Friday, May 21 2004
Did I mention we're having a fund drive? Yeah, I know, and John Kerry served in Vietnam. Seriously, if you haven't kicked in yet, please don't wait any longer. Every little bit will help.

MONEY RACE: Speaking of money, Glen Justice writes in today's NYT that together Bush and Kerry have already spent more than $109 million on advertising since March ($65 million for Bush, $44 million for Kerry).

This is a mind-blowing amount of money for this early in the race and it doesn't include the heavy spending by liberal groups like MoveOn and ACT. Furthermore, much of the spending is concentrated in only 17 or 18 battleground states.

It doesn't look like the spending will let up soon. USA Today reports the Bush campaign is set to unveil a new ad attacking Kerry's stance on the Patriot Act next week.

THE 47% PRESIDENT: The two Dem wisemen, James Carville & Stan Greenberg, sayeth:

"Six months out from the election, the race for president has entered a new and distinct phase with Bush not only endangered, as we suggested earlier, but now with the odds against him. He is more likely to lose than win. Public confidence has collapsed on Iraq, but there is a lot of collateral damage, producing a strong desire for change. Whether it is the vote or job approval or personal favorability, Bush has become a 47 percent president at best."

Bush is certainly vulnerable, and to a much greater extent than anyone thought possible twelve months ago. However, it's a bit over the top for Carville and Greenberg to title their document "Bush's Long Odds" and to declare with such confidence that the President is "more likely to lose than win." It looks like the desire to rally the troops has merged with a bit of wishful thinking.

In fact, despite a job approval rating of 46%, a big negative spread in the right-track/wrong track number, and the fact he's slightly trailing Kerry in both the 3-way race and the head-to-head matchup, Bush is also showing signs of strength where it matters: in the battleground states.

The latest Fox News poll shows Bush ahead of Kerry in battleground states by a 43 to 37 margin. If you don't trust Fox News, go look at the individual state-by-state polls. You'll see a lot of conflicting data, but Bush is ahead in some states, behind in others, but competitive in every single one. At worst you'd have to say the race is a toss up. Don't take my word for it, go listen to a guy who really knows what he's talking about.

A TALE OF TWO WOMEN: Laura Bush could be the President's secret weapon this year. Read this profile in today's Boston Globe and you'll understand why. I would say Mrs. Bush's stature among women voters is even more favorable when compared with the silliness that passes for leadership on the other side of the aisle.

READING ASSIGNMENT: Mort Kondracke's column is always a must-read, but today it's a must-must-must-read. To truly understand how on-point Kondracke is, after you're finished go reread Nancy Pelosi's comments and then force yourself through Bob Herbert's column in today's New York Times. - T. Bevan 8:30 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Thursday, May 20 2004
No blog today, just a couple of quick questions:

If you had already spent $8 million in advertising in a state with media as cheap as South Dakota's and you were still in a dead heat with your opponent, would that cause you to develop an ulcer?

Also, how much sleep would you be losing if you were a Democrat running for President and you were leading your opponent by only three points in New Jersey?

Just asking.... - T. Bevan 7:57 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Wednesday, May 19 2004
Thanks to all who have contributed over the first two days of the fund drive. We're off to a good start, but we still have a long way to go.

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ILLINOIS SENATE RACE: I can't imagine the folks at Jack Ryan's campaign are too disappointed by this poll released yesterday by Scott Rasmussen. In a survey of likely voters, Ryan is down eight points to Obama (48-40), just within the poll's 4.5% margin of error. Other recent polls have suggested the race isn't that close. We'll be discussing this contest in greater detail in the near future.

HERE WE GO AGAIN: Bill Gertz reports in the Washington Times that we've agreed to "consider" restarting construction of the first of two light-water nuclear reactors in exchange for North Korea's promise to carry out a "complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling"of their uranium enrichment program. Sound familiar? Ugh.

Let's face it: the six-party talks are nothing more than a formal dialogue between blackmailer and blackmailee, but we seem to be playing along at least for the moment:

North Korea's chief negotiator, Ri Gun, told reporters that negotiators backed Pyongyang's call for aid in exchange for freezing the country's nuclear program.

"One thing that has been confirmed is that there is a shared view that we must get compensation when we freeze our nuclear weapons development plan," Mr. Ri told reporters in Beijing last week.

If there is a bright side to the story, I suppose it's this: at least this time we're being blackmailed out in the open and not double-crossed behind our backs. Instead of clinking glasses and dancing with North Korea's despots while they're making quietly making fools us, this time in exchange for a little payola we'll be giving them the nuclear arms equivalent of a weekly colonoscopy.

On the other hand, it's hard not to see the sort of signal this sends to governments like Iran: if you can just deceive the world long enough to acquire a nuke, it becomes the gift that just keeps on giving.

As far as restarting the light-water reactor program, count me among those who agree with Henry Sokolski, director of the private Nonproliferation Policy Education Center:

"I think we should leave bad enough alone. This is no way to improve any aspect of the crisis. This is literally a radioactive idea that should be kept away from all people who care about keeping peace on the [Korean] peninsula for the future. If we are going to bribe them, find something else."

THE ABU GHRAIB SCANDAL CONTINUES: WaPo: Sivits pleads guilty. ABC News: Alleged cover up. LA Times: 3 witnesses refused to testify at hearing.

As I wrote before, I think America has pretty much finished absorbing the initial shock of what happened at Abu Ghraib. But now we're entering the "justice" phase of the scandal, which will be characterized by an extended period of media-driven pieces about the legal investigations, prosecutions, etc. most of which won't move the ball very far (if at all) and will end up generating a whole lot of light but very little heat.

Still, I would be surprised if there weren't a few bombshells heading down the pike. My feeling is that this story is going to be with us for quite a while longer - like it or not. - T. Bevan 7:25 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Tuesday, May 18 2004
If you haven't made a contribution yet, please don't wait. We hate asking for money, but reader contributions are an essential part of keeping us up and running. So please take a minute to contribute whatever you can - any amount large or small - because it matters a great deal.

BROOKS & KRUGMAN: What a contrast today. One New York Times columnist remains cautiously optimistic about the situation in Iraq, suggesting that we may yet succeed in the face of adversity as we've done so often throughout our past:

Hope begets disappointment, and we are now in a moment of disappointment when it comes to Iraq. During these shakeout moments, the naysayers get to gloat while the rest of us despair, lacerate ourselves, second-guess those in charge and look at things anew. But this very process of self-criticism is the precondition for the second wind, the grubbier, less illusioned effort that often enough leads to some acceptable outcome...

Remember, the most untrue truism in human history is that there are no second acts in American life. In reality, there is nothing but second acts. There are shakeout moments and, redundantly, new beginnings. The weeks until June 30 are bound to be awful, but we may be at the start of a new beginning now.

The other New York Times columnist lets us know we are headed to certain defeat in Iraq, and then goes on to suggest that defeat is actually preferable to continuing to fund the effort to stabilize Iraq because it is bankrupting America:

So how will it all end? The cries of "stay the course" are getting fainter, while the calls for a quick exit are growing. In other words, it seems increasingly likely that the nation will end up disowning Mr. Bush and his debts.

That will mean settling for an outcome in Iraq that, however we spin it, will look a lot like defeat — and the nation's prestige will be damaged by that outcome. But lost prestige is better than ruin.

These two columns do a nice job of capturing the respective views of the left and the right that currently polarize most of the country over Iraq:

  • One side believes what we're doing in Iraq is necessary and worthwhile. The other side thinks it is a colossal misadventure and a waste of blood and treasure.
  • One side views the difficulties in Iraq as obstacles that can be overcome through perseverance (though not without anxiety). The other side views these difficulties as proof of either the futility of the mission, the incompetence of its leaders, or both.
  • One side yearns for victory, so much so that there has often been an inflated sense of optimism and idealism about what we can and will achieve in Iraq. The other side is almost resigned to defeat (and has been since beginning) and for political as well as ideological reasons, the idea of victory in Iraq is viewed with cynicism, indifference, or outright antipathy.

Only history will tell whether Iraq was a mistake or not; whether our goals were too lofty, our vision for the spread of stability and democracy too ambitious, and whether it was a quagmire that swallowed lives and money in vain.

But here is one thing to remember, and one place where I think Brooks is right. History doesn't just happen, it is made. We make it together as a nation. Our collective will and perseverance can accomplish any task - should we decide it truly worthy of our effort. Whether a success or failure, in the end Iraq will be what we choose to make it.

THE ONE-VOTE MARGIN STRATEGY: According to The Hill, we may be seeing a lot of votes come down to a one-vote margin this fall.

But by calculating the vote to a nicety, the GOP managed to make Kerry appear to be responsible for the defeat because he was a no-show.

The Democrats say they suspect the Republicans engineered the one-vote margin, and the incident underlines how both parties are expected to use the legislature to tarnish their opponents.

“They timed it just perfectly,” said one Senate Democratic aide. “We walked right into it — yes.”

If Republicans did engineer the vote to embarrass Kerry, it worked. It got front-page national press coverage and seemed to undermine Kerry’s campaign pitch that he was the candidate who would do the most to help those harmed by the economy under President Bush.

Those Republicans are sneaky little devils, aren't they? - T. Bevan 9:52am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Monday, May 17, 2004
It's not a big warehouse full of WMD's, but it's not nothin' either:

"Gazi George, a former Iraqi nuclear scientist under Saddam's regime, told Fox News he believes many similar weapons stockpiled by the former regime were either buried underground or transported to Syria. He noted that the airport where the device was detonated is on the way to Baghdad from the Syrian border.

George said the finding likely will be the first in a series of discoveries of such weapons.

"Saddam is the type who will not store those materials in a military warehouse. He's gonna store them either underground, or, as I said, lots of them have gone west to Syria and are being brought back with the insurgencies," George told Fox News. "It is difficult to look in areas that are not obvious to the military's eyes."

Stay tuned.

KERRY'S CONFUSION: In addition to blaming his speech writers for being overzeaulous, John Kerry should blame them for making him sound, well, incoherent.

His speech today celebrating the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board is one huge non-sequitur that just keeps going round and round:

"It’s hard to believe it’s been fifty years since Brown. Fifty years since the color of your skin determined where you could get a drink of water. Where you could sit on the bus. Whether you had a seat at the lunch counter. And where you could go to school......

All of America is a better place because of Brown....But we have more to do.....Yes, we have to defend the progress that has been made....Because as far as we’ve come, we still have not met the promise of Brown.

So how do we honor the legacy of Brown?

We must let America be America again. We must work together to turn back the creeping tide of division that Thurgood Marshall and so many others fought so hard against."

In order to fulfill the promise of Brown we need to let America be America again? This implies that somewhere along the way we stopped being America and need to go back to a previous point in time. But if we have indeed made progress on the issue of race over the years, then where exactly would Kerry want us to go back to?

Furthermore, if we have made progress since Brown, how can a "tide of division" still be creeping? If you concede we've made racial progress in the 50 years since Brown, wouldn't it make more sense to say we need to "continue rolling back" the tide of division that Marshall fought against?

It's hard to tell from this speech whether Kerry thinks we have made a good deal of progress on race in the last half century or little progress at all. - T. Bevan 5:15 pm Link | Email | Send to a Friend

THE SECOND EVER: For anyone who may be accessing the blog from a bookmark or some direct link that bypasses the RCP homepage, you may have missed the announcement that we've started our second ever RCP fund drive. The big change this year is that we've applied to become a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization which will make all contributions to RCP fully tax deductible.

We only solicit contributions once a year, and for the next week we're asking for your help in supporting what we do. Thanks in advance for your generous support.

DASCHLE UP BIG: Political Wire is reporting a poll from Democratic polling firm GQR showing Daschle ahead of Thune, 55% to 42%. Make of it what you will.

DEMOGRAPHIC SURVEY: Blogads founder Henry Copeland has put together a survey to help get a better understanding of who is reading blogs these days. If you're interested in participating, go ahead and click here. Answering "RealClearPolitics" to question #22 would also help give us a better idea of who our audience is as wel. - T. Bevan 1:30 pm Link | Email | Send to a Friend

TURNING IT AROUND: Susan Page has a good article on the dynamics of the presidential race and the intense focus on Bush's sagging job approval numbers:

Republicans acknowledge that the drop in Bush's approval has caught their attention. "You've got to wait a few weeks to see whether it's stuck there or it's based on this horrible news, the pictures from Iraq," says Charles Black, a strategist with ties to Bush's campaign.

As I wrote last week, contrary to the current hysteria gripping the chattering classes over Bush's job approval numbers, it's not all doom and gloom - at least not yet anyway. But it's clear the prisoner abuse scandal has taken a serious toll.

To the extent favorable economic news continues to be overwhelmed by coverage of Abu Ghraib and other bad news out of Iraq, it is going to be difficult for Bush to turn his job approval numbers around. Not impossible, just difficult.

One thing is certain: Bush shouldn't expect any help from the media. Sitting around waiting for the press to let up on the Abu Ghraib scandal or for stories about the surging economy to seep into the public's consciousness is a recipe for disaster.

Bush has to do two things to stop his slide. First, he has try to make some positive news in an effort to repair (as best as he can) any damage from the prison abuse scandal.

At this point, the best way to do that would be to raze Abu Ghraib. From a political perspective, Bush can't be content to wait for justice to run its course in the form of courts- martial and criminal charges for those responsible. He needs to quickly remove the symbol of the scandal that has so shocked and disturbed the American people, and replace the horrific images of prisoner abuse in the public mind with a new image: the demolition of the prison itself.

But demolishing Abu Ghraib would only do so much to repair the damage done to Bush's job approval ratings. Despite the fixation of the press on the subject, it's probably fair to say a good portion of the public has already moved beyond the Abu Ghraib story.

The public's major concern - and the bigger problem for the President - is whether Bush actually has a plan for success in Iraq. The longer America goes on waking up to headlines like this one, the more the voting public is inclined to think he doesn't.

Bush needs stability in Iraq. His reelection depends on finding a way to make this happen - or at the very least to convincing the country that despite the bumps and setbacks we're making progress in the right direction.

FLIP-FLOPPING AS AN ASSET: When is a history of flip-flopping a political asset? Listen to Teamster President James Hoffa talk about John Kerry:

''I think he has a record of voting for NAFTA; he has a record of voting for a number of things -- and I know that's his record, and in the future he will have a different record, and that is because of the campaign, because of the commitments, and because he feels what's going on in the country."

Sounds like a guy who's not too concerned about Kerry's past voting record on trade and confident in his future ability to influence the man who would be President.

And by the way, Hoffa says he is urging Kerry to pick Gephardt as a running mate. We'll see if Big Labor gets their dream ticket. - T. Bevan 9:00am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

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