Tuesday, September 21 2004
BATTLEGROUND UPDATE:
It's been less than a week since I wrote about John Kerry's slide in the state polls. Since then, the trend has continued. Yesterday we had a wave of state polls confirming the move away from Kerry in key battleground states. Based on the latest polls, here is where our RCP Battleground Averages stand:

Battleground State Polls - RCP Averages      
Poll | Date
Bush
Kerry
Nader
Spread
45.3
45.3
2.7
TIE
44.0
44.0
-
TIE
45.5
44.5
3.0
Bush +1.0
46.0
45.0
1.5
Bush +1.0
47.0
45.5
2.5
Bush +1.5
47.0
45.5
3.0
Bush +1.5
43.5
45.5
3.5
Kerry +2.0
48.4
46.2
1.8
Bush +2.2
46.0
42.5
1.5
Bush +3.5
49.0
45.0
1.0
Bush +4.0
50.5
46.0
1.0
Bush +4.5
47.1
42.1
2.1
Bush +5.0
43.0
48.3
1.7
Kerry +5.3
44.3
50.0
1.3
Kerry +5.7
49.0
43.0
2.0
Bush +6.0
49.0
43.0
2.0
Bush +6.0
50.0
42.5
1.0
Bush +7.5

Kerry is maintaining a solid grip on Michigan and Washington, but everything else is in play. With the exception of New Hampshire, every single state we have listed as a toss up in our RCP Electoral Count (IA, MN, NM, OR, PA) is a state that went for Gore in 2000.

The picture is even more bleak for the Kerry campaign when you look at how Kerry is faring in blue states (i.e. states that Al Gore won in 2000) versus how Bush is faring in red states. Kerry is running worse than Gore did in 2000 in eight out of ten battleground states, Bush has lost ground versus his performance four years ago in only two:

Blue States      
State | Date
2000
Results
Current
Spread vs
2000
Gore +5.2
Kerry +5.3
Kerry +0.1
Gore +5.6
Kerry +5.7
Kerry +0.1
Gore +0.5
Bush +1.0
(Kerry -1.5)
Gore +2.4
TIE
(Kerry -2.4)
Gore +5.1
Kerry +2.0
(Kerry -3.1)
Gore +0.06
Bush +3.5
(Kerry -3.6)
Gore +0.2
Bush +4.0
(Kerry -4.2)
Gore +4.2
Bush +1.5
(Kerry -5.7)
Gore +0.3
Bush +6.0
(Kerry -6.3)
Gore +15.9
TIE
(Kerry -15.9)
Red States      
State | Date
2000
Results
Current
Spread vs
2000
Bush +3.3
Bush +7.5
Bush +4.2
Bush +3.5
Bush +6.0
Bush +2.5
Bush +0.01
Bush +2.2
Bush +2.2
Bush +3.5
Bush +4.5
Bush +1.0
Bush +1.3
Bush +1.5
Bush +0.2
Bush +6.3
Bush +5.0
(Bush -1.3)
Bush +8.4
Bush +1.0
(Bush -7.4)

Colorado and New Jersey seem to be aberrations. However, not only could the massive move in New Jersey be attributable to a "9/11 effect" and the McGreevey scandal, we are now seeing other polls coming out of Democratic strongholds like Maryland and New York suggesting that Kerry is experiencing a serious deterioration of support there as well.

On the other hand, there is no evidence to corroborate a big swing against Bush in Colorado. It's hard to believe that the President is leading in nearly every national poll and is running better than he did in 2000 all across the country - including the Mountain West states of Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona - but is running seven and half points worse in Colorado this year.

IS THE COUNTRY REJECTING JOHN KERRY?: Now that the conventions are over and people are beginning to focus intently on the race, it's almost as if the public is taking a good hard look at John Kerry and saying "no thanks." There is still a lot of race left and plenty of time (including three debates) for Kerry to convince people to change their minds, but the trend lines are certainly not favorable for him.

So how can we explain what's going on? There are lots of possible reasons: Kerry is a bad candidate, he's running a disorganized campaign, his message is all over the place, the Swift Boat Veterans hit him where it hurt, etc. All of these things are true to a certain degree and they've no doubt contributed at least in part to his decline in the polls. But I think there is something much, much bigger.

The most inexplicable aspect of this race right now is that the President continues to rise in the polls despite the fact that the violence and chaos in Iraq is getting worse. Iraq has always been the defining issue in this campaign and despite John Kerry's best attempts over the last few months to turn it against Bush by attacking from every imaginable angle, it hasn't worked. Maybe that will change as the violence continues into October and Kerry sharpens his critique, but I wouldn't count on it.

The reason, I think, is very simple: America hates losers. I don't mean that John Kerry is a "loser" in the stylistic sense - though he does come off a bit that way when we see pictures of his gangly frame in spandex bike shorts, windsurfing or throwing a baseball.

What I mean is that when it comes to the biggest issue in this campaign, Iraq, John Kerry doesn't leave the impression with voters that he really wants to win the war. Everything we see, feel and know about John Kerry says his heart is not in this war, nor has it really been in any war.

So even when he tries to articulate, as he did yesterday in New York, a strategy to fight a more effective war than President Bush, it comes across more like a laundry list of gripes from a man who thinks the cause is already lost: "Iraq is a mistake and mess, and we need to do X, Y, and Z so we can get out as soon as possible."

On the other hand, President Bush is, for better or worse, a fighter. It's not so much that the public thinks President Bush is a winner per se, only that they know very clearly that Bush wants to win this war, and that he's doing everything within his power to try to win and it.

And even though mistakes have been made and a good number of Americans are uneasy about the War in Iraq and the direction of the country in general, when given a choice between a leader who is committed to fighting and optimistic about winning or a leader who exudes the attitude that because the going is tough we ought to get going, Americans almost always prefer the former.

In 1972 nearly 60 percent of the country was against the war in Vietnam, a war which at that point America had been fighting for almost a decade at a cost of tens of thousands of lives. Yet the country still thoroughly rejected McGovern's defeatist "peace at any price" platform in favor of Nixon's call for "peace with honor" even as Nixon escalated the war effort in the spring and summer of the election year.

But even the 1972 analogy strikes me as inadequate, because I still think the country is approaching this election less through the prism of Iraq as Vietnam (despite all the focus on the candidates' experiences during the Vietnam era) and more with the feeling that 9/11, Iraq and the War on Terror are akin to Pearl Harbor and World War II.

With the beheading of hostages and the slaughter of children now standard viewing on our nightly news, it is going to be extremely difficult for John Kerry to convince America over the next 40 days that Iraq is separate from the overall War on Terror. Even further, it will be a remarkable feat if Kerry can argue that Iraq is a mistake not worth the fight and simultaneously convince the public he is as committed as Bush to waging an aggressive War on Terror. - T. Bevan 7:55 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

 

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