Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Kerry's first bad week?

Kos weighs in and he seems to be in agreement with my position that the "more/foreign leaders" flap has hurt Kerry and helped Bush. It has put Kerry truly on the defensive for the first time this season and allowed Bush to get back into his game, which included the new attack ad that suggested that Kerry doesn't care about our soldiers in the field because he voted against the $87 billion supplemental Iraq bill.

Every time Bush lies, it forces Kerry to set the record straight, taking him off message and wasting a news cycle in the process. The last few days have shown the tactic works better than the truth, and expect a lot more of this crap over the next half-year.

Thinking about this more, I think this demonstrates a potential weakness in Kerry's campaign so far: it is highly dependent on how well Bush is doing week-to-week. Kerry's team has demonstrated a strong ability to take advantage of Bush missteps and make him pay for them. But they will have a tough time winning if they remain dependent on Bush making mistakes. They have to force Bush into making those mistakes as well as demonstrate that they themselves are less mistake prone.

I was listening to Talk Of The Nation at around the noon hour and was struck by the tone of a few of the callers to the show. The general impression was that they don't particular like Bush as president, but that wouldn't be sufficient reason for them to vote him out of office. One caller in particular was critical of Kerry for not giving him anything more to vote for than "electability", (i.e., being the best "Anybody But Bush" candidate out there).

The guest on the show (didn't catch his name, but he is an editor for Atlantic Monthly) agreed with that assessment and said that Kerry won the primaries by appealing to the anti-Bush sentiment amongst Democrats. But the anti-Bush sentiment is not as prevalent among the general populous. This is a point I've been trying to make with my "fence-sitter" comments. The people who are on the fence in this election may be uncomfortable with Bush, but they won't unseat him unless they are given an alternative that is compelling enough for them to risk a change. Bush may not be great, in their eyes, but his replacement has to at least present himself as likely to be better. Just being not-Bush is not enough.

(If I can risk a little bit of Dean partisanship here, I think this is where the governor always had an advantage over the other Democratic candidates. He actually had a compelling message beyond Anybody-But-Bush. I can't help but think that he lost, in part, because many Democrats are still afraid to step into the breech with an assertive agenda. It always seems to be "just enough to maybe win, but not enough to expose ourselves to to many attacks." That kind of thinking only works if the opposition falls apart of its own accord.)

Kerry's campaign needs to become pro-active in its dealings with Bush. This is where they may be at a severe disadvantage to the Republicans. The GOP has had months and oodles of money to develop a proactive game plan for the next 7-8 months. The Democrats have only coalesced around a single candidate in the last 2-3 weeks. This leaves very little time for Kerry's team to put forth a compelling alternative to putting Bush back in the White House.

And missteps like the "more/foreign leaders" flap aren't going to make the job any easier.


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