With Money Flowing In And Voters' Iraq And Economic Concerns, Kerry Gets His Second Chance
Despite the Administration’s oft-claimed success stemming from the March jobs report, consumer confidence is actually sinking, and first-time filings for unemployment claims went up unexpectedly last week by 30,000 to 360,000. And industrial production actually went down in March unexpectedly, with manufacturing flat.
According to the Ipsos/Public Affairs poll for the Associated Press, consumer confidence sank in early April from much higher numbers in March, and this was after the Bush Administration wallowed in its alleged success from the announcement of 308,000 new and largely part-time jobs in March. The same poll had an “approve” rating for Bush of 48% and a “disapprove” rating of 50%, with 32% of those saying they strongly disapprove of the job that Bush is doing, the largest ever. But on the economy, the disapproval rating for Bush goes up to 53%. Again, this was after the jobs report came out.
Similarly, the preliminary University of Michigan consumer confidence survey unexpectedly slipped in early April from March.
Recent polls show opportunities for both Bush and Kerry. Bush is supposedly strongest on national security with voters, and a recent AP/Ipsos poll shows that concerns over terrorism and Iraq are increasing. But as much as that might be good news for Bush, (as Mary and Pessimist noted earlier in the week) his pitch that his tax cuts are working to create jobs are in fact playing against voters’ desires for a balanced budget instead of tax cuts. Furthermore, many voters don’t feel that their taxes have been reduced under Bush and feel instead that they have gone up, making such an appeal by Bush of limited value.
All of this raises questions over what messages Kerry should choose for his attacks. Bush and his supporters can plausibly claim that the economy is getting better in some quarters as a result of the Bush tax cuts and low interest rates. They of course hope that the employment numbers evolve into evidence of sustained well-paying full-time job growth, with retail sales and business spending figures supposedly indicating such trends will occur. Yet consumer confidence isn’t picking up, and in fact is going down, prodded along by rising gas prices, increasing health care costs, and rising fears over Iraq and terrorism.
Kerry is at an interesting point in his campaign, where due to outstanding fundraising success he can now spend money to re-introduce himself to voters and has the chance to overcome the expensive and failed Bush effort to paint him negatively. This is coming at a time when Bush is actually retrenching and cutting back on his media spending. With so many people vying for a role in setting the Kerry message, it doesn’t appear to be very hard to find several issues to run on. First, Kerry should make it clear to voters as he is doing that Bush has become a one-trick pony who, when in doubt, makes everything about terror. Second, as Terry Neal in the Post notes, Kerry is not taking a different position from Bush on Iraq, other than to blame the Administration’s motives and lack of competence for the terrible situation we and our soldiers are in (even Bill Kristol is complimenting Kerry on this). This is smart, because voters will remain highly supportive of our troops and still think we were right to topple Hussein. Plus Kerry is reminding voters that what Bush is doing now is what Kerry has been suggesting himself.
Third, in order to draw easy to understand distinctions between Bush and himself, Kerry should emphasize the Bush deficits and his commitment to return to Clintonian fiscal discipline, as the polls also show that voters would rather have balanced budgets and domestic priorities than tax cuts. Another great issue for Kerry to emphasize in drawing distinctions, especially with swing voters, is the Bush record on the environment and the total takeover of our environmental protection by industries than contribute to Bush. Showing voters what another four years of corporate ownership of our environmental protection apparatus will do to the public and especially children’s health will make that case quite well. Health care is another issue where Kerry should link the Medicare drug bill fiasco with Bush inaction on improving the plight of the uninsured, by making the case that the country cannot afford to let Bush and his corporate check writers do to the uninsured what the drug and HMO industry did to seniors. Linking energy independence to our national security can be another issue where Kerry can draw simple distinctions from Bush that will resonate with swing voters and help him introduce himself effectively. These are in addition to the national security ideas I raised last week.
The fact that consumer confidence is dropping and unemployment claims and doubts about Iraq are rising, at a time when Kerry has the money and opportunity to reestablish himself with voters, provides him with another chance to gain traction against a candidate who just blew upwards of $50 million for no net gain.