Kerry's Last Man Standing Approach Ensures A Nail-Biter
You’ll recall that last week I opined that Kerry’s campaign strategy had basically evolved into a “Last Man Standing” approach. Under this scenario Kerry eschews any hope of getting voters to love or even like him very much and instead focuses on demonstrating that at the end of the race he will be there as a competent nonthreatening alternative to the growingly incompetent incumbent. My thoughts on this originated from several Howard Fineman dispatches from the campaign, and as Yuval noted in his earlier post now Fineman has another story out that confirms this is what the Kerry camp is aiming for.
We can debate the wisdom of this approach until the cows come home, and there are good arguments on both sides. I still cling to my “Tier One/Tier Two” strategy of having a positive campaign headed by Kerry supported by a negative campaign headed by surrogates and a political killer campaign consultant, slamming Bush’s record on a daily basis to fire up not only the base, but to also highlight to swing voters the dangers of putting Bush back into office for another four years. But it appears clear that Camp Kerry has no intention of going down this road, and instead intends to run the “Last Man Standing” campaign (or the alternatively-described “sock puppet strategy”), with Kerry as the sole point person until he names a running mate just before the convention. In the face of Bush’s largely negative and deceitful campaign against Kerry, this is a huge risk, even though Kerry is doing better in battleground states with this approach. The problem however is that Kerry is not only failing to point out differences with Bush, which will adversely affect his ability to pull in swing voters, but he is putting the base to sleep, which was the basis for Joe Trippi’s comments sourced in Yuval’s earlier post. And Trippi’s other point, that Kerry got to where he is not because of bringing passionate supporters aboard, but rather by waiting for his opponents to implode is dead-on. Kerry by design wanted to be in the right place at the right time, looking electable. In other words, he was the last man standing.
Sure, there are good reasons for Kerry to wait for Bush to implode given events likely to come. Time magazine reports that an email has been uncovered which links Cheney to Halliburton’s success at getting the scandalous no-bid, graft-infested contracts they have received. Newsweek reports that evidence is mounting of a Pentagon-led cover-up of the prison abuse story, even as more facts trickle out indicating that the problem is far more widespread than Bush’s claim of an isolated problem. And as Mary noted in her post below, the façade is crumbling that Saudi Arabia can ensure security over its oil industry enough to keep prices from climbing even higher, as Al Qaeda sees a real opportunity to not only bring down the royal family but also create economic damage as well.
Another key question though is whether or not the Last Man Standing approach will work against Rove, at a time when it is possible for the Democrats to retake either the House or the Senate? Well, a unified campaign with Kerry at the head may in fact not be what many of the Democratic challengers want this year anyway, and it is in their interests to run against Bush and the GOP incumbents, but not necessarily arm-in-arm with Kerry. So in that sense, a cautious Kerry campaign helps the party’s chances to win back one or both houses under the radar screen. I think Kerry is clearly aiming here to allow individual candidates to run separate of him, with him at the top of the ticket not doing any harm to them, with the hope that at the end of the race in the first week of November we find that Kerry backs into the White House and finds himself with a Congress that he can work with. It will however be a Congress that owes him little, and it of course assumes that Last Man Standing will work because Bush keeps sliding downward.
It is a large risk, and I still wish there were more people hammering Bush every day. Without an aggressive campaign by Kerry, we are destined to see days and weeks on end of back and forth daily tracking polls until one of the candidates establishes a trend to break away somewhat. And with the GOP convention later in the cycle and with Kerry not establishing the negatives on Bush early enough to offset Bush’s post-convention bounce, it may be a nail-biter every day between Labor Day and Election Day. Given what happened in Florida in 2000 and the Help America Vote Act, a close race of several points leading up to Election Day is the last thing we need.