Jewish World Review Sept. 13, 2004 / 27 Elul, 5764
Beyond the Bush bounce
President Bush enters September with a remarkable double-digit lead as a result of one of the most successful conventions in recent years. The key to the GOP success was, of course, its focus on terrorism, reminding Americans what a dangerous world we inhabit. The Republicans also moved to the center, featuring pro-choice and socially moderate orators like Rudy Giuliani, Sen. Zell Miller and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The Democrats don't understand the need to move to the center. Bob Shrum, Kerry's and Ted Kennedy's key strategist, makes his living by appealing to the party's base. The addition of James Carville and Paul Begala to the team just reinforces the tendency to tack to the left, embracing an economic populism that resonates with 40 percent of the voters but leaves the rest cold.
After all, when Clinton needed to win 43 percent of the vote to get elected in 1992 against Bush, as Ross Perot split the Republican vote, he relied on Carville and Begala. But when he needed to win half the voters in the 1996 campaign, as Perot's appeal diminished, they were nowhere to be seen.
Carville and Begala will likely focus on "the economy, stupid," which is a needed correction for Kerry whose current strategy of trying to beat Bush on terrorism brings to mind Winston Churchill's characterization of fighting a land war in Asia against Japan in World War II: "Going into the water to fight the shark."
But in its focus on the economy, the Kerry team is likely to lose sight of one basic problem: In running against a bad economy, it is helpful if the economy is bad. With an unemployment rate approaching 5 percent, they'll have a hard time making the case.
The decision to bring in Carville and Begala also begs a more fundamental question: Do they want Kerry to win?
Both men are primarily loyal to the Clintons Bill and Hillary. Clearly, the former president would like the former first lady to be president in 2008. And a Kerry victory would stand in the way.
An axiom of politics is that generally you want your campaign advisers to hope that you win and Carville and Begala may not pass that standard.
Bush's post convention bounce is likely to linger until the debates. He will get another boost this weekend as we mark the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, reminding Americans, once more, how important it is to keep Bush at the helm.
How big is Bush's lead? Don't believe the surveys that show it in the 5- to 7-point range. Believe the surveys of Time and Newsweek, which show a lead in excess of 10 points.
The difference is because pollsters disagree about whether or not to weight their results to keep constant the ratio of Republicans, Democrats and Independents in their sample. Some polling firms treat party affiliation as a demographic constant and, when they find that their sample has too many Republicans, they weight down each Republican interview and assign an extra weight to each Democratic response.
But other polling firms and I disagree. We feel that political party is not a demographic, like gender or race or age. If the survey finds more Republicans than usual, we think it's because the country has become more Republican, so we treat the result as a indicator of national mood, not of statistical error.
Time and Newsweek both picked up major moves toward the GOP in the wake of the convention. Likely the other firms did too, but they treated the finding as a mistake and weighed down the Republican interviews, making the race appear to be closer than it really is.
The debates are likely to help Bush, since Kerry's supporters are so divided on the war and on terrorism. Almost whatever Kerry says is likely to lose him a share of his voters. For example, 37 percent of his supporters told the Rasmussen Poll that they want America to give priority to making democracy work in Iraq, while 54 percent want Kerry to emphasize troop withdrawal. So when Kerry said Monday that he'd prioritize bringing the troops home, his comments appealed to the majority of his voters but alienated more than a third of them. The debates are fraught with such traps.
So look for September to be a good Bush month. But, in October, Kerry will close at least part of the gap. Democrats always do.
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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, most recently, "Rewriting History", a rebuttal of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) memoir, Living History. (ClickHERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) Comment by clicking here.
© 2004, Dick Morris