Thursday, October 14 2004
Let's be honest: scoring a debate is a very subjective exercise. Those who favor a given candidate will almost always tend to view their candidate's performance in the best possible light and to find flaws or faults in the opposing candidate's performance. Last night is a perfect example.

On one hand, liberals are convinced that Kerry looked "more presidential than the president" last night and that Bush was "on the defensive from the outset."

On the other hand, conservatives think President Bush delivered a " sensational performance" last night and that Kerry seemed "haggard, tired" and "lifeless."

In other words, both sides think their guy won - which would naturally lead most people to conclude the debate was a draw. But was it really?

Earlier this week Dana Milbank reported on the different tactics of the two campaigns: the Bush campaign believes "the election will be determined more by the turnout of each party's faithful" while the Kerry campaign feels "the election will be determined as much by centrist 'swing voters.'"

We saw these tactics on display last night. Kerry went out of his way to speak to middle-class voters in Wisconsin and Ohio about jobs and healthcare. He also did his best to counter President Bush's strongest appeal to the middle class (the tax cuts) by arguing that any tax relief the middle class has gotten under president Bush has been offset by the rising prices of tuition, healthcare, and gasoline.

President Bush spoke to the issues in the language of conservatives: low taxes, fiscal sanity, a culture of life, the sanctity of marriage, standards and accountability in education.

I thought both Kerry and Bush did a good job of making their respective cases to their target audiences. Overall, however, I think President Bush did a better job of improving his position in the race.

The inherent problem with John Kerry's strategy is that the middle-class "swing voter" he needs to win in critical states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Iowa is decidedly more conservative than he is - especially on cultural issues.

It's just a very tough sell for a lanky, ultra rich liberal from Massachusetts to show up in Ames, Akron or Appleton with a shotgun and convince people he's one of them. On abortion, gay marriage, and gun control (just to name a few) these voters are more in tune with President Bush than John Kerry.

In less than three weeks when voters close the curtain on the booth and make a choice for president they'll ask themselves four basic questions (not necessarily in this order):

1) Who do I like?
2) Who do I trust?
3) Who is going to keep the country safe?
4)Who is going to help me find a job to provide for my family?

The order and importance of these questions will be different for each voter, of course, but my hunch is that right now President Bush wins three out of four of them with middle-class voters in Wisconsin and Ohio.

To the extent this election turns on the Carville Doctrine (it's the economy, stupid), John Kerry has a chance to win the votes of people who may not like him or trust him as much as they do President Bush.

But I still firmly believe this is a national security election at its core and that in order for the average middle-class voter to even get to the question of jobs and healthcare they first have to be satisfied that John Kerry will keep the country safe. I'm not convinced he's fully passed that test yet with the American people as a whole, let alone middle-class voters in Ohio and Wisconsin.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe John Kerry has made the sale on the War on Terror and national security - even though the internals of the polls don't show it. But if, over the course of nine months, a convention, three debates and tens of millions of dollars in advertising, John Kerry still truly hasn't convinced the American public he'll fight the war on terror and keep them safe, there is little reason to believe he'll be able to do it over the course of the next 18 days. - T. Bevan 11:45 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Wednesday, October 13 2004
We are getting dozens of emails asking, questioning, complaining how we do our state polling averages. In an ideal world we would like to have four or five post debate polls in all the battleground states. While there are many states where we do have plenty of post-debate polls (Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Florida, etc...) we also have several states where we have one or no post-debate polls.

Obviously, the power of averaging increases with the number of quality non-partisan polls in the average. With many states we are in an in- between period where we have to balance keeping as many polls as possible in the averages while also keeping the polls that are included in the average as current as possible so as to reflect real-time changes in the race.

Minnesota and Wisconsin are two states that currently reflect this difficulty. In Minnesota we have two polls taken Oct 8 - Oct 11 and then the next most recent poll is in September. Wisconsin is similar as there are only two nonpartisan polls in October.

The Minnesota situation is complicated because one of the two polls is the Minnesota Star-Tribune Poll which habitually skews to the Democrats. In reality, the Star-Tribune poll is good news for President Bush because it shows movement of four points toward the President since their last poll. Given the Star-Tribune's track record, a five point lead for Kerry probably amounts to a dead heat race in the real world. (The Star-Tribune called for a 10-point Gore win in their final 2000 poll. The final margin of victory for Gore was only 2 points.)

The Chicago Tribune's just-released midwestern state polls also seem to validate the idea that President Bush is running strong in Minnesota. Their poll has Bush trailing by only two points and running 2 points better in Minnesota than they show him running in Wisconsin and Ohio.

While Minnesota is without a doubt a state that is trending Republican, it is still going to be a tough state for the President to win, especially since Nader is unlikely to draw as much support as he he did in 2000.
When you look at all of the the public polls in Minnesota since the beginning of this race in March, Bush has led in only one. It is Kerry's consistent lead in the state more than anything else that prompted us to move Minnesota from a "Toss Up" to "Leaning Kerry" in our Electoral Vote Count.

By the way, Bush supporters can take hope in the fact that the one poll that has showed President Bush ahead was Mason-Dixon (completed in mid-September ) and Mason-Dixon's Brad Coker nailed the Coleman-Mondale race in 2002 when the Star-Tribune and Zogby were both calling for a Mondale win.

We have left Wisconsin as "Leaning Bush" for much the same reason we moved Minnesota to "Leaning Kerry." When you look at all of the polls since July, Kerry hasn't led in a single one (not counting partisan polls and Internet polls) until this most recent Chicago Tribune poll. We would like to see more evidence than just one 500 LV Chicago Tribune poll to convince us Kerry has pulled back to even in Wisconsin.

If this happens, we'll move the state, but until then we would tend to view the Tribune poll as a possible outlier. Like Minnesota, Wisconsin is trending Republican and Kerry's "Lambert Field" gaffe is not inconsequential to anyone who has spent any time in the Badger State.

Across the board the state polls are sending mixed signals. Trailing by two points in the Quinnipiac Poll in Pennsylvania is good news for Bush, but trailing Kerry in all three post-debate Ohio polls is not. CNN/USA Today/Gallup has President Bush ahead by three in New Mexico (a tied state in 2000 ) while at the same time trailing by three in Colorado (a state Bush carried by 9 points in 2000). [Late Correction: That Gallup poll has the race in Colorado tied, 49-49, not a three point Kerry lead.]

The Chicago Tribune polls showing Bush down in Ohio and Wisconsin is bad news for the President, but at the same time we have Strategic Vision polls countering those with Bush ahead 5 in Wisconsin and 8 in Ohio. Even if you discount 3-5 points because Strategic Vision is or was a partisan polling firm, these are still good numbers for the President.

While the states are where this election will be decided because of the Electoral College, for the next week the national polls are probably a better guide to gauge where the race is headed. Generally speaking, the state polls do seem to be following the national lead more or less, with a little lag time and a few quirks here and there.

Kerry's performance in the first debate effectively closed the President 's 5-6 point lead down to only 1-2 points. Since then, the race has held fairly steady with a slight Bush lead through two more major events: the Vice-Presidential debate last Wednesday and the second Presidential debate last Friday night.

Tonight's debate has the potential to cause a break out for either candidate. A draw or a preservation of the status quo probably favors the President marginally, though Bush supporters will feel considerably better if they see few nonpartisan polls in Ohio showing the President ahead. Keep your eye on the RCP National Poll Average, and expect the battleground state polls to follow that lead. J. McIntyre 2:02 pm Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Obviously, lots of focus on the third and final Presidential debate tonight. But there were also a number of debates around the country last night. Here is a summary:

South Carolina - DeMint (R) vs. Tenenbaum (D) :
According to this report from Lee Bandy at the Columbia State, Tenenbaum looked "ill at ease and tired" and didn't peform well at all. However, The Charleston Post & Courier gives a completely different take, saying that DeMint's recent statements on not allowing homosexuals and unwed mothers to teach in public schools had him on the defensive last night and has hurt him badly. Tenenbaum is 6-12 points behind in the polls right now, so watch to see if the gap closes.
South Dakota - Thune (R) vs. Daschle (D): The heavyweights went at it last night. Tough to tell from the Argus Leader story who came out on top, though the folks at Daschle v. Thune seem to think the winner was clear. Again, watch for the next batch of post debate polls.
Illinois - Keyes (R) vs. Obama (D): The Chicago Tribune reports that the debate was surprisingly civil and that the candidates ended up "agreeing on much." Keyes did hit Obama on abortion but was otherwise "reluctant" to go on the attack. It doesn't matter anyway, this race was over the minute Keyes accepted the IL GOP's invitation to run.
Georgia - Isakson (R) vs. Majette (D): Sounds like this one was a snoozer, full of back and forth charges over voting records that left the audience thoroughly confused. Majette continues to trail by double digits and desperately needs something to shake up the dynamics of this race. Sounds like this debate wasn't it.
Missouri - Bond (R) vs. Farmer (D): Lots of domestic stuff and talk of Bond's record and experience. Farmer's big line in her closing remarks ("there's a difference between working for Missouri and working for Missourians") is totally unpersuasive and a loser for her. It doesn't matter, Kerry is packing up and leaving Missouri and a ride on Kerry's coattails was the only sliver of hope Farmer had of beating the incumbent to begin with.
Pennsylvania - Specter (R) vs. Hoeffel (D): The Philly Inquirer does some fact checking.

NM-2: Wilson (R) vs. Romero (D): One of the closest House races in the country, The Albuquerque Tribune says Romero is on the offensive.
ME-2 - Michaud (D) vs. Hamel (R):
The Press Herald reports it as pretty standard fare: disagreement over Iraq, taxes and prescription drugs and agreement on clean air and water, supporting veterans and educating children (as if you've ever heard anyone come out against these things!). No change in this race, Michaud keeps rolling.
NC-8 - Hayes (R) vs. Troutman (D) | NC-9 - Myrick (R) vs. Flynn (D) | NC-12: Fisher (R) vs. Watt (D): The Charlotte Observer gives the round up.
NE-2 - Terry (R) vs. Thompson (D): The Omaha Herald reports it was a heated affair which sounded pretty similar to the presidential debates.

WA - Rossi (R) vs. Gregoire (D): The Seattle Times has the goods on the town hall debate in Yakima last night. Rossi is in an uphill battle in a state that is becoming more Democratic by the minute. The state isn't in play at he Presidential level, nor is George Nethercutt making up much ground against Patty Murray, she of the Osama-bin-Laden-builds hospitals fame.

Back later with more. - T. Bevan 11:45 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

ABOUT THAT VOTER INTIMIDATION CASE IN FLORIDA: A while back I wrote two pieces taking Bob Herbert to task (here and here) over his outrageous claims that Jeb Bush and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement were using a bogus vote fraud investigation to suppress the black vote in the Orlando area.

In the course of researching those posts I came across a detailed article written by Jeff Billman. Billman is a local reporter for the Orlando Weekly and he's been all over this story since the controversy started back in May. I called Jeff in August and spoke with him at length about Herbert's claims to make sure I had a good grip on the story and wasn't missing anything.

Billman, who stipulated during the course of the conversation that he and his paper were left-leaning, confirmed to me that the story was completely bogus and said that he was in the process of writing a rebuttal to Herbert. Here it is. The entire column is required reading, but here is Billman's bottom line regarding Herbert and the Democrats' claims of GOP voter intimidation in Orlando:

"It's a fantastic story: Armed GOP Gestapo canvassing black neighborhoods to make sure Dubya gets re-elected. Too bad it's all bullshit...

Few would accuse this paper of pro-Bush leanings, but we have to say it: In this case the facts aren't as sexy as a story starring Florida as a backwoods swamp where the Bush boys send armed thugs to intimidate black voters. It may play in New York, but it's not true."

There are a lot of stories swirling around the country right now regarding vote fraud and voter intimidation which I'll discuss in the future. But as far as this particular story goes, it's total bunk. Instead, it's just another example of Bob Herbert's despicable willingness to distort facts to play on the racial fears and anxieties of African-Americans in the hopes of winning a few votes. - T. Bevan 9:45 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Monday, October 11 2004
Truly astonishing. Teresa Heinz Kerry is like a gaffe machine, churning out quote after quote that range from embarrassing, to comical, to downright irresponsible. It's gotten so bad you have to start wondering if she really isn't a Republican mole working to sabotage her husband's campaign.

Here is Teresa's latest effort (via Drudge):

"John will never send a boy or girl in a uniform anywhere in the world because of our need and greed for oil."

Good gracious. Folks, it's one thing for John Kerry to publicly adopt the hardcore antiwar activist position that Iraq is "the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time." It's something altogether different for the potential First Lady of the United States to crawl down into the Michael Moore fever-swamp and assert that President Bush has deployed U.S. troops "because of our need and greed for oil."

Needless to say, this sort of thing may get hardcore Democratic partisans worked up into a lather but it isn't going to play so well with voters in Ohio or Florida .- T. Bevan 10:19 am

ALAN KEYES, MR. RADIOACTIVE: Just how bad is Alan Keyes doing in the Illinois Senate race? Let's just say it's hard to imagine him doing any worse. In the three latest polls taken during the past week, Keyes is drawing between 20-24% of the vote while Obama is pushing close to 70%.

To be fair, this was never really about Alan Keyes beating Barack Obama. The minute Jack Ryan dropped out of the race the GOP strategy shifted from winning to trying to field a credible challenger who could do two things: 1) keep Obama occupied and 2) run strong throughout the state to protect down-ballot Republicans from getting swamped. Keyes is failing miserably at both.

Today's Washington Post reports that Obama is so unconcerned with the threat being posed by Alan Keyes that he's now touring the country raising money and campaigning on behalf of John Kerry and other Democrats:

In the past week, Obama has mailed checks totaling $260,000 to Senate candidates in 13 states, including $53,000 to the do-or-die campaign of Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.). He donated $100,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and $150,000 to party organizations in key states, including Florida, Wisconsin and Colorado.

Carrying his verbal assault on President Bush beyond state lines, Obama will fly to Los Angeles this week for a Democratic fundraiser and address rallies in Colorado and Nevada for John F. Kerry. In a close presidential race where turnout could prove decisive, Obama said in an interview that he is talking with Kerry advisers about where he can be most effective in the campaign's final days.

"Turnout is huge," Obama said after a Saturday morning rally in the hard-fought presidential battleground of Wisconsin. "If there are selective things that we can do that can be helpful, then we want to do them. The Kerry people are still making determinations as to what states remain in play. Safe to say we will probably have a couple more travel days this month."

Back in Illinois, Keyes is operating in complete isolation. He's alienated almost all of the Republican party operatives throughout the state, starting with his wild-eyed rhetoric about Barack Obama's pro-abortion stance (the "slaveholders'" position, similar to a terrorist, etc) and his attack on Dick Cheney's gay daughter (Keyes called Mary Cheney a "selfish hedonist").

Many members of the Illinois delegation, including the Chairperson of the Party, Judy Baar Topinka, condemned Keyes remarks as "idiotic" and called on him to apologize. (To make matters worse, rumors have been swirling about the sexual preference of Keyes' own daughter for a couple of weeks now. Keyes has refused to comment)

This is how bad it has become: the other night at a GOP fund raising dinner Keyes caused a stir by showing up unannounced - but more importantly, I was told, uninvited. At the dinner a sitting member Congress, speaking semi-privately to the guests at one of the tables, jokingly referred to Keyes as a "lunatic." Everyone at the table laughed and shook their heads in agreement.

The damage Keyes is doing to the GOP in Illinois, however, is no laughing matter. He will be lucky to win 25% of the vote in November and he's become not only a drag on the ballot for Republicans but a weapon for Democrats.

I'll give you a quick example. Beth Coulson is the State Senator from my district. She's a moderate Republican in a moderate to left-leaning district and always a top target of the Democrats. Here's a copy of the latest flier from the Illinois Democratic Party:

Keyes may very well cost Beth Coulson her seat, and perhaps a few others as well. And on November 3rd Alan Keyes will be sitting comfortably on a plane back to Maryland and the Illinois GOP will be in a bigger hole than they were in before Keyes arrived to help dig.

MOTHER TERESA: Can't resist this blurb on Teresa Heinz Kerry from Friday's Tucson Citizen:

In the middle of her [Heinz Kerry's] speech, Bush supporters chimed in with a chant of "four more years." Kerry supporters countered with "four more weeks."

Heinz Kerry told the Bush supporters, "I respect your positions, but you must have manners."

Adele Conover, 54, a science writer and Kerry supporter who had backed Howard Dean, described Heinz Kerry's talk as "sensational."

"She treated them like they were children," she said of how Heinz Kerry talked to the Bush supporters.

Those Bush supporters are just so uncouth, aren't they Teresa? - T. Bevan 7:45 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

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