ross Perot's flip charts.

If the Democrats have their way, the 2004 campaign will be a re-run of 1992: It's still the economy, stupid.

We'll hear the number '2 million' a lot. That's the figure many economists have cited as the number of jobs lost since George W. Bush became president.

It was the record $290 billion deficit of 1992 that got Perot into the race. That record will be broken in 2004, with an expected deficit of more than $300 billion.

And Democrats haven't forgotten Florida.

But there are reasons to believe 2004 will not be a rerun of 1992.

For one thing, this President Bush has an economic plan. "The tax relief I have proposed and will push for until enacted would create 1.4 million new jobs by the end of 2004," Bush said at a Rose Garden event earlier this month.

Also, there's a very big difference between 1992 and 2004: The United States has been attacked, and the war on terrorism continues.

"It's a war that requires patience and focus," Bush said March 4.

There's some evidence that Democrats will have a tough time setting the agenda when voters go to the polls. In the 2002 midterm election, Democrats tried to change the subject from national security to the economy. It didn't work.

In 1992, the United States was out of Iraq. In 2004, the United States will still be in Iraq, maybe even running the country.

Is that good for Republicans? It is if things are going well. But if Americans find themselves under attack, they might ask, "What are we still doing in Iraq?" And, "Why are we rebuilding Iraq's economy. What about our economy?"

But there is another factor that could help Bush.

In 1992, the Cold War was over. The war on terrorism was 10 years away. So Americans could elect a president who had no national security credentials. That could not have happened before the 1990s. Or after. Whoever the Democrats nominate next year will have to pass a credibility threshold on national security that never came up for Bill Clinton.

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