Friday, March 5 2004
The Kerry campaign has been beating back press reports that their nominee wants Terry McAuliffe out. But he may end up sticking around, and this sentence from today's NY Times tells us why:

Explaining the problem that the campaign faces, an adviser to Mr. Kerry said about Mr. McAuliffe's fund-raising prowess and his willingness to be a lightning rod: "Terry is a very valuable player. Terry will say anything." (emphasis added)

That's your nutshell, folks: the two most valuable assets of the current head of the Democratic party are 1) his ability to raise tons of dough and 2) his willingness to go on national television and spin with little or no regard for the facts or the truth. No wonder Bill Clinton is so fond of him.

But McAuliffe has always been in over his head, both as the lead communicator of the party and as a political strategist. True, he's raised a lot of money for the party, but the name of the game is winning seats and under his watch Democrats have taken an electoral beating around the country. I suspect most Democrats would be a whole lot happier today with empty coffers but control of the Senate or the House.

It's not all McAuliffe's fault, of course. As a group, Democrats bungled the war issue in the run up to the 2002 midterms and decided, wrongly, that "kitchen table issues" would carry the day over national security. It was a catastrophic mistake.

Anyway, I hope Terry gets to hang around until November because he can be a "very valuable player" - for Republicans.

PLAYING THE HATE GAME: I get a kick when liberals bloggers - in this case Josh Marshall - post an intemperate email they get from a conservative just to, you know, remind everyone what hateful, evil people conservatives can be.

So just for kicks I decided to play the game this morning. I headed over to the Democratic Underground to see what I could find and, to my good luck (seriously dark irony alert), it turns out John Ashcroft was rushed to the hospital this morning with gallstone pancreatitis. He's in intensive care.

So, what say our good natured friends from the other side of the aisle? Somebody called Demnan says:

"Would I be completely evil if I stated what we're all thinking at the moment. Let the bastard die. Ok, 'nough said."

And comradebillyboy writes:

"schadenfreude is what i feel - suffer you nazi bastard!"

Game, set, and match. Actually, that's a bit over the top. The point is that there's more than enough intemperance out there to go around. We get vicious, hateful emails from liberals all the time, I just don't see the point in publishing them for the purpose of ridicule.

IS ANTI-SEMITISM IN NY UP OR DOWN?: The NY Post headline says Anti-Jewish Crimes Soaring in the City. The Post cites a report being released by Congressman Anthony Weiner saying there were 57 anti-semitic incidents in NY City in the last three months of 2003 versus 21 incidents in the same period the year before. Mayor Bloomberg rushed out to claim that in the first two months of 2004, anti-Jewish incidents are down 10 % versus last year.

So which is it? And what in the world is a hyper partisan Congressional Democrat - who, not coincidentally, is Jewish and apparently can't wait to be Mayor of NYC - doing studying/estimating/releasing crime statistics? Isn't that somebody else's job?

GOP SENATORS PLAY DEFENSE: C-Span junkies will know that the other day Republicans in the Senate took the floor to defend President Bush's credibility on the WMD issue (see the importance of this in the post below). The Republican Policy Committee compiled a list of excerpts from various Senators which you can read here (pdf file). The following excerpts are from Senator John Kyl (R-AZ), who also happens to be Chairman of the RPC:

"The reason we took to the floor is because there has been a lot of criticism of the President of the United States and the administration for its actions in finally deciding that enough was enough with Saddam Hussein, that his continual violation of the U.N. resolutions had to be enforced by someone, and that before there was an imminent threat posed by his dangerous regime, it was important for the United States and a coalition of other countries to take action to remove him."

"The criticism has come both from potential Democratic nominees for President, Members of this body, news organizations, and others outside the body, but . . .there should be no question that President Bush did the right thing."

"The three key points were, first, that an intelligence failure is not the same thing as intelligence misuse or misleading, and if there was a failure because the intelligence agencies were wrong about the stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, . . . it is not the same thing as saying that the President misled anyone or that anyone else with access to intelligence misled anyone."

"The second point was that whatever the state of intelligence, the case for removing Saddam Hussein is still very strong, a point which several of our colleagues have made repeatedly on both sides of the aisle, as well as President Clinton and other members of his administration prior to the Bush administration."

"And, third, that the question regarding the weapons of mass destruction, the stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons is not a matter of whether they existed but what happened to them; that everyone who had access to the intelligence was convinced they existed..."

"Those of us on the Intelligence Committee had access to the same intelligence the President did, at least similar intelligence to what other countries in the world had, and all of us . . . . believed these things. We had the same intelligence that was given to the President. We were not misleading anyone. The President obviously was not misleading anyone. The fact that it turns out some of the intelligence turned out not to be totally
correct is not the same thing as saying somebody misused the intelligence."

"I hope my colleagues on the other side do not cross that line of accusing the President of intentionally misleading the American people because to do so, in effect, would be also to accuse our own colleagues of that very same thing. I do not believe, based upon what I know of my colleagues, that that could be said of any one of them. So I hope we can get over this notion that just because not all the intelligence was correct, therefore, it must mean somebody was misleading someone else. I think we have established that is not true, and that it would be very wrong to try to pursue that line of attack against President Bush simply because we happen to be in an election year."

They need to do this every day between now and November. - T. Bevan 8:36 am | Link | Email

Thursday, March 4 2004
If you haven't viewed the ads released by the Bush campaign yesterday , you should. They represent the President's first effort at communicating directly to the public the reason why he should be given a second term.

Predictably, the ads have already generated a number of reviews: Andrew Sullivan thinks they're too "retrospective" and that "if they're the campaign, he'll lose." Kevin Drum suggests the ads are more Hoover than Reagan. And Josh Marshall says with typical arrogance that the theme of the ads is "it's not my fault", though given Marshall's extreme partisanship I doubt there is a single thing the Bush campaign could have produced that he would have said anything good about.

As someone who's spent a number of years in the advertising industry, let me give you my take on them. All three ads are incredibly well crafted, powerful pieces of communication that do exactly what they are designed to do. Let me elaborate real quickly.

Television ads are made up of two important parts: a rational core and an emotional wrapper. The core is where you articulate the essence of your brand; the single, solitary reason why someone should choose your product or service. It's also known as your brand promise.

The wrapper is made up of the stuff you choose to surround that promise with; the images, music and language you use to evoke the types of emotions you want associated with your brand.

When it comes to television advertising, political candidates are brands just like anything else. And there are two iron rules to follow if you want advertising to effectively and successfully promote your brand:

1) Your brand promise MUST be relevant and believable. It doesn't matter how you package your core or promise, if it isn't something people want and something they think you will deliver then they won't be buying.

2) Your ads MUST be designed to speak to and resonate with a specific target audience. You need to identify the people who are most inclined to buy your product and then make sure the emotional wrapper of your ad is constructed in their language and with elements that will generate the most possible appeal among that group.

Now let's get back to President Bush's reelection ads. Has the Bush team followed these rules? Have they constructed ads that will be effective? I think the obvious answer is yes.

President Bush's brand promise is simple: leadership. In the three ads the Bush team has communicated this promise in slightly different ways. In "Lead", the President casts his leadership in a forward-looking way, saying he knows "exactly" where he wants to take the country. In "Tested" and "Safer Stronger", the ads communicate Bush's leadership through difficult times, including September 11, and surround his promise of leadership with themes of optimism, patriotism, and using words like "freedom", "faith", "family", and "sacrifice."

So let's get to the big questions: 1) is Bush's brand promise of leadership believable and 2) will it resonate with the people that matter?

Let's take the last question first. To the roughly forty percent (I'm using guesstimates from the new Pew Poll released yesterday) of the country who are against President Bush, these ads will have little or no effect. That's not their purpose.

To the thirty-five percent of the country who already support the President, these ads will give them the warm fuzzies and may help ring some bells among a few disgruntled conservatives and bring them back on base. But that's not really the purpose of the ads, either.

What about the other thirty percent of undecideds, independents, etc., out there who are "open to persuasion?" According to Pew, 13% of these of people already lean in "favor"of the President over John Kerry and another 6% are "pure undecided". Do the Bush ads speak to these people? You may disagree, but I think they do the job quite well.

But Bush's ability to close the deal with independents and undecideds ultimately rests on the first question of whether his brand promise is believable or not. And here is where it gets interesting.

Bush's promise of leadership is inextricably linked with the issue of his credibility. If you think he's a liar, then there's a very good chance you won't find any resonance in the claim that he's a strong and focused leader.

And that's exactly what Pew found in their last poll two weeks ago:

Moreover, when asked for a one-word description of Bush, equal percentages now give negative and positive responses, which marks a dramatic shift since last May when positive descriptions outnumbered negative ones by roughly two-to-one (52%-27%). The most frequently used negative word to describe Bush is "liar," which did not come up in the May 2003 survey.

The slide in Bush's credibility can be traced back in a fairly clear line to David Kay's congressional testimony and the way it was reported in the press.

Democrats were able to seize on the doubt created by Kay's testimony, replicate it and spread it a like a virus across Bush's credibility on a host of other issues: from his National Guard service to the economy, etc. It gave them the ability to go wherever they want to go to challenge Bush's credibility.

It's even gotten to the point now where sitting members of Congress are willing to call Bush a liar in public and to his face based solely on the word of a thug and murderer like Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

So I disagree with Andrew Sullivan. Before the President spends valuable time and money laying out plans for a second term, his first job is to repair the damage done to his credibility by reminding people of where we've been and what he's done, to state his brand promise clearly, and to convince the public he'll deliver.

THE KERRY BRAND: It's also worth spending a second discussing John Kerry's brand. What is it now? What's it going to be in the coming months?

So far we've seen Kerry branding himself as the bane of "special interests." That brand promise isn't even remotely believable coming from John Kerry, nor do I think it's a core message strong enough to win a Presidential campaign under the current circumstances.

Challengers usually run against incumbents on themes of change. John Kerry will certainly look to capitalize on this theme, even if the change he wants to represent is one that takes us backward to the "good times" of the Clinton era.

But this might be harder than it looks, because I think the Bush team has scored a masterstroke with the tag line "Steady leadership in times of change." In addition to reinforcing his own message of leadership, the use of the word "change" preemptively strikes at Kerry's ability to use it as a theme. Bush is telling us that change is already going on in events at home and abroad. Why would we want more "change" when change is what's happening all around us?

Kerry would be better off grabbing Bush's current Achilles heel (the aforementioned credibility issue) and offering himself as the antidote: Honest John. He does what he says. He's got a twenty year record of keeping his promises to the American people.

Will it work? Is it believable? I know Kaus and Ellis won't be buying, but maybe enough people will. We'll have to wait and see. - T. Bevan 12:53 pm | Link | Email

Wednesday, March 3 2004
Senator Kerry delivered an impressive performance yesterday, sweeping every state where John Edwards was on the ballot. (In Vermont, Senator Edwards was not on the ballot and favorite son Howard Dean beat Kerry 58% - 34%.) Edwards is scheduled to officially withdraw from the race and endorse Senator Kerry today in Raleigh, NC.

THE REAL RACE BEGINS: Ironically, Kerry's powerful knockout punch to Senator Edwards yesterday puts an end to the sequence of debates and primaries that have provided Kerry with platforms to pound on President Bush and the positive media that goes along with winning state after state. Next week's wins in Florida and Texas will now be footnotes, not front-page headlines like this morning: "Kerry in Big Victories Across Nation" - NY Times"Kerry Wins 9 of 10 States" - LA Times"Kerry Rout, Edwards Out" - USA Today.

Not only will Kerry lose the favorable backdrop of crushing his rivals week after week, but the Bush campaign is rolling out its first wave of paid advertising starting - not coincidentally - tomorrow. According to the Christian Science Monitor:

Reports indicate that the Bush campaign has bought ad time on national cable news and sports channels, plus local broadcast stations in 17 states, which not coincidentally are the states that analysts agree make up the battleground for election 2004. Further, President Bush will start advertising next week on Spanish-language networks Univision and Telemundo in competitive states with large Hispanic populations: Florida, New Mexico, Nevada, and Arizona.

Venues for the English-language ads include CNBC, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox Sports Net, which airs NASCAR races. The campaign is also looking into advertising on ESPN, the Golf Channel, and the History Channel.

Senator Kerry has had an extremely impressive run these last two months, coming back from near oblivion to win over 90% of all the contests to date. But the pre-season is over and his regular season match up against Bush, Cheney, and Rove isn't going to be quite the same game as going up against Edwards, Dean and Clark.

ELECTORAL MATH: As most Americans should know after 2000, this will not be a national election but rather a battle of 50 individual state elections. Using the 2000 results as a starting blueprint, with the new apportionment of electoral votes President Bush would be at 278 and Senator Kerry 260 (271 are needed to win). Given Kerry's geographic affiliation with New Hampshire, it is reasonable to throw that state into the Kerry column which leaves us with Bush 274 - Kerry 264.

Last week I mentioned the importance of Ohio, Missouri and West Virginia, suggesting that if Kerry could win the Gore states and NH any one of these would be enough to give him the Presidency. This would be true for Ohio and Missouri, but winning West Virginia would give Kerry only 5 more votes and leave the nation in a 269 - 269 tie, which would then go to the Republican House giving Bush the victory. (Any presidential election scenario which is effectively 50-50, precludes any possibility that the Democrats could take back the House.)

Charlie Cook did an electoral rundown yesterday that allocated 25 states and 211 electoral votes to Bush and 16 states and 221 electoral votes to Kerry leaving Florida (27), Iowa (7), Minnesota (10), Missouri (11), Nevada (5), New Hampshire (4), Ohio (20), Oregon (7), New Mexico (5) and Wisconsin (10) up for grabs. I agree with his basic choices of battleground states though I would swap West Virginia and New Hampshire, and if you are going to include Missouri you should probably throw Pennsylvania into the group as well.

The bottom line is the election is going to come down to who wins these 10 - 12 battleground states, and when you dissect these states even further, we may only be talking about 2-3 states which will decide the election.

VP SELECTION: Given the electoral math Edwards seems to be an unwise choice for Kerry. I just don't see how Edwards makes a big enough of difference in any of the states that are going to matter. I still feel Gephardt makes a lot of sense for the Kerry campaign, as I think he would deliver Missouri for the Democrats.

(Again, all of this analysis is predicated on the hypothesis that this is a close election, if Bush's job approval heads up, all of these battleground states start to look more like Bush wins as opposed to toss-ups.)

Senator Evan Bayh would be another logical choice for Kerry as he would provide a moderating force on the ticket and would help in states like Ohio and Missouri and could even put Indiana into play.

Yesterday, Tod Lindberg suggested a Kerry-Rubin ticket which, while unconventional in many respects, could be a bold move that would help Kerry with the nation's burgeoning investor class. Rubin would of course be anathema to Nader leaning Democrats and would complicate Bob Shrum's simplistic campaign against Big Oil, Big Drug Companies, etc.., but he would reassure Wall Street and the millions of stockholders in America. Another side benefit for picking Rubin is he could help in Florida.

Last night on I heard Dick Morris suggest Bill Richardson, Wesley Clark and Hillary Clinton as good choices for Kerry. Gov. Richardson would obviously take New Mexico off the board and energize Hispanics, but outside of Arizona I don't see how he helps in some of the important Midwest battleground states. Wesley Clark would be a big mistake. Senator Clinton would certainly energize the base, but she has the real potential to upstage Kerry which would not be helpful. And while she is immensely popular with core Democratic constituencies I don't know how much of a help she would be in winning swing votes in Ohio, Missouri or West Virginia.

Right now I still think Gephardt as VP and a northern electoral strategy aimed at winning the Gore states plus New Hampshire and Missouri is Senator Kerry's best shot. J. McIntyre 7:43am | Link | Email

Tuesday, March 2 2004
Not a lot of time to blog today, but that's okay because there isn't a whole lot to say with respect to Super Tuesday. I'm sure the entire country will be on the edge of its seat wondering if Edwards can pull off a win in Georgia.

Since today's contests aren't very competitive, the media has already moved on to more important matters, namely, the question of whether John Kerry will pick John Edwards as his running mate.

Jill Lawrence in USA Today and Sheryl Gay Stolberg in The NY Times plumb the speculative depths of whether Kerry can stand Edwards enough to put him on the ticket. The short answer looks like it may be "no."

Then again, Edwards has an ace in the hole: a close relationship with the one person who has more influence on Kerry than just about anybody else:

Edwards has an important fan in Sen. Edward Kennedy, Kerry's close adviser. The Massachusetts senators have known each other for 35 years and when Kerry's campaign appeared doomed last fall, Kennedy dispatched his own chief of staff to run it.

Edwards, a malpractice lawyer, worked with Kennedy in 2001 on a patients' bill of rights designed to protect people from substandard care. Kennedy was so impressed with Edwards that he started talking him up as a national candidate.

Maybe Kennedy will be able to engineer the ticket so many Democrats are hoping for.

Either way, it's fairly well documented at this point that Kennedy is the man behind the curtain of the Kerry campaign. Hillary's famous "get two for the price of one" quip has never been scarier. The thought of John Kerry in the White House is bad enough, but to have Ted Kennedy as a senior member of President Kerry's kitchen cabinet makes the blood run cold.

Then again, given the most recent National Journal ratings, maybe Kennedy would serve as a moderating influence to Kerry's runaway liberalism.

MEDIA ALERT: John is on media duty today and will be appearing on the Kevin McCullough radio show this afternoon at 2:20pm eastern and also providing analysis of today's primaries on Milt Rosenberg's show, Extension 720, tonight from 10:00pm to 12:00am eastern. Give a listen if you can. - T. Bevan 12:06 pm | Link | Email

Monday, March 1 2004
I hate to write off the "excitement" of Super Tuesday and the playing out of the Democratic process, but it's hard not to argue that we're only about 36 hours away from the official start of the general election campaign.

Yes, Edwards gave a decent performance in yesterday's debate and, yes, he's shown this primary season that he can be a "good closer." But the numbers don't lie: Edwards heads into tomorrow trailing in every single state, including a 13-point deficit to Kerry in Georgia, the one state he should be most able to win. Even a surprise victory there will leave Edwards well short of what he needs to continue his campaign.

It's a strange dynamic: Edwards is more likable, a better campaigner with a more defined message, and comes with significantly less baggage than Kerry. In short, Edwards is the better candidate in every respect except for the one that matters most to Democrats this year: "electability."

You can see it in poll after poll of registered and likely voters around the country. Democrats remain unfazed by Kerry's substantial shortcomings as a candidate and unconcerned by contradictions in his record. Diane Kammerer from Minnesota summed up Kerry's candidacy this way:

""Do I think he's the best one? I don't know that we can come up with anybody better."

Lest there be any confusion, she did NOT mean that in a good way. It's a marriage of convenience, and Democrats seem ready and willing to consummate that marriage tomorrow.

CONSCIENCE MATTERS : Continuing on with John Kerry, the Senator wrote a very poignant and powerful op-ed in today's NYT about his service in Vietnam.

Kerry explains how his "beliefs were challenged during that difficult time" and how, as a matter of conscience, he felt compelled to protest the war upon his return home.

What struck me most, however, was how much of his description of the war and his attitudes toward it (those which ultimately led him to oppose it so vociferously) apply to Iraq and to the overall war on terror today:

We were outsiders in a complex war among Vietnamese. Too many allies were corrupt. Adversaries were ruthless. Enemy territory was everywhere.

It is hard still to explain the clashing feelings. There was the deep and enduring bonds forged among crewmates, brothers in arms from all walks of life fighting each day to keep faith with one another on a tiny boat on the rivers of the Mekong Delta. And there was the anger I felt toward body-counting, face-saving leaders sitting safely in Washington sending to the killing fields troops who were often poor, black or brown.

But that was Vietnam, where the children of America were pulled from front porches and living rooms and plunged almost overnight into a world of sniper fire, ambushes, rockets, booby traps, body bags, explosions, sleeplessness, and the confusion created by an enemy who was sometimes invisible and firing at us, and sometimes right next to us and smiling.

I found understanding only in the shared experience of those for whom the war was personal, who had lost friends and seen brothers lose arms and legs, who had seen all around them human beings fight and curse, weep and die. At times it seemed that we were the only ones who really understood that the faults in Vietnam were those of the war, not the warriors. (emphasis added)

Hasn't Kerry made most, if not all of the same charges against the Bush administration in its prosecution of the war in Iraq? Shouldn't it also be a matter of conscience for John Kerry to be ardently against the war in Iraq and call for a full withdrawal as part of his platform?

The fact is John Kerry has tried to have it both ways on Iraq by voting in favor of the October 2002 resolution and then criticizing the President for handling Iraq "the wrong way." He's opposed to the war on grounds of "process", not the war itself.

But clearly, Kerry is also telling his base that "the right way" to handle Iraq was not to go to war at all, thus signaling his opposition to the war itself, regardless of process.

Why such conviction over one war and not the other? Is it possible for a man with Kerry's history to support what he considers to be an unjust war? Or does he consider the war in Iraq just? Or was his opposition to the war in Vietnam, as some have suggested, driven more by political opportunism than true conviction? I could go on, but I won't.

These are important questions for a man asking the country for permission to take decisive control over questions of war, peace, and U.S. national security. Hopefully we can begin getting some direct answers starting on Wednesday.

COLIN POWELL: I'm not sure I've seen anything like this before. Colin Powell publicly defends his influence with the President and the administration's policies:

But Mr. Powell said his record speaks for itself and he is quite capable of standing his ground.

"It's something that's out there in the ether — people wondering, 'I'm at the State Department, I'm getting eaten up by everybody else.' "
But when you look at most foreign policy achievements in the administration's first three years, he said, "you will find that we are more than carrying our weight and putting more than our finger on the scale."

"It was this department that went to Pakistan on the 13th of September and said, 'Musharraf, you've got to change. You've got to flip. You now have to turn against the Taliban.' And he did. And it was done here, on this floor, all in response to what the president needed," Mr. Powell said.

"When the president decided, with my advice, that he should take [the Iraq] case to the United Nations, it was this department that went and got what the president asked for — a resolution. Sometimes it was lonely fighting for those resolutions. But we did it — not because we are wimpy diplomats, but because that's what the president wanted," he said.

He then referred to his famous presentation at the United Nations on Iraq's illicit arms programs, which the administration hoped would persuade the world that military action was necessary. Some of its contentions have yet to be proven right.

"It was your beloved State Department that went up there on the 5th of February last year and made the case on weapons of mass destruction. And why did they pick the State Department? Why was I the agent?"

Perhaps credibility, the reporter suggested.

"You've answered the question," Mr. Powell said.

I've always felt that Colin Powell has been an extraordinary asset to the President and a valuable counterweight to the neocon influences within the administration. His presence has given the President a broader perspective, more flexibility, and ultimately resulted in better policy decisions for the country. - T. Bevan 12:07 pm | Link | Email

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Archives - 2004
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Archives - 2002
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