More voters (22 percent) cited moral values as the most important issue in 2004 than cited either the economy (20 percent) or terrorism (19 percent). These voters supported Bush over Kerry by the same margin that economy-jobs voters supported Kerry over Bush: 80 percent to 18 percent.
According to 2004 exit poll, Sen. Barack Obama's "bitter" people -- those clinging to religion and guns -- voted for Bush by large margins.
Of the 16 percent who attended church more than once a week, Bush won 64 percent to 35 percent. Of the 26 percent who attended church weekly, Bush won 58 percent to 41 percent. Of the 14 percent who merely attended once a month, Bush won 50 percent to 49 percent.
Forty-one percent of voters lived in a household with a gun owner. They supported Bush 63 percent to 41 percent.
Similarly, Bush won 59 percent to 40 percent among voters who were married with children.
Looking at 2008, the question is: Can McCain hold together the same coalition that re-elected Bush in 2004? Can he win a third Bush term? It won't be easy.
Whether Obama or Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee, McCain, like Bush, will win among voters who go to church regularly, own guns and are married with children. McCain must work to inspire large turnout among these voters, while avoiding any further source of alienation (e.g., naming a pro-abortion vice presidential candidate or giving a convention speech focusing on "comprehensive immigration reform").
Given Bush's inability to win among voters who considered the economy and jobs the top issue during an election year when growth was strong and unemployment was trending downward, it is unrealistic to hope McCain can win among economy-jobs voters in a year when growth is slowing and the unemployment is trending upward.
That leaves national security. In 2006, Democrats took control of Congress in a referendum on Iraq. According to the Defense Intelligence Agency statistics published by the Government Accountability Office, violence reached an all-time high in Iraq in October 2006 -- the month leading up to the midterm election.
Since then, the surge McCain advocated has diminished violence in Iraq. Yet, both Democratic candidates insist they will withdraw our troops.
To win in November, McCain must persuade voters that withdrawing from Iraq before that country is stabilized will lead to a catastrophic reversal in our ability to defend this country from terrorist attacks.
If he can do that, the Democrats could lose a third straight presidential election.