Kerry's Negatives Are Climbing
For those of you who feel that I am overreacting to Kerry's lack of response to the Bush smears, and should just let the guy have his vacation, I show you this.
When your opponent clearly has no choice but to drive up your negatives, you must be prepared for such a strategy and hit them first and often. Yet as of Saturday according to this poll from Newsweek, Bush's assault and Kerry's lack of pre-emptive attack and effective counterattack has resulted in Kerry's negatives going up from 27% to 36% in just one month. Another week of this from Bush unopposed by Kerry will only drive the numbers up further.
Sure, the Clarke revelations and the 9/11 Commission hearings this week will help push negatives on top of Bush, but if you adopt this "the news will help us" approach, you rely upon the media doing its job objectively in reporting these developments. They already have not done so. Witness the Judith Miller piece in today's NYT (which Josh Marshall blasts here), where she adopts the White House emphasis of what happened after 9/11 rather than focusing on the real story, which is what Clarke actually said last night about what happened (or didn't happen) prior to 9/11.
The White House has known what is in Clarke's book for months, so they have been prepared for this and pushed the media towards the more-defendable post-9/11 record here. Condi even got a long unrebutted piece in the Post today. Yet there was no offensive from the Kerry campaign ready to go today highlighting the pre-9/11 angle, even though Clarke and Rand Beers teach a class together and are good friends. Instead, what we are left with are statements that Kerry is reading the book. That's a poor substitute for an effective attack strategy. If you assume that the media will cover the news objectively and that voters will see the real story here, then you are repeating the Gore mistakes from 2000. The campaign has to make the story and hammer the media into covering it.
And if you also assume that Kerry can turn around these climbing negatives over the coming months after having lost key ground over the last two weeks, then you also forget what we learned in 2000. Rove plants an image in voters' minds that they want to reinforce over and over again in the coming months. Voters liked it when Kerry was aggressive and taking it to Bush. Now he has disappeared and will need to use his precious money to buy back some positives and lower his negatives, instead of driving up Bush's negatives further. Kerry's attacks now, in an environment where he is even or now behind Bush in the polls, will be ascribed by the White House and the compliant media as coming from a candidate of questionable veracity and in desperation.
There is still no Tier Two effort underway with surrogates to go after Bush. These guys have had the nomination in their grasp for weeks now, but it seems like they have treaded water and the momentum has stopped. And no, it isn't about money, as the Tier Two effort doesn't cost as much as you would think. It would be far different if Kerry had gone on vacation with a Tier Two strategy already in place and with surrogates hitting the Sunday chatfests and going around the country hammering Bush from all directions. It would have been better yet if Kerry's campaign had laid some pre-Clarke groundwork last week on the subject of Bush's pre-9/11 lack of attention to Al Qaeda. They, like the rest of us, have known that the book and the 9/11 hearings were coming this week.
I am concerned about how aggressive the Kerry campaign will be in going directly at Bush. I am even more so after reading this:
"This is our chance to say Americans have a real choice, and we don't have to define the president because the people have been living through his real and meaningful failures every day," campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill told The Associated Press.
Wrong. You do have to define the president and drive the point home. Why? Because Bush's efforts to define Kerry candidate have already started working.
But private polls conducted for Democrats and Republicans alike show that Bush's ads have helped lower Kerry's favorability rating. Bush accelerated his campaign effort after watching his job approval rating plummet amid a sagging economy and trouble in Iraq.
At least the campaign rolled out its first new ad in key battleground states this morning. But it is somewhat alarming to hear that the campaign found the speed of the Bush assault “startling”, as if no one inside the campaign read any books on Rove. Frankly, I'm not convinced yet that Cahill, Bob Shrum, or the rest of them can run a national campaign aggressively enough against these guys. It is one thing to run in the primaries against several others candidates all shooting at Bush, waiting for each of them to make mistakes and fall by the wayside. It is another thing to then pivot and begin immediately going toe-to-toe against proven aggressive campaigners with tons of money and every incentive to make voters forget the last four years by smearing you. And yet at this late date after the two-week barrage, Cahill says they don't have to define the president? Yikes!
Those of you who find my attitude interesting on this because of my longstanding support for Kerry need to realize that I cannot tolerate poor campaigns when the lessons to be learned are out there plainly for all to see. If you want to believe that now is the time for Kerry to get some rest because he has plenty of time to make this ground up, then you are gambling with chips that Kerry doesn't have against a dealer of known behavior, when Kerry didn't need to play these chips in the first place.
Anyway, enough on this. Let's hope I am wrong and those of you who think I am too negative on this are correct.