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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

More on Yesterday’s Polls

Several people have noted in the comments section for yesterday’s post that Bush has been benefiting from a continued focus on his strong suit, even if that suit is weakening. I agree. My fixation yesterday was on explaining the very recent bump up in his horse race performance, which I do think is consistent with a rally effect tied to the press conference. But the two points are not inconsistent: the focus on his strong suit set the stage for the rally effect.
And the key implicaton of the two points is the same: as the mix of issues in play becomes more evenly-balanced, the reduction in Bush’s huge advantage in the national security/foreign policy area fundametally weakens his political position, He can’t assume, as was formely the case, that his national security advantage will drown out everything else no matter what the mix of issues. He’s no longer strong enough in that area for that to be a reasonable assumption.
The DLC had a good article today on their website that goes over the recent polls and provides some similar, and very crisply expressed, analysis. I particularly like their summation of what Kerry needs to do moving forward:
Kerry’s challenge is to define himself, his values and philosophy, his agenda and policies, as quickly and as clearly as possible. He must not only take advantage of Bush’s vulnerabilities, but keep the GOP from making doubts about the Democratic Party and its candidate the focal point of the campaign, rather than the incumbent’s poor record, broken promises, and empty future agenda. Most crucially, Kerry must undermine the bedrock premise of the president’s case for re-election: that George W. Bush is the embodiment of the war on terror, and the indispensable man for keeping America safe. Kerry’s ability and willingness to do just that are his best potential weapons as the campaign unfolds.
Sounds like a plan.

14 comments on “More on Yesterday’s Polls

  1. Maxcat on

    Kerry’s biggest attribute is…….he ain’t the bushman.
    His theme……….he ain’t the bushman.
    What he will do for this country……he ain’t the bushman.
    Sounds like a win-win-win scenario to me.

  2. Oberon on

    To be precise, the challenge isn’t for Kerry to “define” himself and his values. He should have done that long ago. The challenge is communicate his definition of himself and his candidacy to the voters.
    Edwards had a brilliant way of communicating himself: the “Two Americas” theme. What is Kerry’s theme?
    I’d like to see a “One America” theme from Kerry — America united against terrorism, an America where the same rules apply to everyone, etc.

  3. BKW on

    I asked several days ago what Kerry would have to do to make it onto the front pages of newspapers, when 90% of the media oxygen is being taken up by the 9/11 commission and Iraq (and the other 10% is Michael Jackson and gas prices). Yesterday, Kerry answered the question by releasing his full military records. Why the Republicans were pressing to have them released, I have no idea, since I’m not sure where the downside is for Kerry in releasing them.
    In this morning’s New York Times:
    “In a combat environment often requiring independent, decisive action, Lt. Kerry was unsurpassed.”
    “His bearing and appearance are above reproach.”
    “intelligent, mature and rich in educational background and experience,” as well as “polished, tactful and outgoing” and “a brilliant conversationalist.”
    These are exactly the types of qualities Americans want in our president. And the impressive military service of Kerry compares favorably against both Bush’s own military service (or dis-service) and Bush’s current military ventures. It offers Kerry a great launching point for a pointed series of questions on the current Iraq occupation. Assuming Kerry plays his cards right…

  4. bt on

    I hope Kerry will soon anchor a major foreign policy address around key points including the following (at a well-timed moment where he is likely to be heard):
    *the need for accountability for what has happened (referring to 9/11) must not prevent us from keeping our eyes on the ball.
    *I remain hopeful and expect that we will capture Osama bin laden soon.
    *But this fight is about far more than that.
    *It is about leading and rallying the world community–including the overwhelming majority of Muslims who want no part of the tyranny the global al qaeda network is dedicated to imposing on the world–to act now to prevent further catastrophes before it is too late.
    *The path of freedom is not for the faint of heart. But unlike the path offered by our adversaries, in it lies endless possibility for bettering our world.
    On top of this I hope he’ll say something intelligent about the intelligence mess. I am astonished–no, actually, come to think of it, I am not–that it was just last week that Bush said something in public–for the first time, I believe, although I have not checked that–about the possible need to consider making some changes in how we are doing intelligence. (!)
    What a concept. To think that it has taken strong evidence suggesting that a more effective pre-9/11 approach was both possible and necessary (even if it would not necessarily have prevented the attack), as well as the deeply damaging wrong conclusions about WMD in Iraq to lead the President to say something to the public indicating that this just might be in order.
    The need for a major overhaul of our approach to intelligence that includes a frontal assault on the culture of secrecy and bureaucratic rivalries that are an impediment to sound US foreign policy decisions seems obvious now. It probably should have been obvious prior to 9/11. (Daniel Patrick Moynihan had written about this in his 1998 book Secrecy, quite a gem.) It seems to have been understood clearly by Richard Clarke.
    Then again, why would an Administration which already knows the answers to the hard questions the US faces with regard to its foreign policy see any need for accurate and thorough intelligence? It might, after all, lead to a pesky need for further thought.
    The lack of any obvious constituency within Iraq for a democracy prior to the war, and the well known history of deep conflict between the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, for example, might have called into question the wisdom of going to war in the first place.
    This will be a most difficult task and not one amenable to overnight success. But only a hands-on President who will use the full measure of his power to press for reform and force the bureaucracies to be responsive has any chance of making progress towards these ends. I conclude from Clarke’s book that such successes as have been had, in thwarting the Milennium attacks and the attack in Albania, for example, are more likely to be repeated if an aggressive mindset closer to the approach used by the Clinton Administration in those instances is used by a Kerry Administration.

  5. Andrew on

    For years now Democrats have been playing a game of catchup. The Republicans pull to the right, and Democrats try to pull back to the center. The Republicans destroy programs, Democrats try to restore parts of them.
    Kerry will not win if he plays this game on security. He doesn’t need to catch up to Bush on security, he needs to get out in front of Bush. That means he needs to be more muscular than Bush on his use of the military, on international relations, and on domestic terrorism. He needs to forget about cleaning up Bush’s messes and fine-tuning this litle patch by “bringing in the UN.” He needs to make it clear how he will lead the whole world, including this country, other countries, and our military, in a way that is aggressive but also more sensible, more credible and ultimately safer than what we have now.
    That doesn’t mean starting more wars. But it does mean creating his own Frame for the debate, rather than showing how he would tweak things inside the Frame that Bush has created.

  6. bt on

    reply to accommodatingly’s question on how Kerry can get himself some attention when he decides the timing is right:
    For starters, he can seek to make a major address at the National Press Club. I hope he makes one on foreign policy at this stage, aimed at communicating a sense of his vision, values and priorities.
    The next topic should be foreign policy for reasons pointed to, I think, by the posts of frankly0 and others (April 20 thread). Now is the time to keep hacking away at Bush’s foreign policy credentials. I still believe a good, strong speech by Kerry can help him continue to gain ground on Bush in this area, which is one where, as I’ve said earlier, I hope he plays to win and not just draw or lose small. I’d written a couple of weeks ago offering the main points I’d like to hear him say, in a strong, commanding unequivocal voice befitting the confidence-inspiring Commander in Chief he can be.
    In response to one of demtom’s posts citing Woodward’s book as a sign that the Washington establishment is beginning to go more negative on Bush after giving him a lot of deference for 3 years, I see signs of that as well. Broder is a bit off his usual Wed/Sun schedule. I sense he is developing some doubts about the wisdom of this Administration’s foreign policy. He had heretofore ceded the foreign policy advantage in the election to Bush.
    Editorially the Post is still defensive, occasionally veering towards tormented, re Iraq. Yesterday they criticized Kerry for saying in December we cannot leave Iraq until there is a democracy there but just recently seeming to back off of that as a precondition for US disengagement. Bush gets to create the messes; Kerry, if he’s elected, has to say, now, how he’d clean them up. At least they’re open to what he has to say on this issue. I can imagine the Post declining to endorse either candidate, as they did in 1988. The NY Times surely will endorse Kerry.
    There is definitely much more tough criticism of the Administration this year inside the Beltway than I’ve seen previously. Much as the arrows Dean took made it safer for other Dem candidates to more aggressively challenge Bush, the combination of Suskind and Clarke’s books, and perhaps the trouble the Administration is looking at re the Plame case, in combination with Bush’s lower poll numbers, may be having a similar effect on Washington-based coverage of the

  7. Paul C on

    It will be very hard for us to win the votes of guys like the ones at Dave’s barber shop. Anyone who believes that it’s OK to shoot people in Iraq because they are Arabs, and that’s who did 9/11 are going to vote for Bush. Our best hope is that they don’t vote at all. The good news is that we don’t have to get 100% in order to win.
    One argument that is holding traction is the idea that we “took the battle to them.” Kerry will not win the argument regarding the war on terror by stating that we need to fully fund the needs of “first responders” here in the U.S. Instead, he needs to talk about Iraq being the wrong war, started too soon. Even if we were going to do it, we should have finished the job in Afganistan first. Then, we should have had better judgement about what would happen after we beat Saddam’s army (which was the easy part). It is a more nuanced argument, but if you combine it with plenty of pictures of Kerry in uniform, it can persuade enough voters to win the election.
    Finally, in response to everyone’s whining and gnashing of teeth over the past few days, I can testify, from seeing it for years, that John Kerry has a terrific sense of timing about election campaigns. He seems to know exactly when to be on top — on election day. I hope and presume he will do it now.

  8. Dave on

    A week ago at my barber the the three of us waiting and the two barbers had a discussion about Bush. The guys were all around twenty-five uneducated but all working. Its a pretty rough guy kinda place. Thier take was that Bush was “the Man” cause he had taken the fight to the bastards who did 9/11 and it didn’t seem to make much difference that Iraq wasn’t involved in 9/11. They are Arabs aren’t they?
    While some of them accepted that Bush lied and realized that he wasn’t the best President, they weren’t going to vote for John Kerry. Infact some weren’t going to vote at all, cause they didn’t see John Kerry as a real “MAN”. “Give us a real man to vote for” was the comment.
    This election is going to be won on national security. John Kerry needs to emphasis the details of his military record which is fantastic and the fact that he is a real man and can give a good fight. He also needs to tell us how he is going to fix Iraq, make us safer and go after Osama. Thats what people want to know.

  9. joeKelly on

    A friend of mine characterises the right wing’s control and use of the (ostensibly) public media as “the air war”. The Bush campaign excels at this, or at least prefers it. Their tactics are to deliver their message distantly and impersonally, through proxies and at third-hand, which, to many Americans, gives the impression of authority and impartiality. (My guess is that this impression comes out of the technological limitations of radio and television, that communication is complex and expensive and therefore automatically authoritative, which the vast bulk of likely voters absorbed while young.)
    The answer, to attempt to quote Sun Tzu, is “to be weak where they are strong, and strong where they are weak.” As I read my way through my list of nightly Democrat-leaning blogs, I see a growing frustration with the apparent lack of activity on the part of the national Kerry campaign.
    Well, I think that what I’ll be starting to do, what I’d hope this frustration becomes, is a strong Democrat “ground war”.
    These Republicans are bullies. They talk a tough game and strut around beyond arm’s length so long as it looks like their intimidation tactics are succeeding. The right answer is to lower your strong shoulder and tackle them, hard. Take the fight to them, exactly where they are most weak.
    Show up at your local campaign office. Offer to help. Pass out flyers. Walk from door to door registering Democrats. Make phone calls. Sweep floors. Carry signs. Ground war.
    The Republicans have the dollars. Always have. We have feet. Lots more than they do. Use ’em. Get out and help.

  10. accommodatingly on

    All agree: Kerry must speak up, define himself, take clear positions, etc. Sure. Isn’t he doing just that? He gives a speech every day on a major topic (environment in FL today, energy and jobs on other days); he now (finally) has ads out; he’s got press releases, he goes on the Sunday talk shows. Yet he’s still, understandably, pushed into the background in free media by Iraq and 9/11 commission events. (And, starting tomorrow, by the Jacko trial.) What can he do not only to “articulate a clear vision” and “define himself,” but to get that definition where swing voters (who at this point seem like 5 guys in Ohio– I know, I know, in truth there are lots of them left) can notice?

  11. Carol on

    I can hardly stand waiting for Kerry to do more than occasionally peep up.
    He has to speak up. I almost have forgotten what he stands for.

  12. ross on

    John must distinguish his character as not only being different, but get a much better diatribe about this foolish war. How do Democrats expect a change, if it is only a face at the top? He needs to start talking about how to get our troops out of this mess, or he will be eating his own goose at Thanksgiving. God Help us if that happens-ross

  13. Chris Andersen on

    Good points Ruy. These approval ratings and polling numbers are a dynamic system that can sometimes produce counter-intuitive results. But the longer we hammer away at Bush the more his ratings in his “strong suite” will come down and the less likely they will be able to turn negative news into a net plus for his overall approval rating.
    I talk more about this on my own blog (click my name).


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