DES MOINES, Nov. 3 — With a year to go until Election Day, the Republican and Democratic Parties are going through internal battles over their very identity, even as the races for their presidential nominations intensify. In many ways, the battles over how the parties will define themselves in the post-Bush era are nearly as significant a political fight as the presidential contest itself.
The continued strength of Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor who supports abortion rights and gay rights, is testing the question of whether social issues still drive Republican primary voters. Mr. Giuliani is talking about terrorism, cutting taxes, his record in managing New York City government — but he has made no serious effort to shade his positions to appeal to the social conservatives who helped reshape the party over the past three decades and helped President Bush win the White House twice.
Should Mr. Giuliani win the nomination, he would give the party a very different definition and face than the Southerners and evangelicals who have been ascendant until now.
The challenge to orthodoxy is slightly less marked on the Democratic side, where the party has tilted from the left to the center over the past 20 years. Tough talk about Iran by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York has put her at odds with much of her party, and her nomination would suggest the party is willing to embrace a relatively hawkish foreign policy even as it promises to end the war in Iraq.
It typically falls to the nominee to provide the ideological framework for his or her party. That appears to be especially so this time, reflecting how both parties are somewhat adrift after eight years under Mr. Bush.
Of the two, the Republican Party seems to be at more of a turning point. Even if Mr. Giuliani fails to win the nomination, the fact that so many Republicans were willing to consider a candidate who was openly for abortion rights and gay rights — something that would have been unthinkable four years ago — suggests just how much the definition of what it means to be a Republican is changing.
On the Democratic side, the thirst to retake the White House is easing some of the party’s traditional internal divisions. “Ideological battles tend not to happen when parties believe they are going to win,” said Joe Andrews, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Still, if Mrs. Clinton should win the nomination, her campaign so far suggests that she would follow in her husband’s footsteps by trying to bridge the divide between the party’s liberals and centrists. A victory by former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, whose campaign is being run and highly influenced by many of the same advisers who managed Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in 2004, would suggest the party is leaning more to the left.
For Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, it may be more a matter of tone than ideology. Mr. Obama has said he wanted to transcend partisanship even as he appeals for support from a party whose base has been hungry for partisan battle. Mr. Bond and others have suggested that a victory by Mr. Obama could produce the most striking change in the identity of the Democratic Party.
“Obama is in a position to reposition his party not only in terms of issues, but in terms of offering a more general embracing appeal,” Mr. Bond said.
The Bush Effect:
The President as Asset, but Only to Democrats
Consider this tally: 47 to 2.
That’s the number of times Democrats invoked President Bush’s name during their most recent debate to the number of times Republicans mentioned him at theirs (and one of the two Republican mentions was criticism from Representative Ron Paul of Texas, an antiwar candidate). Such are the consequences of being one of the least popular presidents since the invention of modern polling.
Aside from Mr. Paul, the Republicans almost never directly criticize the president. They hardly talk about him at all. And when they do, it never seems to have much of a four-more-years ring to it. “Change Begins With Us,” is one of Mitt Romney’s slogans.
The Republicans are in a bind. The president’s approval rating was at 30 percent in a CBS News poll in mid-October, so to embrace him is to risk alienating voters in the general election. But the same poll found that more than two-thirds of Republican voters still approved of Mr. Bush’s job performance, so if the candidates are too critical of him they risk offending primary voters.
The candidates walk a tightrope, refraining from criticizing Mr. Bush while sometimes telegraphing their independence from him. Rudolph W. Giuliani praises Mr. Bush as keeping the nation safe even as he presents himself as a competent manager, perhaps to draw a contrast with the president. Senator John McCain says little about Mr. Bush, but is outspoken in his criticism of some members of the administration. Fred D. Thompson presents a basically optimistic view of the nation, but criticizes some Bush programs, like the No Child Left Behind law.
Mr. Bush faces a challenge of his own: How to stay relevant as coverage of the race to succeed him eclipses coverage of his presidency. While it is unclear how potent a fund-raiser he will prove, whether Republicans will ask him to campaign for them, or what role he will play at the convention, Mr. Bush may have shown a glimpse of his strategy in recent days as he stepped up his criticism of the Democratic Congress.
The Money Race:
Democrats Find Favor With G.O.P. Mainstays
As if Republicans need more evidence that they are in for a tough 2008, even traditionally Republican industries are shifting more of their giving to Democrats this year, and especially to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who leads the Democrats in polls.
According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which categorized contributions by industry, individuals working in the finance, insurance and real estate businesses have given $32.5 million, or 54 percent, of their contributions this year to Democratic presidential candidates. Mrs. Clinton alone received $12.1 million of that money.
A total of $28.2 million went to Republicans. Rudolph W. Giuliani, who leads the Republicans in national polls, received about $10.5 million.
The trends are even clearer when compared with 2004 (when there was only one Republican, President Bush, seeking contributions).
People working for energy and natural resources companies gave 80 percent of their presidential contributions to Mr. Bush in 2004. This year, 59 percent of their money has gone to Republicans. Mr. Giuliani has been the biggest recipient, with $818,000. Mrs. Clinton is second with $569,000.
The health care industry, which had a rocky history with the last Democratic administration, President Bill Clinton’s, has given $6.3 million to Democrats, including $2.6 million to Mrs. Clinton, more than any other candidate. It has given $4.8 million to Republicans.
The construction industry still favors Republicans but less than before. It put about 70 percent of its presidential money into Mr. Bush’s campaign in 2004 but has given just 59 percent of it to Republicans this year; Mr. Giuliani received $1.4 million, and Mrs. Clinton received $1.3 million.
Likewise, agribusiness, which gave to Republicans by a 3-to-1 ratio in 2004, has only slightly favored Republicans this year, with $3.2 million for presidential candidates. Mitt Romney received the most, $565,000, but Mrs. Clinton was close behind, with $524,000.
DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK