Any analysis of the 2004 Presidential election that doesn't take into account the fact in the 51 different contests for electoral votes, 48 had the same result as in 2000, can't be taken seriously. Was terrorism the paramount issue? The same people who voted for Bush last time, when he was calling for a more humble, less active foreign policy, did so this time, when he staged a preemptive war not even plausibly connected to terrorism. Gay marriage/civil unions? Wasn't an issue last time, when Gore lost Ohio, Nevada and the entire South; I haven't seen the exit polling, but my gut tells me that the voters in the only two states that switched to Bush, Iowa and New Mexico, probably aren't more homophobic than the voters of New Hampshire, which went to Kerry. Michael Moore, F-9/11, and the Hollywood Elite? Kerry won Wisconsin and Minnesota, anyways, while two states that hardly epitomize traditional values, Florida and Nevada, both went for Bush by narrow margins. Defective voting machines? Funny, how the Republicans rigged the voting machines to fix the results in precisely the same states they won narrowly last time, while failing to do so in about a half-dozen states that might have given Bush a more commanding margin in the Electoral College.
Truth be told, the 2000 Census was a more pivotal event this election than 9/11. The big difference between this election and 2000 was that Bush ran a national campaign, and significantly increased the number of Republican voters across the country. Karl Rove had Bush on television everywhere, effectively using cable to get the message out, even in states where he had no chance of winning. As a result, while Kerry held his own in the "Purple States", even improving Gore's performance from 2000 in states like Colorado and Ohio, Bush won the popular vote by increasing his margin in the base, while reducing the amount he was routed in states like New Jersey, California, and New York.
Last time, Rove made a series of miscalculations in the final two weeks, and Gore was able to close the gap late and win the public nod (if not the Electoral College). With four years to plan, he didn't make the same mistakes, and the Republicans out-organized the Democrats, not by a lot, but by enough. As hard as it is for the defeated side to accept, for a candidate to receive 48% of the vote in a national election, and to capture states as different as California and Delaware, Rhode Island and Michigan, Hawaii and New Hampshire, a lot has to go right. Democrats should be more concerned about why, in the 2002 and 2004 Congressional elections, they couldn't elect moderate-to-conservative candidates in the South, not with how their left-liberal Presidential nominee fell one state short of victory.