Friday, September 3 2004
I was bored by the first half of the President's speech, I don't know whether it was burn out from listening to too many speeches the past four days or the speech itself. But there is no question that I felt the first half was average, about the same as Kerry's speech in Boston. Now I am not criticizing the rationale for laying out in a 'State of the Union' type of fashion, the President's domestic agenda and first term accomplishments, and from a strategic standpoint it actually made quite a bit of sense, and in many ways, was vitally necessary from a political perspective to complete the speech as a whole.

However, after the initial slowness, the President was able to get in a few shots at Kerry on important issues with out appearing mean or too negative:

And here, you face a choice. My opponent's policies are dramatically different from ours.

Senator Kerry opposed Medicare reform and health savings accounts. After supporting my education reforms, he now wants to dilute them. He opposes legal and medical liability reform. He opposed reducing the marriage penalty, opposed doubling the child credit, opposed lowering income taxes for all who pay them.

Wait a minute, wait a minute. To be fair, there are some things my opponent is for.

He's proposed more than $2 trillion in new federal spending so far, and that's a lot, even for a senator from Massachusetts.....

My opponent recently announced that he is the candidate of "conservative values," which must have come as a surprise to a lot of his supporters.

Now, there are some problems with this claim. If you say the heart and soul of America is found in Hollywood, I'm afraid you are not the candidate of conservative values.

If you voted against the bipartisan Defense of Marriage Act, which President Clinton signed, you are not the candidate of conservative values.

If you gave a speech, as my opponent did, calling the Reagan presidency eight years of "moral darkness," then you may be a lot of things, but the candidate of conservative values is not one of them.

But is it was the last third of the President's speech where Bush really hit the ball out of the park. The whole week had systematically focused the nation's attention on 9/11 and the President's prosecution of the War on Terror. And there was a noticeable pickup in the President's intensity and the connection of his message when he moved into the portion of the speech defending his administration's approach to the War.

Unlike Senator Kerry who refused at his convention to lay out a vision for the War, and who still today appears conflicted and ambiguous on how to precede, the President unapologetically told the American people his vision of how this War needs to be prosecuted. But it was the connection the President made on a human level with the American people, where the most devastating political points were scored.

By opening up to reveal a humility and compassion, that is hard to square with the caricature most commonly offered by his political opponents, the President was able to scrape away some of the scar tissue that had begun to accumulate the last six months:

In the last four years -- in the last four years, you and I have come to know each other. Even when we don't agree, at least you know what I believe and where I stand.

You may have noticed I have a few flaws, too. People sometimes have to correct my English.

I knew I had a problem when Arnold Schwarzenegger started doing it.

Some folks look at me and see a certain swagger, which in Texas is called "walking."

Now and then I come across as a little too blunt, and for that we can all thank the white-haired lady sitting right up there.

One thing I have learned about the presidency is that whatever shortcomings you have, people are going to notice them; and whatever strengths you have, you're going to need them.

These four years have brought moments I could not foresee and will not forget. I've tried to comfort Americans who lost the most on September the 11th: people who showed me a picture or told me a story so I would know how much was taken from them.

I have learned first-hand that ordering Americans into battle is the hardest decision even when it is right.

I have returned the salute of wounded soldiers, some with a very tough road ahead, who say they were just doing their job.

I've held the children of the fallen who are told their dad or mom is a hero, but would rather just have their dad or mom. I've met with parents and wives and husbands who have received a folded flag and said a final goodbye to a soldier they loved.

I am awed that so many have used those meetings to say that I am in their prayers and to offer encouragement to me.

Where does that strength like that come from? How can people so burdened with sorrow also feel such pride?

It is because they know their loved one was last seen doing good because they know that liberty was precious to the one they lost.

And in those military families, I have seen the character of a great nation: decent and idealistic and strong.

This sequence was unbelievably great, and nothing in John Kerry's speech last month came even close to this level. This was the President Bush of October 2001, the President Bush of 70% job approval ratings, and it will serve as a powerful reminder to many Americans of what they like and admire in George W. Bush.

Of course, the Left is so jaded and cynical toward the President this will have no effect at all with those individuals. But for the millions of voters who are anxious and unsure, voters that both campaigns are desperately trying to move into their corner, these words from the President are exactly what they wanted to hear from their Commander in Chief.

So given the political necessity of defending his first term domestic accomplishments and the real need to outline a vision, domestically, for where he wants to lead the country. The speech has to be seen as a real home run. And a fitting conclusion to an extremely effective week for the Bush campaign. J. McIntyre 10:23 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

It's 4:30 am, and after less than two hours sleep I'm off to the airport to head home. I'm afraid your humble convention correspondent has been overcome by exhaustion.

This has been an amazing week full of amazing moments, capped off last night by what I thought was one of the President's best efforts ever behind a podium - the final twenty minutes of which I would rank as some of the best political oratory delivered in recent memory.

During that span many in the hall were moved to the edge of tears, along with the President himself, as George W. Bush poignantly recalled encounters with our fellow countrymen during their grief torn moments over the last four years. Then we were moved to laughter by a by a man confident enough tell jokes about himself - and to let the country laugh along with him. It was a remarkable few moments traveling that emotional trajectory along with the President in the hall last night, and it displayed in a very raw, real way many of the qualities that many Americans have come to appreciate and admire about him over the last four years.

I can't be sure it played this way in your living room or in living rooms across America, of course, but I have a hunch that it did.

Back with more thoughts later - from home. - T. Bevan 4:48 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Thursday, September 2 2004
Here is the exchange between Chris Matthews and Senator Zell Miller last night after Miller's speech.
J. McIntyre 3:36 pm Link | Email | Send to a Friend

In his most recent dispatch from the convention, Charlie Cook argues that the Kerry camp needs to hit back at Bush faster and more effectively. He may be right, but that's not the point.

What is interesting is that Cook goes on to contrast the Kerry camp's slow reaction time with the rapid response from one of the many liberal interest groups that consistently attack the President:

One Democratic organization with fast reaction time is America Coming Together, the 527 group that peppers the news media with extremely pointed and timely attacks on Bush. Yesterday, for example, ACT's Jim Jordan, Kerry's original campaign manager, sent out a tart press release pointing out that the Bureau of Labor Statistics had just issued numbers showing July job losses, city by city. Jordan pointed out that Columbus, Ohio, which the president was visiting yesterday, had lost 2,400 jobs in
July, bringing to 11,300 the number of jobs that Ohio's capital had lost during Bush's presidency.

Jordan next pointed to Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where Bush is set to attend a midnight rally after tonight's acceptance speech. Combined, those cities lost 4,300 jobs during July, bringing their total losses back up to 4,800. Next, Jordan pointed to Milwaukee, where the president is planning to go tomorrow and where 7,000 jobs were lost in July, for a total of 12,300.

The Kerry campaign almost seems to do better when it outsources tasks.

Read that last sentence again. Is the Kerry camp really "outsourcing tasks" to a 527 run by John Kerry's former campaign manager? Wouldn't that be, um, illegal coordination or something? - T. Bevan 9:15 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

ZELL GIVES 'EM HELL: You'll have to pardon my French, but I had no idea they made cans of whoop ass that big. Last night Zell Miller opened one up on John Kerry, eviscerating Kerry's thirty-year record on national defense in about 15 minutes. It was the toughest political speech I've ever heard, delivered with a passion that was as deep as it was obvious.

And therein may lie a problem. Let's be blunt: Zell wasn't just angry last night, he was mad as hell. And he didn't waste any time taking out the brickbat and swinging away. But as I watched from the floor I kept wondering, "is this speech too much, is Zell being too angry and too tough?"

Anger can be an effective tool in politics, if used selectively. One thing you don't want to do, however, is to let anger become a central and consistent part of the campaign, which is something the Kerry folks have been struggling with for a long time now.

But there is also a big difference between being seen as angry and being seen as mean. Politicians walk that line at their own peril, and the question is whether Miller crossed it last night.

Personally, I don't think he did. Miller's anger was directed at his party in general and at John Kerry's abysmal voting record on national security in particular. Miller didn't attack Kerry as a person, only the votes he's cast and the statements he's made as a publicly elected official. All fair game.

Democrats are certainly going to play the anger angle against Zell as best they can - which in addition to being the smart thing to do may be the ONLY thing they can do to try and fend off Miller's devastating assault last night. Jay Carson, a Democratic spokesman, is quoted in today's NY Times saying of Miller, "This angry old man is scaring the children.''

The Dems will get an assist from some members of the mainstream media, many of whom I'm sure were shocked - shocked! -and appalled by what they saw and heard from Miller last night. (Incidentally, Ann Curry from the Today show just reported in her news wrap that Miller suggested John Kerry wanted to arm US soldiers with spit balls and Campbell Brown said Miller called Kerry "unpatriotic." Is that really what he did, ladies?)

When the Wall Street Journal interviewed the bloggers attending the RNC a couple of weeks back and asked us which speech we were most interested in hearing, I was the only one who said Zell Miller. The reason I chose Miller is because there are few things in campaigns that can be as potentially explosive and devastating as having a member of the opposite party endorse your candidacy. The fact that Miller was so angry and so animated on the stage last night only added power to what was already a remarkable event in this race: a Democrat, albeit one in the Scoop Jackson/Harry Truman tradition, publicly repudiating his party's nominee for President of the United States and endorsing George W. Bush. - T. Bevan 8:15 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Wednesday, September 1 2004
Halfway through the Republican convention I would think that Karl Rove and company have to be feeling relatively pleased. Last night, Schwarzenegger, as the Republican Governor of the largest state in the nation, delivered a message that appeared in prime time on all the major networks:

My fellow immigrants, my fellow Americans, how do you know if you are a Republican? Well, I tell you how. If you believe that government should be accountable to the people, not the people to the government, then you are a Republican.

If you believe a person should be treated as an individual, not as a member of an interest group, then you are a Republican.

If you believe your family knows how to spend your money better than the government does, then you are a Republican.

If you believe our educational system should be held accountable for the progress of our children, then you are a Republican.

If you believe this country, not the United Nations, is the best hope for democracy, then you are a Republican.

And, ladies and gentlemen, if you believe that we must be fierce and relentless and terminate terrorism, then you are a Republican.

Now, there's another way you can tell you're a Republican. You have faith in free enterprise, faith in the resourcefulness of the American people and faith in the U.S. economy. And to those critics who are so pessimistic about our economy, I say: Don't be economic girlie-men.

This was powerful stuff that the average American got, unfiltered, directly through their TV. Schwarzenegger's star power guaranteed that millions of Americans who normally would tune out this type of political TV actually heard this very strong sales pitch for the Republican Party.

On Monday night McCain and Giuliani,coupled with the tributes to 9/11, teamed up to hit a grand slam for the Bush campaign. The mainstream, liberal media is reaping what they have sown with John McCain.

When McCain was bashing Bush and Republicans the press couldn't get enough of him. Now with McCain actively supporting President Bush, suddenly the press isn't liking what they hear so much. But because of McCain's alliance with the media these last four years he retains a huge influence over independent swing voters, and his speech was a huge plus for the President.

The tributes to 9/11 on Monday night were extremely tasteful and very moving. It was powerful television. The next day Katie Couric tried to get Tim Russert to engage the Democratic spin that Republicans were "exploiting" 9/11, but with Giuliani as the backdrop that is an impossible charge for the liberal media to make stick. They could possibly get away with the exploitation charge if it were Bush or Cheney, but not with Giuliani personally delivering the lead speech following the tributes. I don't think Democrats want to get in a public argument that Gluliani was exploiting 9/11.

After three weeks buried in the fog of the Swift Boat Veterans controversy, the one-two punch by McCain and Giuliani, followed up by Schwarzenegger was a stark wake up call to the Democrats. The stories of a "shake-up" in the Kerry campaign is a tacit acknowledgment that they have been getting their butts kicked for the last several weeks, and changes needed to be made.

It's funny watching how quickly the conventional wisdom swings among the talking heads on television. You can hear it in the voice and words of Chris Mathews, Tim Russert and the other political pundits. It's as if all of Bush's troubles of only three weeks ago have evaporated into the ether. Suddenly it is John Kerry who is in on the ropes and who is headed for defeat. That may be a bit of exaggeration of course, but there is no question that the tone of how this race is treated in the media has changed dramatically.

I had commented back in July and on August 13 that I was having a hard time understanding all the Kerry bullishness among the punditry. Today, I would caution joyous GOP partisans and hyperventilating Democrats, to remember that there are still quite a few rounds left in this heavyweight fight.

There is no question that Bush has had a good run. And if the final two days of this convention are as good as the first two, there is a possibility President Bush may jump out to a 7-11 point lead in the post-convention polls and Kerry will effectively be all but finished.

But there is also a very realistic possibility that even if the next two days go well for the GOP, Bush still never gets over 50% in our RCP Poll Average and Kerry stays within three to five points of the President, which would still leave this a very wide open race. And given the Gallup poll's bizarre negative bounce for John Kerry after his convention I wouldn't totally discount the possibility, though probably remote, that Bush could emerge from the convention tied or even slightly trailing.

I have maintained for months now that the real measure of this race was going to come in mid-to-late September after both the conventions and the anniversary of September 11. And I have also felt all along that President Bush was the clear favorite to win reelection and the President would win this game two out of every three times played. Even at the depth of the bad news from Iraq when the President's job approval started to dip below 45%, Bush was never worse than even money to win reelection.

With the President's job approval back around 50% , there is almost no chance Kerry can win the election in a big way. Right now there seem to be roughly three broad options: 1) a big Bush win (4-7 points), 2) Bush in a squeaker or 3) Kerry in a squeaker.

But if this election cycle has taught us anything, it is that the dynamic of this race can change quickly. As one who felt pretty good in December that Howard Dean was the almost certain Democratic nominee it would be a mistake to make too much of two-three week trend change.

Republicans should not become too cocky. Bush has had a good run and there is roughly a 33% chance that the poll bump from this convention and the 9/11 anniversary may be enough to TKO John Kerry. But there is also at least a 50% chance that before the first debate we will be staring at the same 50/50, dead heat race that we've more or less had since Kerry captured the nomination. J. McIntyre 12:57 pm Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Wednesday, September 1 2004
This morning let's start with the age old question: which do you want first, the good news or the bad? Okay, let's start with the bad.

The Bush twins were a disaster. I just don't know how to put it any other way. After the first couple of jokes I winced. After a couple of more I was begging them to stop. They didn't.

The litany of jokes they told were, in my opinion, both juvenile and inappropriate. Even worse, the twins reflected badly on the President, reinforcing the worst possible stereotype of the ditsy, slacker daughters of a C-student fratboy from Yale. My jaw literally hit the floor when Jenna bush said:

"Since we've graduated from college, we're looking around for something to do for the next few years. Kind of like Dad."

I'm sorry, but whoever wrote that line should be dragged to the guillotine at noon today.

Dont' get me wrong, generally speaking I like the Bush girls. They did have an appropriate role to play last night - it just wasn't doing a comedy routine. Maybe it played differently on TV and maybe it was received positively by young voters who were watching (a demographic of which I'm certainly not part) but I tend to think the person who green-lighted the Bush twins show last night should plead temporary insanity - and then plead to keep his or her job.

Laura was better. But she still didn't make a connection with the crowd like some might have expected. In general, people like Laura Bush. In particular, Republican delegates LOVE Laura Bush. But her speech was rather pedestrian and the delegates in the hall absorbed it as such, responding to the first lady with polite and respectful - though not wildly passionate - applause.

Arnold was in a different league. I watched the speech from the floor and I must say I was a bit surprised it didn't generate the type of electricity I expected among the crowd. That said, Arnold is one of the more charismatic, camera-ready politicians in modern history. He took full advantage of his most favorable assets, namely his immigrant story and his abounding optimism, to drive the crowd (and theoretically moderate swing voters around the country) into the camp of George W. Bush. On balance, I think Arnold made some headway.

We're now two days into a four-day convention. So far, I'd say that day one was an unqualified success but day two was a bit of a let down. At least it seemed that way from inside the bubble. - T. Bevan 4:55 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Tuesday, August 31 2004
Roger L. Simon is right, a shake up by the Kerry camp at this point in the race is tantamount to an admission of crisis. Mickey Kaus is right, too: Joe Lockhart ain't gonna come riding in and save the day.

Meanwhile Charlie Cook decided it was time to walk back his rather bold prediction from three weeks ago that this was Kerry's race to lose: "It really is pretty amazing how fast the conventional wisdom can change." You don't say? Maybe it shouldn't have been conventional wisdom in the first place.

Honestly, I still don't understand how or why Cook and Sabato decided to go out on a limb like that before the GOP convention. It was like two respected Vegas bookies deciding to change the odds of a game at halftime because one team was up a point or two. It just never made sense.

For the record, I'm not convinced the movement to Bush is all the work of the Swiftees, though they've certain played a part. But even if it is, it's not like the damage they've inflicted on Kerry should come as a big surprise to anyone who follows politics closely.

The Swiftees held a press conference way back in early May - even if it did get close to zero attention from the mainstream press. Here's what I wrote about the Swiftees at the time:

As far as politically damaging attacks go, this (the Swift Boat Veterans) should rank right up there among the most potent ones imaginable. It would certainly be a political disaster of thermonuclear proportions if all of George W. Bush's former commanding officers in the National Guard condemned his fitness to be CIC.

But I suspect this story won't get very much play (except in the blogosphere) and whatever attention it does generate in the mainstream press that might potentially influence swing voters in battleground states will be seriously diluted by Kerry's massive $25 million ad buy that began yesterday touting his service in Vietnam.

In other words, the Veterans' press conference and letter may not have much of a short-term impact on Kerry's numbers.

But it will be a different story after Labor Day when the Bush camp puts clips from the letter and footage from the press conference into an ad of their own and spends enough money in those same battleground states to make it hurt.

How will Kerry be able to effectively rebut this letter when the time comes? Very good question.

As it turns out, the answer to the question is "not effectively at all," which is why the Kerry campaign seems to be teetering on the verge of a meltdown. - T. Bevan 6:00 pm Link | Email | Send to a Friend

GENERAL FRANKS: Just finished a brief Q&A with General Tommy Franks (here's a peek). Hard to put into words just how impressive a figure he is in person and, perhaps more importantly from a political perspective, how important his endorsement may be for President Bush. Not surprisingly, Franks was effusive in his praise of the President, saying that what America needs in this dangerous day and age is "consistency, persistency, and character....George W. Bush."

Franks refused to touch the Swift Boat Controversy at all, but he wasn't afraid to offer some harsh words for Kerry: "I know what John Kerry's against, but I have trouble figuring out what he for." (See Franks' full comments here)

Franks is the latest (and most visible) part of a much larger picture here at the convention that's worth mentioning. The Republican party's connection with the US military isn't big news. But this year the sincerity and the depth of respect for the US military that is on display here is remarkable. It also stands in striking contrast to what I saw in the coverage from Boston where the Dems' best efforts to drape themselves in Kerry's military service and the "band of brothers" routine came across as hollow and, to a certain degree, fraudulent.

Again, the culprit here is Vietnam. Opposition to the war in Vietnam and the counterculture that flourished in the sixties ingrained in the DNA of the hard left core of the Democratic party feelings toward the United States military that range from distrust to disrespect to outright hatred. It's virtually impossible in the wake of 9/11 to undo thirty years worth of anti-military ideological programming. The task isn't made any easier by nominating an anti-war activist with a record like John Kerry. - T. Bevan 4:50 pm Link | Email | Send to a Friend

THE FIRST NIGHT: Before I comment on the speeches, a caveat: one of the interesting things about the reading the blog reviews of the speeches at the DNC - especially John Kerry's speech - is that they seemed terribly bubble-biased. What I mean is that bloggers who were in Boston breathlessly reported on what a great speech Kerry gave and the tremendous energy in the hall that night, but it didn't translate through the television to those of us watching at home. The bloggers were inside the bubble of the convention and their own excitement led them to think Kerry's speech was a heck of a lot better than it was.

I was also inside the bubble last night. I was also excited by the crowd and deeply moved by the tribute to September 11 and the singing of Amazing Grace. I tried, however, to keep reminding myself of what it all must have looked like and sounded like to those of you watching at home, and especially to anyone who would be considered a "swing voter" or an "undecided."

John McCain's speech was a mixed bag. The content of the speech was good, but the delivery was average, at best. To be honest, Lindsay Graham received only polite applause during his introduction of McCain and for a split second I was concerned that McCain might get the cold shoulder from the crowd. He didn't.

But despite the long, standing ovation at the beginning and his reference to Michael Moore about half-way through the speech (which absolutely brought down the house), McCain didn't seem to connect with the crowd. Some lines came across awkward, others were lines McCain should have known would be applause lines, but didn't.

Nevertheless, McCain offered a solid testimony to Bush's leadership skills, his vision, and a strong defense for the justification of removing Saddam Hussein.

Rudy's speech was, in a word, brilliant. More than anyone else living today, Rudy embodies and personifies the courage and strength of our country on September 11. His remembrances last night were like a transport in time back to that fateful day, and his heartfelt recollections of President Bush during that time struck me as powerful reminders, not only of why many people like Bush, but of what we face in the war on terror.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, is a more effective weapon against a political opponent than ridicule. Giuliani's attack on Kerry's record of flip-flopping on serious issues was, I thought, one of the most devastating I've seen this year. It was done with humor, with wit, and with perfect timing. Rudy's line about understanding why Edwards thinks there should be two Americas - one America where Kerry can vote one way and another where he can vote the opposite - couldn't have been done better by Jay Leno or Dave Letterman.

But after all the laughter ended the message Rudy left was a deadly serious one: John Kerry does not have the courage and ability to lead with resolve as Commander in Chief.

I'll leave you this morning with one final thought. There was a lot of focus on September 11, 2001 last night. I could just feel Democrats around the country screeching "exploitation!!!!!" as the widows of 9/11 spoke in tribute to their loved ones and as Giuliani recalled the heroes and horrors of that tragic day.

And even though Democrats held their own tribute to 9/11 in Boston, they don't want Republicans to talk about September 11. In fact, they want the public to forget about September 11 for political purposes.

I take that back. Democrats are fully willing to exploit the memory of 9/11 by making movies (and money) slandering the Bush administration and by issuing ad hominem attacks on the President himself, yet they don't want America to refocus on the reality of what happened that day and what it meant to us and for us as a country.

Last night inside the convention bubble I got the feeling that the picture of September 11, which had grown fuzzy over the last three years, started coming back into focus. Even though the speeches weren't carried on the network news and not a lot of people saw them live, I still think the message will make it's way out. That message is a tug at the sleeve of a country who has submitted to a gradual case of comfortable amnesia over the last three years. That message is only four words long and it isn't Republican or Democratic message, it's an American message: WE WILL NEVER FORGET. - T. Bevan 8:55 pm Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Monday, August 30 2004
: About three blocks away from Madison Square Garden you can start to feel the security for the convention. The first thing you notice is an inordinate amount of police. Standing on the corner of Broadway and 34th street this morning at 7:45 am I counted more than 30 uniformed officers.

All the streets around the Garden are barricaded and foot traffic on the sidewalks is tightly controlled. About a block from the convention I had to pass through a checkpoint and show my driver's license before continuing.

Entering the convention is even more daunting. Our group had to pass through three or four different checkpoints where police officers and Secret Service agents eyeballed our credentials.

Then came the metal detectors. It was like airport security on steroids. All electronic devices had to be presented to a TSA officer and turned on. Any items posing even the most remote threat - including many items that seemingly pose not threat at all - were confiscated and thrown in the trash.

Besty, the woman who is "managing" our group of bloggers at the RNC, went through the metal detector and x-ray machine just ahead of me. She was promptly divorced from a tiny bottle of nail polish in her possession because it was made of glass. A television reporter told me he had his can of hair spray confiscated.

Inside, the convention hall is a blur of activity. We're parked in a place called "Blogger's Corner" - which isn't much of a corner at all - and we're adjacent to "Radio Row" - which, you can probably guess, isn't much of a row, either.

As you might expect, various GOP luminaries have been holding forth on radio shows and in the hallway right in front of us - most notably Alan Keyes. The media loves Keyes, and he clearly reciprocates.

Earlier I spent some time listening to the opening of Al Franken's show (The O'Franken Factor) which is being broadcast from a booth just around the corner. It's interesting to see Franken working his schtick deep in enemy territory, but I have to say he's doing a good job. He's a heck of a funnier in person.

As I write, Sean Hannity is gearing up to broadcast his show from a table about 10 feet directly behind me. Sean has the aura of a rock star: even though there have been other people broadcasting at the table all day, the place has been more or less dead silent. Now it's humming: at least twenty people are surrounding the area listening, watching, waiting for Hannity to begin.

CONVENTION MEAT: Enough color, let's get to some meat and potatoes. This morning we had a Q&A with Matthew Dowd, President Bush's chief strategist. Dowd talked about many things but here are some interesting tidbits:

Undecided voters: The Bush campaign estimates the undecided vote at about 7%. Dowd says the number of "true" undecideds is probably half that, about 3 or 4 percent. Based on the polling data they've aggregated on undecideds in battleground states, the Bush team has compiled the following profile on undecideds: they are overwhelmingly white, tend to be older, go to church often and describe themselves as moderate to conservative. Dowd says they can't find any self-described liberals who remain undecided.

Conventional wisdom says that undecideds will usually break in favor of the challenger. Dowd says that based on the research they've done they feel they have a good chance of at least splitting the undecided vote and perhaps doing even better. Maybe this won't be the case in the end, but that's what they're thinking at the moment.

It's also clear that while the Bush team is trying to win undecideds, they're much more focused on getting out the base and targeting voters who may potentially vote for Bush. The trick is finding them and contacting them personally, which Dowd said makes people 4 times more likely to vote for a candidate.

A couple final notes regarding battleground states. According to Dowd the good news is that two critical states, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Bush is tracking three to four points better than in 2000. The bad news is that Ohio is doing the opposite: tracking two or three below where Bush was in 2000.

Remember, in the weeks leading up to the 2000 election, Gore basically abandoned Ohio and still only lost the state by 4 points. This year, Democrats are not making the same mistake. Campaign spokesman Terry Holt told me that the liberal interest group America Coming Together has spent months pouring money and effort into their ground game in Ohio and that, along with Kerry taking advantage of a struggling economy, is making the state one of the toughest for the President to hold. T. Bevan 3:25 pm Link | Email | Send to a Friend

INTO THE BELLY OF THE BEAST: I arrived in New York last night and will be heading down to convention central in less than an hour. I'll be posting updates throughout the day as warranted.

STATE OF THE POLLS: There are tons of new state polls out (battleground | non battleground) few of which contain any good news for John Kerry. With the exception of a Rasmussen poll showing him up 2 points in Ohio and a Gallup poll showing a 6-point lead in Iowa, the Kerry camp has lost ground in almost all the crucial battleground states.

THE 527 EFFECT: There is a general sense, in both the state and national polls, that the race has turned back in favor of the President. Most pundits have ascribed this to the Swift Boat Veterans, which could certainly be the case. But we've also heard about how liberal 527's have spent between $60-65 million against Bush over the course of the last 9 months or so. One has to assume this money has had an effect on Bush's numbers over time, keeping them depressed. It could be that in addition to casting doubts on John Kerry's veracity and driving his numbers down, the Swift Boat Veterans have helped Bush's numbers rise by breaking through the blanket of negative ads from liberal 527's.

WHO IS SLANDERING ALL VETS?: Critics of the Swift Boat Veterans have taken to charging that their critique of John Kerry's medals amounts to a slandering of the service and the medals of all Vietnam veterans. Aside from being untrue, the argument is a problematic one for the Kerry campaign.

Thirty-three years ago when John Kerry threw his medals (or ribbons) over the fence in protest, he went out of his way to say that the "perversion" of the war had stripped the integrity from his - and by implication from all - Vietnam decorations and medals:

"This [Nixon] administration forced us to return our medals because beyond the perversion of the war these leaders themselves denied us the integrity those symbols supposedly gave our lives." - John Kerry, April 1971

What really sticks in the craw of veterans, of course, is that after Kerry denounced the value of his Vietnam medals and used them in a piece of public theatre to vault himself to national stardom, Kerry changed his tune about their value and significance:

"I'm proud of my medals. I always was proud of them." - John Kerry, December 2003

Perhaps even more telling is the quote he gave to National Journal in 1988: "I was proud of my personal service and remain so." (emphasis added).

Given the way Kerry has exploited his medals and service over the years for personal gain, is it any wonder that a group of his fellow veterans have come forward to call him on it? Anyone who thinks the Swift Boat Veterans are a creature of Karl Rove and George Bush simply doesn't get it. They are a creature of John Kerry, and they attack him now because of the way he attacked their honor back in 1971. T. Bevan 7:27 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

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