Kerry Is Lucky To Be Competitive In The Polls
The conventional wisdom inside the Beltway and in the media is that George W. Bush has been battering John Kerry around like a rag doll and dragging his poll numbers down as a result of the large and negative Bush media campaign. By some accounts, Bush has dumped upwards of $22 million into ads just in the last three weeks, and it has come at a time when the Kerry campaign has gone to sleep. Sure, Kerry went on vacation without a Tier Two or surrogate strategy lined up to cover for him. Sure, Kerry is now recovering from another surgery and will be out of action until Sunday. Sure, Bush and Rove are simply better than Kerry and his people, especially at spending money for a negative and misleading campaign.
But I would argue that it is a minor surprise that Kerry is only down several points in some polls, and is still ahead in the Los Angeles Times poll taken through Tuesday. This poll has a large sample and was taken after the latest Bush onslaught, and after the weekend pushback from the White House against Dick Clarke's media tour. And yet, Kerry was still ahead three points after all of this. Why is this surprising?
First, the Kerry campaign has been insufficient and inept to date. There is no excuse for not expecting what Rove was going to do coming out of the gate, and yet Cahill and Shrum allowed Rove to paint Kerry and set the negatives before Kerry could do the same to them. Again, where the hell are the surrogates and the Tier Two campaign? Where the hell is the Big Dog?
Second, although it is acceptable to have spent time raising money early, the campaign has still not settled on 3-4 key issues or messages for this race. In fact, Kerry is all over the board with ridiculous issues and charges. His corporate tax incentives to bring jobs back home are ill-conceived and fail three basic tests: first, the plan doesn't lower marginal corporate tax rates sufficiently to make a difference. Second, the plan doesn't broaden the corporate tax base. And third, the plan moves towards more gimmicks and less simplification.
He follows up this poor excuse for an outsourcing remedy with an empty attack on Bush for doing nothing to deal with rising gas prices. First, it is more realistic to blast Bush for having a tunnel-visioned energy policy of drill, drill, drill, and failing to offer a serious policy for nearly four years now, than it is to blame him for why the Saudis are being greedy once again. Then Rove attacks with a lie-ridden claim about Kerry and a decade-old tax proposal. Instead of getting out in front of Bush on the issue of energy, Kerry finds himself once again responding to lies instead of pointing out that Bush's inaction for three years has led to the biggest tax increase of all, a nearly eighty-cent per gallon rise in gas prices. Forget tax votes from 1994, what about the George W. Bush tax increase of today? And what about some imagination here? Why not throw a monkey wrench in the debate here: suggest that the United States form an OPEC-busting energy partnership with Mexico, Venezuela, African nations, and Russia to supply us with our near term energy needs, and send a signal that Saudi Arabia can swim in its crude? Of course the Bush White House will deride such a proposal, but that's the point. In doing so they would have to defend the Saudis and go against sources from our hemisphere and Russia, calling into question where their priorities lie.
Lastly, it may have been wise for Kerry to stay out of the Clarke media tour and White House counterpunch, but it deprived him of the opportunity to lay out a competing antiterrorism and national security policy. The firefight between Clarke and the White House was the perfect backdrop for Kerry rise above it and spend several days telling the country what he would do differently from this point on than what little Bush has done to date.
The Kerry guys aren't doing so well yet, and they better get off their asses soon with an effective attack campaign. They can't keep counting on doing relatively well in the polls while they do little to justify it. If they keep this up, the next $20 million dumped by Bush will be lethal.