Wednesday, September 08, 2004

State of the Kerry Campaign (Part II)

This is a continuation of my "Kerry's Decline" post last week. I did decide to change the title, though, in order to decrease the tensions. The last thing I want is for people to think I take any delight in the latest turn of events. While I feel nothing but content for the Kerry digital brownshirts of the Democratic Underground, I genuinely want Sen. Kerry to win this election. Was he my first primary choice? Of course, not. He wasn't even in my Top 5. However, he won the party's nomination and I decided to support his general election candidacy. I feared that his weaknesses would plague, perhaps fatally, his chances against Bush. In spite of these weaknesses, Kerry still has fight left in him. 56 days remain in this campaign. I assure you that Sen. Kerry wants be President in the worst way and will not retreat any longer.

After the Democratic National Convention in July, Kerry was running about even with George W. Bush. Go to for all the numbers. Here's a small sampling. In the days after the DNC, Kerry was tied 48-48 in the Gallup Poll (among registered voters). ABC, American Research Group, and FOX News all had Kerry leading by varying margins. The Time poll taken 8/5 had Kerry up outside the margin of error, 51-43. Every major poll taken between 8/1 and 8/10 had Kerry either tied or leading the incumbent. In fairness, some polls factoring in likely voters over registered voters showed a closer race, but Kerry still held a slight edge. I believe that Kerry's team was very confident with these numbers. Electoral college projections were trending in the Democrats' favor as well.

What do I think changed between the DNC and the beginning of the RNC? I have no doubt that the laughably titled "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" played a large role in the turnaround. I'll begin by saying that momentum began to change direction before the RNC began. The Washington Post, which had Kerry ahead 52-45 three weeks earlier, showed a dead heat at 49-48 Kerry. The reason behind Kerry's decline is crystal clear to anybody who's been paying attention. Anybody But Bush, or ABB, was the theme of the Democratic primaries. Democrats wanted the race to focus on Bush's record and not that of the Democratic nominee. The Party felt that Bush's poor record on job creation and the Iraq War would be enough to propell a Democrat into the White House. That strategy was working until the middle of August.

The Republican Party masterfully changed the entire focus of this election. Instead of having the attention be placed on Bush, the GOP was able to change the topic of attention to Mr. Kerry. Despite the claims of his loyalists, Kerry is not that well-liked among even the Democratic electorate. The best thing about Kerry is that he's not a Republican and not named George Bush. This isn't an insult, but simply what I've gathered by analyzing the polling numbers. More specifically, it's the issue of Kerry's genuity that has transformed the race. I don't think the liberal label hurts Kerry that much. Any Democratic nominee will automatically be hit with that epithet. The likability factor could even be countered by Kerry. It's certainly important, but not the main reason behind his troubles. It's one phrase that will determine whether Kerry wins the presidency. Flip-Flopper! The Republican message is extremely coherent on this one aspect of Sen. Kerry's record. It was evident in almost every speech at the Convention and all the talking-heads on television. They, I believe inaccurately, contend that Kerry changes his positions as often as he changes socks. For the sake of brevity, I'll simply say that I disagree with that label. In fact, George W. Bush is the one who is a flip-flopper. First, he opposed the 9/11 Commission. Now, he supports their findings. Before, he was against the creation of a Homeland Security Department. Currently, he uses this as one of the successes of his Presidency.

This one claim is what has hurt Kerry in the eyes of many undecided voters. Furthermore, the Bush campaign overtly contends that Kerry cannot protect the security of Americans. All of it traces back to their claim that Kerry is a flip-flopper. My opinion is that Kerry is actually too intelligent for most of the electorate. Kerry sees the world from the viewpoint of a sophisticated academic. Bush sees things through the eyes of a midwestern gunslinger. Issues of complex policy cannot be understood thoroughly by empty slogans. Bush wants people to see everything as either good or evil. Kerry understands that nuance exists in all aspects of life. Kerry would be okay if he were able to stray from nuance every once in a while and speak in simple terms. On the issue of Iraq, he is almost too nuanced for most individuals. While his position has been consistent in my mind, it is not resonating with the public. Despite his reluctance to break things down into a bumper sticker, he must condense his thoughts into understandable campaign themes. Running for President means that you have to understand the stupidity of the American people. Bush uses it to his advantage, while Kerry cannot dumb down his policy intitiaitves enough for the sheeple to comprehend.

Aside from the Swift Boats, the GOP has done a remarkable job in marketing Bush to the public. They are able to relate everything that happens to either 9/11 or the war on terra. Simply put, Bush's only real achievement, in the eyes of the public, is his handling of 9/11. Liberals certainly dispute that, but Bush's numbers on that issue remain strong. The theme of the RNC, besides claiming that Kerry could not be trusted with the presidency, was to claim that electing someone other than Kerry meant risking national security. And sadly, that worked. The image of George Bush throwing out the opening pitch at Yankee Stadium genuinely moved many Americans. Bush wins if that's the picture most Americans have of him.

What do I think has been Kerry's #1 mistake of this campaign? His refusal to directly answer the SBV charges immediately. Reports are that Kerry wanted to respond, but campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill urged him not to. For that, she deserves to have her roll severely diminished. Don't fire her, though. That would send a message that the campaign is in disarray. The campaign has brought in many former strategists of President Clinton. Like him or not, President Clinton is the only Democrat since FDR to be re-elected. These are people who know politics, and more importantly how to win. Kerry would be served by seriously considering their input. It might already be too late. In the minds of many voters, Kerry is firmly entrenched as a politician who stands for nothing. The SBV by themselves didn't do the damage. It only reinforced the message that the GOP has been screaming for months. Many voters believe their claims in spite of overwhelming evidence against the SBV' credibility. A grave travesty of truth-telling has been perpetrated during the last month. Utter lies have been accepted as gospel by not just Republicans, but Independents. The Kerry campaign exhbited near mental retardation in their handling of this abomination. For that, each and every architect behind their strategy should forever be banished from politics. Don't they understand that Americans believe anything they see on TV? John Kerry should have been everywhere, forcefully bellowing out the truth behind this so-called scandal. The two weeks that were lost may well sow the seeds of defeat for Sen. Kerry.

Today, the polls all show a slight lead for Bush. It's almost 2:00 and I'm very tired. I won't go and document every poll. I can say that Time and Newsweek have Bush up by 11, while Zogby and CNN show the separation in single-digits. I'll end this rather abruptly, but promise to come back with more insight and analysis. Despite what happened, we have to continue the good fight forward. Bush can still be defeated and Kerry can win the November 2 election. With the new additions to the campaign, I'm feeling more upbeat than I was a few days ago. In fairness, much of the newly inspired optimism can be traced to the renewed power and Internet access bestowed upon me.



Blogger Eric Cioffoletti said...

To quote the Yankee great Yogi Berra: "It ain't over 'til it's over!"

We haven't even seen the first debate between the candidates yet. In my view, I think that will be Kerry's big chance to make gains on Bush. For now, Kerry isn't in that bad of shape. I seem to remember pollsters always favorite the incumbant until the last minute.

September 9, 2004 at 10:44 PM  
Blogger tsias said...

Definitely not over.

The polls are somewhat discouraging. No matter the spread, all of them are trending in W's direction. It'll take another week until we have a more accurate understanding of where Kerry stands.

My belief is that Kerry won't be in that bad of shape. By next week, he'll be down by no more than 5.

September 9, 2004 at 11:39 PM  

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