Kerry ReLaunches Campaign-Decides to Take On Dean
After restarting his campaign months after he began it, of the two choices facing John Kerry for a strategy (ignoring Dean for now and angle for the ABD vote in the end, or go on the attack to reclaim lost supporters), Kerry has apparently decided to go after the front runner and point out differences. According to the Boston Globe, Kerry will be running TV finally, and spending some of his large campaign funds, interestingly at the urging of his wife. He is not shying away from pointing out differences with Dean, and the Globe’s Glen Johnson has an interesting quote from Dean manager Joe Trippi, who gets in a good shot at the Kerry campaign staff when he says the problem with the Kerry effort to date isn’t with the Senator, but with his team. Kerry appears to have gotten generally favorable press coverage of the campaign restart, and all media outlets got their shots in as to why a campaign that acted like the front runner months ago needed to be restarted at all. Most media accounts also mentioned that Dean’s success was the primary reason for Kerry’s troubles and need to start over.
All true. Kerry also appears to be considering staff changes after the TV rollout, which is good also. But as William Saletan in Slate notes, getting aggressive with Dean doesn’t change the fact that even when Kerry gets mad, you can come away still not knowing where he stands on an issue. Now this may be nothing more than another “Goreism” hit piece on another “stiff” candidate by a member of the chattering class who has also taken swipes at Dean for having positions that aren’t that different from his competitors, and for having an arrogant and indifferent attitude towards national security.
But I don’t think it is inaccurate to say that maybe Kerry doesn’t do “mad” too well, and should possibly leave the “anger” gimmick to Dean. There is nothing wrong with telling voters clearly what your position is on three or four key issues, and admitting that you are not a screamer or an angry guy. You simply are disgusted with where this country is being led and are the best prepared candidate to fix what is wrong and lead the country back to a good future in a calm, intelligent, and well-reasoned manner. If you lose for not being a screamer, then so be it, and be prepared for this and turn it into your advantage. Bush wasn’t a screamer, and neither is Joe Lieberman, and look who is still around at the top of some Democratic polls right now. I know I have gone back and forth on this issue, but perhaps it is best for Kerry to not try and be something he isn’t, and settle down now comfortable in his own skin. Don’t repeat Gore’s mistake, and make it clear that if you want screaming, go to Dean; if you want a well-prepared electable Democrat who won’t make the mistakes that Bush has, vote for me. Repeat over and over again where you differ from Dean, why your position is better for the country and our future, and make jokes that you won’t be out-angering Dean. Save your most direct and cutting comments as sound bites against Bush. And please speak in shorter, more direct sentences about Bush’s faults and lies. Yes, we live in a sound bite media culture, and the best advertising you can get is sound bites that will stick with the viewers. But be comfortable with who you are and act like it.
Another matter than we in the web community need to confront and accept: Lieberman, while not being popular with the base, isn’t going away, and in fact is the only one of the candidates improving his position amongst registered Democrats and Democratic leaners in the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll. Granted the sample size for this poll is relatively small and consists of registered, rather than likely voters. But it must be acknowledged that these numbers come after months of Lieberman happily occupying the center-right of the Democratic top-tier field all to himself while trying to turn the contest into a “me against Dean” race. Regardless of what we think of his chances in the contests next year, the truth is that the man is holding firm and even gaining support while he stakes out his turf on the center-right.
With Dean now owning the angry part of the base, and Lieberman surviving so far as the DLC, Anybody-But-Dean anti-base candidate, maybe the best play Kerry can make is to grab the middle and appeal to both ends of the party while being comfortable and focused in doing so.