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WASHINGTON - President Bush combined his reputation for strong leadership in a time of war with a campaign about traditional values to win re-election despite voters' doubts about his job performance and policies.
In a dozen swing states that decided the presidential election, moral values was tied with the economy and jobs as the top issue in the campaign, according to Associated Press exit polls. Terrorism was close behind.
Bush won among those in swing states who picked moral values by 84-15 and he won among those who picked terrorism by 85-15. Kerry won by a wide margin among those who picked the economy.
"The fact that values trumped the economy sends a very strong signal," said Republican pollster Whit Ayres, who said the moral values issue was in the background of the day to day campaign debate over terrorism, Iraq and the economy. "It's a subliminal message that 'this guy thinks more like I do.' "
In the swing states, Bush was more trusted to handle terrorism and equally trusted to handle the economy, the polls found.
A fourth of the voters in swing states were white voters who consider themselves evangelicals and they voted for Bush by almost 3-1 - providing a strong base for Bush in those key states.
"Republicans have managed to define elections in almost tribal terms - it's us against them," said Norm Ornstein, a political analyst with the American Enterprise Institute.
About three-in-10 swing state voters were from cities over 50,000, and they went for Kerry by 2-to-1. But in the suburbs, swing state voters went for Bush by 54-45 and in rural areas they went for Bush by 57-42.
Democrats on Wednesday were trying to figure out how they can extend their appeal to voters outside the cities and to voters who are involved with religion.
"The Democratic Party needs to be more comfortable on cultural and national security issues," said Al From, founder and chief executive of the Democratic Leadership Council, a moderate think tank. "Bush was able to use these effectively against us."
A majority of swing state voters named strong leadership, having clear stands on issues, being honest and trustworthy and having strong religious faith as the most valued qualities in a candidate. All of those groups favored Bush. Kerry did best among those who most wanted a candidate who would bring change, about a quarter of the total.
"If there was a tide, it was a tide for President Bush notwithstanding all the skepticism about his administration and its policies," said Democratic pollster Doug Schoen. "This represents a real serious issue about the structural position of the Democratic Party."
He and other Democrats said the party needs to relearn how to appeal to rural voters and religious voters.
Eight-in-10 voters in swing states consider themselves either moderate or conservative politically. The states were Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Issues like gay marriage and religious values reminded many voters that they related more closely to the values of the president and were unsure of Kerry's values.
"Bush successfully appealed to his base and to a wider base on moderate to conservative social issues like gay marriage and prayer in school," said James Thurber, a political science professor at American University. "Democrats have to learn to appeal to those people."
Scott Edwards, a voter in the central Iowa town of Huxley, said he voted for the president out of what he called a "gut instinct."
"It's more of a trust issue," Edwards said. "I trust President Bush. With Kerry, I just didn't have a good feeling."
[Last modified November 3, 2004, 18:21:33]