The Toughness Gap

The latest Survey USA poll of 607 likely voters has Bush with a healthy lead against Kerry, 51% to 45%.

Even the trendlines for Florida show Bush pulling ahead, with a strong possibility of getting a slim majority in Florida. With the GOP’s excellent political machine in the state helping to ensure that GOP voters get to the polls and the lessons of 2000 having been learned in 2002, I think Florida is essentially safe for Bush so long as he doesn’t get complacent.

Ohio also continues its reddening, as the latest Strategic Vision polls shows Bush with a massive lead in the Buckeye State. While Strategic Vision is a GOP pollster, even if you assume some level of bias, it’s not going to be by 12 points. The trendline for Ohio is even worse for Kerry than it is in Florida. Again, based on Kerry’s dismal performance even in the economically troubled state of Ohio, it’s clear that the Kerry campaign is in serious trouble.

Right now the only states that Bush won in 2000 that he’s in danger of losing are New Hampshire and Colorado. New Hampshire is probably a lost cause, but Colorado is a worry for Bush. Still, if Bush pulls off a win in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa, or Minnesota it won’t matter for Bush. In any event, Bush is going to need to focus on Colorado just in case. If Colorado and New Hampshire goes to Kerry and all other states stay the way they were in 2000, Bush narrowly loses the Electoral College vote. Bush will need to make sure that Colorado stays in his corner.

I do think Colorado will trend away from Kerry, and that Bush is nearly certain to win Ohio and Florida unless something dramatic changes. Wisconsin could be the tipping point that hands Bush a victory, and if Minnesota or Pennsylvania follows, Kerry is toast.

Kerry essentially has two weeks to pull out of his slide. If he’s still this far behind in October, he’s not going to be able to keep up. By October I would not be surprised if we start seeing a resurgence of third-party voters. The far left has stuck to Kerry solely because he’s not Bush. If Bush is going to win anyway, a lot of these voters will, to borrow from Nader’s 2000 campaign theme “vote their conscience, not their fears” and pull the lever for Nader or Cobb. In essence, Kerry has painted himself into the Howard Dean corner. He needs the anti-war base, which means he can’t support the war too strongly. However, if he can’t project a clear and strong picture on the war, he looks weak and that hurts him with the rest of the electorate – and he can’t win with just the anti-war base.

If I were Kerry, I’d be doing the exact opposite of what he’s doing now. He has to reach out to swing voters and not just his base. I’d tell Terry McAuliffe to shut the hell up about Bush and start making political hay about Iraq. If John Kerry says that he’d be the candidate who would take out the terrorists in Fallujah and finish the job in Iraq, he might be able to peel away some of the 9/11 Democrats who are swinging Bush’s numbers into the majority position. Kerry’s weakness on defense is why he is losing states like Ohio despite the losses of manufacturing jobs and general economic weakness in those regions.

The problem is that for Kerry it may be too late. Had he staked his position on the war early in the convention, he not only would have helped deflect the Swift Boat issue, but would have been able to show that he’s tougher than Bush on defense. Had he done that, the race would be much closer than it is now.

However, by embracing the left, Kerry has alienated voters who would otherwise be Democrats. If he is to have a chance, he’ll have to close that “toughness gap” with Bush. Bush’s inability to fight the terrorists in Fallujah has left him open to attack if Kerry is willing to embrace the hawkish position. Yet Kerry has staked his campaign on trying to avoid taking any position on Iraq – in order for him to attack Bush on this ground he must be willing to take the risk that his anti-war base will stick with him based on their hatred of Bush. It would be a bold political move, but Kerry is not known at all for taking bold moves of any kind.

In the end, my gut feeling is that Kerry will end up trying to sow up his base by attacking Bush. It will end up not answering any questions about his own plans, it will alienate swing voters in states like Ohio, and Kerry will go down in flames. Then again, with nearly two months on the clock, anything could happen…

One thought on “The Toughness Gap

  1. You’re falling into the usual trap of assigning far too much credibility to the poll of the hour in an attempt to prop your own guy up and squelch morale among Dems. It’s not working. At one point in June, a Survey USA poll showed Kerry leading Bush by only one point in California. Clearly, that was a bad sample. They seem to be a respectable polling outfit, but their Florida numbers seem a tad high. Even if they’re not, a six-point Bush advantage is easily reversible. Strategic Vision has about as much credibility as the Star Tribune’s Minnesota Poll, which I notice you conveniently failed to mention since it showed Kerry leading Bush in MN by an unreasonable nine-point margin. I have no doubt Bush leads right now in Ohio, but by a far smaller margin than 12 points, and nowhere near enough to declare it safe for Bush.

    The electorate is clearly more fluid than anyone thought it was a month ago. This really doesn’t surprise me since I talk to buffoonish swing voters several times a week who “don’t know who they’re gonna vote for yet”. The disastrous headlines from Iraq, if they continue, will resurrect the ABB vote to a plurality. Kerry seems incapable of winning this thing on his own, so he’s lucky he’s running against a guy who is so despised and who has so many more live mines to cross on his march to a second term. But then again, Kerry seemed incapable of winning any primaries last January as well. Kerry could again sell himself as the adult alternative to the noisy guy on the fringe (last time it was Dean, this time Bush) and swing back many of the undecideds currently favoring Bush. With unfavorable ratings and wrong track numbers as high as Bush’s, he will be vulnerable until the minute polls close in the Pacific Time Zone.

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