CNN’s Judy Woodruff gave a UNC Pembroke audience an inside look at the post-election political landscape.
The 30-year veteran of broadcast journalism called the Republican victory an “impressive, pervasive GOP triumph,” and she predicted, “it’s going to be quite a four years.”
Woodruff, the award-winning host of CNN’s “Inside Politics,” spoke to approximately 350 at the Givens Performing Arts Center on November 15 as part of UNCP’s Distinguished Speaker Series.
Using exit polls, which she described as “an extraordinary snapshot of the American electorate,” Woodruff dissected the vote that led to the re-election of President George W. Bush and Republican majorities in Congress.
“That was a pretty extraordinary election we just came through,” she said. “We, the news media, believed a large turnout would favor John Kerry. The media were wrong. The Republicans turned out more voters.”
Woodruff profiled the new American electorate as conservative, religious and more moderate than Democrats predicted.
“That is why the Democratic Party has a lot of thinking to do,” Woodruff said. “The Republicans have a strong coalition in place.”
“What the Democrats can do is come up with a way to talk about values – what matters to people - family, not just faith,” she said referring to the powerful Christian overtones of the campaign. “If they pick a liberal from the Northeast, they will prove they did not learn the lesson of two weeks ago.”
That would not favor a run for the presidency by Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, she said in an extensive question and answer period.
“Eighty-seven percent of Americans said religion is important in their lives,” Woodruff said. “The Democratic Party is so multicultural that candidates are afraid they might offend someone by using religion as an issue.”
She took issue with the Kerry campaign also.
“There was no compelling Kerry story. Instead, they were putting out position papers,” she said. “Most Democrats I know are deeply despondent.”
Despite winning by the smallest margin of any wartime president, there is a Bush mandate, Woodruff said. The president convinced Americans they are safer from terrorism today, and Bush gained a split in the vote on the Iraq issue.
The president was able to persuade Americans that Iraq is the “central front of the war on terrorism,” Woodruff said. However, Iraq, and the president’s ability to build a stable government there, “looms” over the presidency, she said, as well as looming conservative Christian issues.
“The president will probably push for a gay marriage ban, but will probably not get a constitutional amendment,” she said. “The mother of all battles will be fought in the Supreme Court.”
With Chief Justice William Rehnquist ailing and “one or two” justices set to retire, Woodruff expects a “ferocious struggle” that may find Clarence Thomas as the next chief justice and an Hispanic associate justice.
On abortion, Woodruff said “Christians are willing to walk right up to the line,” but undoing “Roe v. Wade would instigate a whole new argument.”
Woodruff sees “no soul searching among Republicans, no doubts.” Bush will seek to overhaul Social Security with partial privatization and reform the tax code.
“Is he going to reach out and be a uniter, or play to his base?” Woodruff said. “A bipartisan majority is possible in Congress but not a bipartisan consensus.”
Earlier in the day, she taped an afternoon interview with WNCP-TV, UNCP’s broadcasting arm. It may be seen on Time Warner cable channel six, which is programmed locally by the University.
Woodruff did not stop short of commenting on the state of news on cable television. Beginning her career at NBC before moving to CNN, the award-winning journalist has watched the broadcast news industry transform into a medium with “no deadlines” and an increasingly “competitive environment.”
As for political talk shows on cable, Woodruff said in today’s news environment, “you don’t compete for viewers by being dull,” but by “talking fast, loud and taking sides.”
“We will survive the talk shows. Debate is good,” Woodruff said. “Sometimes, I wish there was more space and time for thoughtful commentary, but I appear to be in the minority.”
Woodruff had kind words for her host, praising UNCP’s diversity. “I am going to be one of those telling your story after tonight,” she said.
UNCP’s Distinguished Speaker Series continues February 24, 2005, with Princeton University scholar and author Cornell West. On April 11, popular sports commentator Dick Vitale will appear.