Friday, August 13 2004
As Mickey Kaus pointed out yesterday the conventional wisdom of the Washington punditry appears to be coalescing around the idea that "this is now John Kerry's contest to lose."

ABC's The Note stepped onto the John Kerry bandwagon with a laundry list of why Bush is going to lose. National Journal's Charlie Cook chimed in:

President Bush must have a change in the dynamics and the fundamentals of this race if he is to win a second term. The sluggishly recovering economy and renewed violence in Iraq don't seem likely to positively affect this race, but something needs to happen.

The University of Virginia's Center for Politics Larry Sabato shook up quite a few Republicans with his recent speech to the Business Council of Alabama where, more or less, he suggested President Bush is finished.

The Bush campaign knows it is in deep trouble.... He really will need a miracle to win, and the last miracle was for Harry S. Truman.

While I don't want this to simply be a rehash of my comments a couple of weeks ago, I still don't understand all of this Kerry bullishness. Clearly, President Bush is not a lock to win in November, but the prospects for his reelection are considerably better than the current conventional wisdom.

To start, I think it is unwise to make such definitive statements about where this race is until we get at least a week past the GOP convention and the anniversary of September 11.

Even from the standpoint of the national poll numbers, I don't know where all the optimism for Kerry is coming from. Simply put, I don't find his 2-4 point lead in the post-convention head-to-head and three-way polls all that impressive. He should be ahead by more - and the fact that he isn't suggests bad news for his ultimate chance of winning.

I don't know what kind of bounce President Bush is going to get from his convention and the 9/11 anniversary. Perhaps, like Kerry, the President may get little or no bounce at all. But it appears all the prognosticators writing Bush off this past week seem to be totally ignoring the possibility that the President could get a real and significant bounce from these two events. It doesn't seem that far-fetched that Bush could move out to 2-5 point lead after all the dust settles in late September.

As I've said before, I think the biggest mistake many people seem to be making is misapplying post-WWII polling and electoral history to the current political situation. It is this type of backward-looking analysis that failed to anticipate the possibility of the unprecedented GOP victory in 2002.

This is the first presidential election post-9/11 and it is not an insignificant fact that we are very much involved in a war. That reality is constantly being underestimated in trying to make sense of all the disparate polling information, and I think Sabato, Cook, Halperin and the rest aren't giving it enough due in their analyses.

Our lead op-ed on Wednesday was the NY Times' Nicholas Kristoff writing persuasively about the potential reality of a 10-kiloton nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan killing some 500,000 people. We have over 150,000 troops overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan battling terrorists and insurgents. Economically we're dealing in a post-financial bubble, oil at $45 per barrel (and rising), and we're saddled with all the additional inefficiencies associated with the constant vigilance and increased security associated with defending against a possible terrorist attack that could come at any time, any where.

Is it any wonder why the polls pick up angst and nervousness among the public? The mistake here is interpreting that angst and nervousness as a repudiation of President Bush and his administration. Maybe it is, but it is not inconceivable that by mid-late September when the public if forced to focus on the real choice between the leadership of George W. Bush and John F. Kerry, this race may appear to be quite different.

What perplexes me most about all the negativism over Bush's chances is the failure to explain - even absent a decent bounce for Bush in the national polls in the next 4-6 weeks - exactly how John Kerry is going to get to 270 electoral votes. Again, don't get me wrong: I'm not suggesting that Kerry can't get to 270 or beyond, just that given the current position the President is in, I think Bush has an easier route to 270 than Kerry.

From an electoral college standpoint, the race is somewhat easy to analyze because most states are going to follow the Bush-Gore 2000 results. Because of reapportionment, this year if all states stayed the same Bush's total would rise to 278 from 271 and Kerry's number would fall to 260 from Al Gore's total of 267. (Late clarification: Officially Gore received 266 electoral votes, because of one abstention form the District if Columbia.) So the question for the Democrats is how does Kerry get to 270?

Let's stipulate up front that if Kerry wins wins either Florida or Ohio Bush is more than likely finished. But if we leave aside Florida and Ohio for a second and assume they stay in the Bush column, suddenly Kerry's path to 270 becomes very difficult.

Realistically, Kerry would have to sweep the trio of New Hampshire, Nevada and West Virginia - which would be the political equivalent of drawing to an inside straight. Not impossible, but pretty unlikely.

New Hampshire is by far the most likely Kerry pickup and, for the sake of argument, we'll give that to the Dems. So with NH's 4 electoral votes Kerry gets to 264. WV and NV have 5 electoral votes each, but the problem for Kerry is 269 is not going to get it done because the House will split the 269-269 tie in Bush's favor.

So in reality he will have to win all three states. (Theoretically he could carry WV and NV, lose NH, and get to 270, however everyone agrees that NH is his best chance for a pickup so its hard to imagine a scenario where he carries NV and WV, but not NH.)

But West Virginia is the real issue here. Winning NH is easy for Kerry - if not probable - and winning NV is very doable, but it would seem impossible for Kerry to win West Virginia while at the same time losing Ohio. Coal, Guns, God and Country aren't going to be working for John Kerry in West Virginia.

Kerry supporters might ask, "well aren't there other states our man can win to get us over 270?" The problem for the Dems is, what are they? Again, assuming FL and OH are off the table for now, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Louisiana, Colorado and Arizona are not exactly high value targets. It's not that Kerry can't win one of these states, it's just that if Bush does win FL and OH the chances of Kerry winning any of these states is less than 5%. It just isn't going to happen.

Which brings us to what the election really is going to boil down to, at least today, Florida and Ohio. Given the electoral math, one would have to assume that the pundits predicting defeat for President Bush are calculating he will lose at least one of these states. The problem with this analysis is it just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to suggest that Bush will "need a miracle" to carry both Florida and Ohio.

Maybe people are putting a lot of stock in the Florida polls that show Kerry ahead. I don't. In my estimation Bush will have an easier time winning Florida than Ohio. Don't forget all the big talk from Terry McAuliffe who declared that "job number one" was to send the President's brother packing in 2002. Jeb Bush went on to win by 13% and the GOP swept the state from top to bottom.

This year, there won't be any boost in the Jewish vote from Lieberman, African-Americans don't seem particularly excited about John Kerry, Florida's a big pro-military state, and George W. Bush will still handily win the Cuban-American vote - especially if Mel Martinez is the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate.

So, if the Democrats' optimism comes down to a couple of Florida state polls taken in mid-summer, I think they're making a big mistake. Let's see where these same polls are October 1, and if the FL polls are still showing the same type of Kerry lead at that time, then I would agree that the Bush reelection will be in serious trouble.

Bush doesn't need a miracle in Ohio, either. Even today in the period after Kerry's convention, the polls in Ohio are split. With Gallup's just released poll showing Bush ahead nationally by 2-3 points and his job approval above the supposed magic 50% level at 51, I'm perplexed why the Democrats are so confident the Kerry/Edwards ticket is going to carry a state that typically is two-four points more Republican than the national vote.

So I'll reiterate what I said a couple of weeks ago:

Let's wait and see how things look after the conventions and the anniversary of September 11. It's quite possible all this midsummer optimism about a Kerry victory might look very different in mid-October.

J. McIntyre 9:53 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend


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