The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Monday, May 10, 2004


Pollster John Zogby offers a positive perspective on John Kerry's candidacy, based in both the issues and Kerry's history. He makes the following points:
The President’s problem is further compounded by the fact that he is now at the mercy of situations that are out of his control. While the economy is improving, voters historically do not look at indicators that measure trillions and billions of dollars. Instead, their focus is on hundreds and thousands of dollars. In this regard, there is less concern for increases in productivity and gross domestic product and more regard for growth in jobs and maintaining of health benefits. Just 12 years ago, the economy had begun its turnaround in the fourth quarter of 1991 and was in full recovery by spring 1992 – yet voters gave the President’s father only 38% of the vote because it was all about “the economy, stupid.”

The same holds true for Iraq. Will the United States actually be able to leave by June 30? Will Iraq be better off by then? Will the US be able to transfer power to a legitimate and unifying authority? Will the lives lost by the US and its allies be judged as the worth the final product? It is difficult to see how the President grabs control of this situation.

Finally, if history is any guide, Senator Kerry is a good closer. Something happens to him in the closing weeks of campaigns (that obviously is not happening now!). We have clearly seen that pattern in his 1996 victory over Governor Bill Weld for the Senate in Massachusetts and more recently in the 2004 Democratic primaries. All through 2003, Kerry’s campaign lacked a focused message. He tends to be a nuanced candidate: thoughtful, briefed, and too willing to discuss a range of possibly positions on every issue. It is often hard to determine where he actually stands. In a presidential campaign, if a candidate can’t spell it out in a bumper sticker, he will have trouble grabbing the attention of voters. By early 2004, as Democratic voters in Iowa and elsewhere concluded that President Bush could be defeated, they found Governor Howard Dean’s message to be too hot and began to give Kerry another look. Kerry came on strong with the simplest messages: “I’m a veteran”, “I have the experience”, and “I can win”. His timing caused him to come on strong at the perfect time. As one former his Vietnam War colleague of told a television correspondent in Iowa: “John always knows when his homework is due.”
That's a good point. Perhaps judging Kerry's general election campaign thus far is similar to judging his primary campaign based on the bulk of 2003. To quote Adaptation, "wow 'em in the end, and you have a hit".

As for me, I'm putting the odds right smack on 50-50. One thing this sort of analysis simply can't account for is the "stupid bullshit" factor. Kerry's campaign has floundered the most when he's allowed Bush to control the campaign dialog; when Bush does that, somehow the topic of discussion always seems to lead towards earth shattering issues such as which medals Kerry threw over a fence 30-plus years ago, and whether or not his wife lets him drive the family SUV from time to time.

My sense -- or is it my hope? -- is that the public, by and large, wont have the patience for stupid bullshit that they had in 2000, because of the gravity of the issues facing the country this time around. If that's the case, then Zogby is correct that Kerry has a damn good chance to be the next President of the United States.

UPDATE: Over at Pandagon, Ezra says essentially the same thing I said, rendering "stupid bullshit" into the infinitely more polite "wedge issues" and "values".


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