Friday, July 23 2004
THE VANISHING BOUNCE:
Big poll day yesterday, with some really disturbing news for John Kerry. As you can see from the table below, of the four new polls released yesterday afternoon/evening Kerry lost ground to Bush in three of them and is now back to dead even in the three-way race:

Poll
Date
3-Way
Results
Net Chg
vs. Last Poll
Fox News
7/20-7/21

Bush +1

Kerry +6

NBC/WSJ
7/19-7/21
Bush +2
Bush +1
CNN/Gallup/USAT
7/19-7/21
Kerry +1
Bush +4
7/17-7/21

Kerry +2

Bush +4

Bottom line: on the eve of the Democratic convention the bounce from the Edwards pick two and a half weeks ago has come and gone. The fact Kerry couldn't maintain a even a small lead heading into the DNC has to have his staff (and Bush-haters everywhere) reaching for the Pepto.

The other important number, Bush's overall job approval, is rising slightly as well:

Poll
Date
Current
Approval
Chg vs.
Last Poll
Fox News
7/20-7/21

47

-2
NBC/WSJ
7/19-7/21
48
+3
CNN/Gallup/USAT
7/19-7/21
49
+2
7/17-7/21

51

nc

Our RCP average, which includes all of these current polls along with Rasmussen, shows Bush ticking up to an even 49% approval. Again, not good news for Kerry heading into the convention.

Those favoring John Kerry seem to be taking heart at some of the internals in these polls. Check out the reaction over at Daily Kos and Donkey Rising.

It's funny, if not a little bit pathetic, that the poll analysis we get from Ron Brownstein in the LA Times this morning differs little from the spin at those partisan web sites. And let's not forget to mention this laugher from the AP earlier in the week:

New Poll Smiles on Kerry
Despite Tie, Momentum is With Democrat
The Associated Press
Updated: 7:13 p.m. ET July 21, 2004

NANTUCKET, Mass. - John Kerry is heading to his party’s national convention with Democrats faring better with the public on both domestic and international issues, according to a poll released Wednesday. But Kerry remains locked in a tie in the presidential race.

In addition to being eerily prescient, John's post from yesterday was dead on. The press is almost openly rooting for Kerry and the Democrats, after getting a boost from the primary process coupled with the continued struggle in Iraq and a small bounce from the Edwards pick, are finally believing for the first time they have a chance to win.

Both continue to interpret the deadlocked race in the best possible way for John Kerry and ignore any evidence indicating there is another side to the coin: the deadlock may actually display an underlying strength for Bush.

With the vaunted veep bounce having already evaporated into the ether, the pressure on Kerry to deliver a big convention this week just increased dramatically. He and his fellow Dems need to hit it out of the park.

Otherwise, they will find themselves in the unenviable position of trying to come from behind after Labor Day. Most likely, this means Kerry will need either 1) a knock out in the debates (something that rarely happens, even despite Gore's implosion in 2000) or 2) some unpredictable event like a terrorist attack (which is more likely to cause a rally for Bush) or 3) Iraq to descend into complete and utter chaos or 4) an October Surprise of some kind involving Bush and/or prominent members of his administration.

0 FOR 8?: Frank Foer writes up a lengthy, but very worthwhile profile of Bob Shrum attempting to answer the question political junkies have been pondering for years: why is anyone still willing to hire this guy?

My absolute favorite, however, is the description of the tight bond that has developed between Kerry and his populist consigliere:

Their relationship now transcends politics. "They talk about food, wine, European travel, and ideas," says one Democratic operative.

Which one of the "two Americas" do you think these guys belong to? - T. Bevan 11:45 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Thursday, July 22 2004
SOMEONE IS GOING TO BE WRONG:
There seems to be a lot of confidence out there among Democrats that John Kerry's campaign is in good shape. Why I'm really not so sure. It's part of politics for one side to play up their chances, but their enthusiasm that President Bush is in real trouble appears to me to be truly heartfelt.

What I've found is most Democrats are optimistic about Kerry's chances, many Republicans in Washington are nervous and scared to death, while most Republicans outside of Washington are confident Bush will win.

The public is roughly split 45-45 with 10 percent in the middle either undecided or just not paying attention at this stage of the race. The Democrats main arguing point seems to be that since President Bush is the incumbent who can't get above 45% and whose job approval ratings are also in the 40's, he is therefore in big trouble because the undecided 10% is going to break against the incumbent (as is usually the pattern) and Kerry will win.

This is the gist of the Democratic argument which Charlie Cook reiterated this week:

Last week in this space, I discounted the widely held view that the knotted polling numbers between Bush and Kerry meant that the race itself was even. I argued that given the fact that well-known incumbents with a defined record rarely get many undecided voters -- a quarter to a third at an absolute maximum -- an incumbent in a very stable race essentially tied at 45 percent was actually anything but in an even-money situation. "What you see is what you get" is an old expression for an incumbent's trial heat figures, meaning very few undecided voters fall that way.....

This is certainly not to predict that Bush is going to lose, that this race is over or that other events and developments will not have an enormous impact on this race. The point is that this race has settled into a place that is not at all good for an incumbent, is remarkably stable, and one that is terrifying many Republican lawmakers, operatives and activists. But in a typically Republican fashion, they are too polite and disciplined to talk about it much publicly.

In a funny way, if this race were bouncing around, it would probably be a better sign for President Bush. It would suggest that there was some volatility to the race and that public attitudes had not yet hardened, and were thus still an eminently fixable situation. The dynamics of a presidential race usually do not change much between July and Election Day. This year, however, the race is much more stable than usual, which is ominous for an incumbent under these circumstances. The bottom line is that this presidential race is not over, but the outlook is not so great for the players in the red jerseys.

Cook is right that many Republican lawmakers, operatives and activists are terrified. But they are terrified not because they think that President Bush is going to lose, but rather because over the last six months they have realized that it is now possible that President Bush might lose. That is a big difference.

There is a similar dynamic on the Democratic side. Much of the euphoria among the party activists stems from the belief that now they have a real chance to win. This is something they may have dreamt about in late 2003 but didn't really believe would happen. Ironically, this will make their likely loss in November that much harder to deal with. Pittsburgh Pirate fans aren't upset when their team doesn't make the playoffs, Yankee fans are. It's not a perfect analogy, but you get my point.

Ruy Teixeira has jumped on Cook's latest article to chime in:

Charlie Cook's latest column on the National Journal website crisply summarizes why the seeming deadlock in the horse race is actually very bad news for Bush.....And loose talk of a Kerry landslide makes me extremely nervous. Still, it can't be denied that, as we head into the convention, Kerry is in a pretty good position and his opponent appears to have the short end of the stick.

Josh Marshall suggests that it is "cornered, wounded animal time" and the Bush campaign is "desperate."

Maybe I'm being naive, but I don't see the desperation. As far as "loose talk of a Kerry landslide," it's pretty hard to win a landslide when you have almost no chance of carrying any southern states - and that includes Florida.

Pollster John Zogby announced in May that this was Kerry's race to lose, Charlie Cook thinks the outlook is not so great for Bush, and you see a gleefulness among the press who hate Bush keeping their fingers crossed that Kerry might just be headed to victory.

Now, maybe these people are looking at something different than what I'm looking at, but I just don't see all of this positive news for John Kerry. I see a President that has had a hostile, partisan press beating up on him relentlessly for months now hoping they can drive his job approval into Jimmy Carter territory still standing strong in the high 40's.

I see a Kerry/Edwards campaign that should be ahead today by at least 5 points nationally tied in the polls. I see a lack of appreciation among Democrats and the press for just how unappealing a candidate they are about to nominate.

Much of Kerry's current support in the polls is coming form the Anybody But Bush mindset. The dynamic of this race is going to change dramatically after both conventions and we are past September 11 when the public starts focusing on the choice between President Bush and Senator Kerry.

So while many see this 45%-45% tie as bad news for Bush, I see it as just the opposite. Kerry is going to need a cushion to protect himself from the slippage that will occur post-Labor Day when many are going go decide that while they might not love President Bush they can't vote for Senator Kerry.

When a respected poll like Pew comes out with Kerry ahead only a measly two points and even Stan Greenberg and James Carville's Democracy Corp has Kerry up only three (smack in the middle of what is supposed to the big bounce phase of the VP pick/Dem convention) it seems to me it is the Kerry campaign that needs to be worried, not Karl Rove. Perhaps the bounce is late in developing and Kerry will leave Boston with a 7-10 point lead, but right now they have to be disappointed.

Until we get into September the most important poll numbers continue to be the President's job approval and I'll stick to my analysis months ago that over 50% Bush wins easy, 45%-49% it's close but Bush has the edge, 40%-44% is a dead heat, and below 40% Kerry has the advantage.

Our current RCP Average has the President with a 47.8% job approval rating and, at the end of the day, Kerry is going to need the President's job approval lower if he is going to win.

There is ammunition for pundits on all sides to handicap this race a number of different ways. And Cook is right that history and precedent would not favor a President polling in the 40's with a job approval in the 40's. But history and precedent didn't predict what happened in the 2002 election. And the 24/7 news cycle world of Internet and cable TV coupled with the permanent campaign atmosphere of today's politics mitigates to a degree the usefulness of historical polls done in the 1970's and even the '80's.

However, the biggest mistake in handicapping and analyzing this election is underestimating the impact of 9/11. So it's great to reference all these other elections where incumbents with poll numbers like Bush lost, but I don't know how useful they will be in 2004.

This is the first presidential election since the attack in 2001, we have troops overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan prosecuting the War on Terror. Al Qaeda is actively trying to attack us with a strike of the same magnitude as 9/11 or bigger. That will be the backdrop of the election this fall - and that backdrop works decidedly against John Kerry and the Democrats.

None of this is to suggest Senator Kerry can't win, only that from where things stand today I think President Bush is in much better shape than many Democrats think considering all that has transpired these last four months.

As I said, it's easy to get excited when your candidate is in the middle of his pre-convention run. But let's wait and see how things look after the conventions and the anniversary of September 11. It's quite possible all this mid-Summer optimism about a Kerry victory might look very different in mid-October. J. McIntyre 10:10 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Monday, July 19 2004
THE BAD, THE GOOD AND THE DAWN OVER BAGHDAD:
There's been a spate of violence in Iraq recently. The headlines this morning tell of more bad news.
But there's also been a host of good news in Iraq as well, and once again Arthur Chrenkoff ably rounds it all up for our viewing pleasure.

The difference between the two, of course, is emphasis. Bad news is pumped out of Iraq the moment it occurs via wire services and television crews. It almost always makes front pages across the country (in many cases with a color photo of the carnage) and it's played in a virtual loop on cable news channels trying to fill an entire day's schedule with "breaking news" stories.

The good news, on the other hand, comes in dribs and drabs - a story here and a story there. These stories are usually treated more like "vignettes" rather than "hard" news since they are, by definition, stories that make you "feel good". As a result, you're just as likely to find them in the middle or the back of the paper as you are the front - if you can find them at all, that is.

As Chrenkoff says, trying to find good news on Iraq is a maddening exercise, not because it isn't out there but because it gets so little emphasis and attention in the mainstream media.

We know why this is so. More than anything else, there is an institutional bias in the media for bad news. Watch any local five o'clock news broadcast in America and you know what I mean. Carnage and chaos sell newspapers and generate ratings. Ribbon cutting ceremonies at new schools or new government buildings don't. And the American public is as much to blame for this as anyone.

But there's an ideological bias in the press as well. Many reporters in Baghdad and their editors back in the states lean to the left and don't want to be seen as "cheerleading" for a President (and most likely a war) they don't like or agree with. The news we get is invariably filtered (either consciously or unconsciously, or both) through a group of people who generally feel the war was a mistake and the reconstruction a quagmire. It's no surprise the coverage reflects those feelings.

Finally, reporting good news is hard work. It takes time and effort. You actually have to generate ideas, do the leg work of interviewing people, and then be able to sit down and construct a compelling story. It's not an easy thing to do - and it's certainly a lot harder than sitting around waiting for the next bomb to go off and then running out to scribble down the details of the scene. Unfortunately, not enough journalists have the time or devote the effort to reporting some of the better news happening in Iraq.

One journalist who did do the leg work is Karl Zinsmeister. Karl is the editor of The American Enterprise Magazine and author of two books about the Iraq war. Boots on the Ground is Zinsmeister's account of his experience imbedded with the 82nd Airborne during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

coverEarly this year, Zinsmeister returned to Iraq for a number of weeks to get a close up look at how our troops are simultaneously battling the insurgency and managing the reconstruction process.

The result is Zinsmeister's new book (and our featured book of the month): "Dawn Over Baghdad: How the U.S. Military is Using Bullets and Ballots to Remake Iraq." If you're looking for a first hand account of what's going on in Iraq, I suggest you buy this book and read it immediately.

Last week I had the privilege of interviewing Zinsmeister about the book and in the coming days we'll be publishing the two part interview. But I can tell you right now the most striking thing about both the book and the interview is just how different a picture Zinsmeister paints of Iraq than what we're all used to seeing from the mainstream press.

Karl is optimistic - though by no means a Pollyanna - about our progress in Iraq. His experience day in and day out with our troops suggest that despite the ongoing violence they are making great strides in Iraq, and with sustained effort and perseverance we have a decent shot at accomplishing the task of helping Iraq become a functioning, stable democracy in the heart of the Middle East.

Iraq is not all roses. Those who support the war can't wish away the continued violence and struggle there. But it's important to remember there's another side to the coin in Iraq, one we rarely get to see and one that is almost never viewed with any historical perspective.

Chrenkoff's articles and Zinsmeister's book help give the sort of balance that Americans need, in fact that we deserve, to make informed judgments about our policy in Iraq. It's a balance the mainstream press doesn't seem either able or willing to provide. - T. Bevan 8:45 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

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