View From Lodi, CA: Dubya—Sinking By Stern?
May 21, 2004, 05:00 AM
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During the 2000 presidential election, Lodians turned out in big numbers to help elect George W. Bush.

Now local Republicans and other party regulars nationwide are asking themselves this question: "Does President Bush's job performance merit my vote a second time?"

For months, lifelong Republicans have been grousing openly on the Internet about Bush's performance: the war in Iraq, the ballooning deficit, rampant outsourcing, aggressive pursuit of amnesty, endorsement of guest worker programs and soaring gas prices—to name but a few thorns in their side. 

Many Republican diehards claim that, while they would never vote for a Democrat, they can't bring themselves to vote for Bush again either.

So they say they will simply stay home this November.

If enough Republicans make good on their pledge, Bush will have trouble winning a second term.

Now factor into the political equation what might happen if, in addition to tens of thousands of disenfranchised Republicans staying home, an entire new block of previously passive citizens were energized to vote against Bush.

That brings us to the strange and curious case of radio/television shock-jock Howard Stern vs. George W. Bush.

Before writing one more word, I remind apoplectic readers who cannot cope with Stern's name in the same sentence as Bush's that what follows is not a debate about whether or not the Howard Stern Show is obscene or whether Stern is a crude oaf.

My column's purpose is to put forward a little-known scenario that could have a big effect on who becomes president of the United States in November.

Last January, Stern was caught in the Janet Jackson Super Bowl crossfire about decency on the public airwaves. The Federal Communications Commission, responding to self-righteous Congressional outrage about Jackson, fined Stern and the Clear Channel for incidents of alleged indecency.

The problem is that once Stern's show was "officially" labeled indecent by the federal government, ratings jumped.

And the more Stern turned his fury on Bush—who he viewed as manipulating the fuss via his family friends at the FCC—the higher his ratings climbed.

The obvious problem for Bush is that Stern's radio show reaches 18 million weekly listeners and his website generates 4 million daily hits. And since both Stern venues are now an all-out assault on Bush, you have to wonder what the consequences might be come November.

Every day, Stern implores his listeners—the fourth largest audience in radio behind Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Dr. Laura: "Just do me one favor. In November, vote against George W. Bush."

More bad news for Bush: Stern's faithful listeners are eager to please a man they hold in high esteem.

According to Michael Feldman, Al Gore's chief of staff in 2000, "If you look at the sheer numbers, that in and of itself is political clout. Stern could mobilize millions."

Stern makes mobilization easy for the discontent. His website contains links to voter registration information and to the John Kerry contribution page on Kerry's site.

Stern recommends donors list their occupation as "Howard Stern listener."  

This no doubt sounds very far-fetched to serious political minds. But a refresher course in Stern's prior political involvement may change opinions.

In his June 2004 article in "The Atlantic" titled "Kerry's Secret Weapon?" Russ Douthat reminded doubters that Stern's has successfully dabbled in politics before.

In 1994, Stern briefly ran for New York governor on the Libertarian Party ticket. When his polling numbers reached 6%, Stern bowed out to endorse Republican George Pataki over incumbent Mario Cuomo. Some analysts think that Stern's support tilted the race in Pataki's favor.

A year earlier, Stern backed Christine Whitman for governor of New Jersey against the heavily favorite Jim Florio. All Stern asked for in exchange was that a rest stop be named after him should Whitman be elected. 

Writes Douthat, "Today the Howard Stern Rest Area graces Interstate 290 just east of Burlington City, New Jersey."

With the so many states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Missouri up for grabs, it may be foolish to ignore the impact that Stern's hammering might have on the Bush vs. Kerry.

Stranger things have happened.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.