Glenn Reynolds notes that the Iowa Electronic Markets has Bush well ahead of Kerry despite a month of bad news for Bush. He asks what the market is taking account of that the polls aren’t yet showing.
I think I have an answer to that. In essence, what the IEM is noting is that Kerry has already made a fatal electoral mistake that leaves him at a significant disadvantage.
The first priority of a candidate is to secure their image – especially a candidate running for national office for the first time. If voters don’t know who you are, they’re not going to vote for you. Without creating a positive image of yourself early in a campaign, you’re starting with an uphill battle to define yourself. A candidate who doesn’t create the positive public image early on is almost assured of losing.
George W. Bush is the one who is defining John Kerry at this moment. His series of early TV ads have defined Kerry as a tax-and-spend liberal who is weak on terrorism and national defense. This is one of the major reasons why Kerry’s numbers are slipping and the President’s are going up. Kerry has been on the attack himself from day one, but he’s been so busy attacking the President that he’s done almost nothing to define who he is. Slip-ups like his statement that he voted for the Iraq funding bill before voting against it were pure political gold for the GOP. While this month has been bad for Bush, it’s done nothing for Kerry. Even the Clarke affair and the September 11 Commission has only put Bush’s bread-and-butter issue of terrorism at the forefront of the debate – a move that puts Kerry at a decided disadvantage.
Kerry is a weak candidate who got the nomination only because he wasn’t as insane as the competition. Edwards, Gephardt, and Lieberman all would have been better choices for the Democrats than Kerry – but Kerry managed to win almost by default in a compressed primary season that left the Democrats with a poor candidate. Kerry combines the worst possible traits for a Presidential candidate – personal arrogance, an inability to connect with the common people, a voting record that the GOP can hammer him with, and a campaign that has failed to do the most important thing a candidate must do in the beginning of a campaign.
Kerry is betting on the election being a rejection of Bush rather than an embracing of him – which is a reasonable bet to make on a purely political perspective, but not one that should inspire much confidence in his leadership as a candidate or as a Commander in Chief.