CBS Poll Shows The Challenge and Opportunity Facing Kerry
Yes, polls this early on the presidential race can be meaningless, unless you are a presidential candidate who has acted like a frontrunner for months and now find yourself with the same level of support nationally as Al Sharpton. That is the fate facing John Kerry this morning according to the most recent CBS News Poll released yesterday. On Iraq, the poll also shows interestingly that Democrats’ and the blogosphere’s efforts to call into question Bush’s integrity and truthfulness have succeeded: a full eighty percent of those polled think that either Bush didn’t tell the full truth about Iraq, or flat-out lied. So the integrity barrier has been breached, let’s now move on to challenging his competence over the next several months.
The poll shows that most voters still aren’t paying attention to the race yet, with most Democrats still not knowing who these guys are. That makes sense, as many analysts have said that people will not start tuning in until after Labor Day. But what is most noteworthy is that the top tier according to this poll is Lieberman (14%), Gephardt (11%), and Dean (10%), with John Kerry down at 5% with the likes of Sharpton. Frankly, if I’m John Kerry, Jim Jordan needs to explain to me why I should not fire him for turning me into a second-tier candidate with a lot of money and allowing Dean to shoot past me.
Kerry runs the risk of being the Democrats’ version of Phil Gramm at this point. After seeing Jordan lead the 2002 Senate class to slaughter at the DSCC, this was all too predictable. As a story in today’s LA Times notes, Dean’s ascendancy now requires all the other candidates to slow his advance or risk being left behind for good, and John Zogby echoes what I feel as well: Kerry needs to start over again or risk irrelevance.
The poll does show that now only 38 percent of voters think Bush will definitely be reelected, with 50 percent saying a Democrat can now win. This is also important because the “inevitability” mantra, conventional wisdom campaign that Rove has tried to build into the Beltway media over the last half-year has failed as a result of the collapse of the integrity/truthfulness rationale for Bush’s election in 2004.
On Iraq, the poll shows a growing number of Americans, feel that things are going badly for the US in Iraq with 51% saying well but 47% now saying badly. The “badly” number has gone up 7% in two weeks. More notably, 47% feels that the US is no longer in control of events in Iraq, compared to 42% that feel we are in control, the first time opinion has swung that way. 69% now feel that the UN, and not the US, should have the lead in setting up a new Iraqi government. If true, then Bush is into a situation that can only get worse for him from here. And eighty percent feel that Bush either “hid some things” (61%) or has been “mostly lying” (19%) in dealing with Iraq. Some would argue that this isn’t as bad as it seems, but if three-fifths of those polled now think that Bush has hid some things in selling the Iraq war, then that is a barrier that Bush faces from this point on regarding his future dealings with the public.
With the race heading into a time when more and more people will be paying attention, the successful candidates will be talking beyond anger at this point and giving the voters a message that David Kusnet says in the current American Prospect (no link currently available) that is “speaking American.” Kusnet says that this is “using everyday language that links national issues to people’s everyday lives and deepest values.” To reach beyond the base and grab independents, Kusnet says that “none of the current Democratic candidates is consistently speaking American to voters who are anxious about the future but not yet angry with the president. To beat Bush, the eventual nominee needs to start from three events that define our times (September 11th, the corporate scandals, and an economy that is shedding jobs and shrinking incomes). Then offer alternatives to Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy and going it almost alone in the war on terrorism. And explain how Americans can shape a world where they’ll have lives that are secure in every sense of that word.”
That is the challenge and opportunity facing someone like John Kerry, who only has a couple of months to grab this opportunity. He must speak American, and show voters he is not only angry about what Bush has done to this country in three short years, but has a plan and values that relate to them and show that he can speak to our common futures with optimism.