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A deepening divide between red and blue

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With President Bush winning the first popular-vote majority in 16 years over Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, but adding almost no new states to his column since 2000, the 2004 election has revealed a political landscape that remains deeply, and almost immovably, divided - but one in which Republicans now seem to hold a clear upper hand.

After living through the longest and most expensive campaign in US history, played out against the backdrop of war and uncertainty, the vast majority of Americans wound up coming down exactly where they did four year ago, producing an electoral map that was almost unchanged from 2000. Mr. Bush held every state he won last time around, with the exception of New Hampshire. He ran up bigger vote totals among his base in the South, helping him to secure an overall popular-vote win of more than 3 million votes.

In essence, Bush consolidated his hold on red America but made few inroads among swing voters or independents. His most significant gain came with Hispanics, among whom he won more than 40 percent of the vote.

But for Democrats, the discouraging reality is that Bush's base now seems to outnumber theirs - allowing Republicans to not only win the White House once more, but expand their majorities in the Senate and House, while raising serious questions about the message and the future direction of the Democratic Party.

"Clearly the country is still divided," says Democratic strategist Steve Jarding. "But it seems it's a little less divided than it was in 2000. And for Democrats, it's going in the wrong direction."

To some extent, the relatively close outcome reflects the risks for both parties of a base-mobilization strategy that looks first and foremost to drive up turnout among partisan supporters. Although the tactic has clearly worked better for Republicans than Democrats of late, it could leave even the GOP without much obvious room to grow in the future. Mr. Jarding argues this election may have pushed Republican Party even further to the right, ideologically, with several far-right Senate candidates winning seats.

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