Tuesday :: Aug 31, 2004
Tier Two, Where Are You?
In spite of all the hyperventilating on the part of liberal bloggers, I think it's reasonable to conclude that Kerry emerged relatively unscathed from the SBVT fiasco, as the fresh-from-vacation Ruy Teixeira points out:
The poll that best provides a before-SBVT damage and after-SBVT damage picture of the horse race is the Gallup poll. That's because Gallup polled both on August 9-11--about a week before media coverage of SBVT really heated up--and on August 23-25, right after the coverage peaked and just as the Kerry campaign began its push-back.
What do the Gallup numbers show? As Gallup's release on their latest poll succinctly puts it: "No Change in Presidential Race Despite Attack Ads". Just so.
In fact, to the extent their numbers show change, it's in the opposite direction to the one everyone is assuming. In their August 9-11 poll, Kerry was behind by one point (47-48) among RVs; in their August 23-25 poll, Kerry's ahead by a point (48-47). (Bush's approval rating also declines by 2 ponts between the two surveys).
However, as I mentioned last week, the Kerry campaign's flatfooted response to the SBVT attack (in spite of the fact that the group has been in the public eye since the spring) doesn't exactly inspire a lot of confidence in the Shrum/Cahill brain trust. Further confirmation is provided in this interesting Kos diary, which quotes a Mickey Kaus tidbit:
P.S.: kf demands more reporting on what the Note calls the "dissension" in the "wobbling" Kerry campaign. What kf hears--i.e. this is the rumor, not necessarily the truth--is that Kerry aides Shrum and Cahill are being blamed for the slow reaction to the Swifties. The candidate, it's said, wanted to fight back but was restrained. (How odd if Kerry ended up blaming his staff!) Underlying the anti-Shrumism is the dissatisfaction of some Kerry advisers with from the "battleground" strategy of peeling off a few key Bush states rather than attempting a big, general shift of public opinion. ...
Now, as the standard-bearer of the Zell Miller wing of the Democratic Party (and an avowed Shrum hater to boot), anything Kaus writes should be taken with several grains of salt. However, this bit of gossip dovetails with Steve's complaint about Shrum's inability/unwillingness to muster an effective Tier Two strategy against the Bush campaign.
Ultimately, I think Kerry will win because of the palpable dissatisfaction with the incumbent (indeed, if this was an open election, as in 1988 or 2000, a Shrum-led Kerry campaign would likely have been eaten alive by the Atwaterites). However, the closest analogy I can think of is 1976, where many voters weren't necessarily voting for Jimmy Carter as they were voting against Ford/Nixon. Therefore, in order to avoid a repeat of 1980, Kerry is going to have to adopt a much more aggressive tack, and dumping Mr. "0 for 8 in national elections" would be a good start.
P.S. I strongly urge all of you to go back and read Steve's now-prescient post from early June on this subject. For what it's worth, the events of the last month have made me a convert to the "Tier Two" strategy that Steve has been plugging.
UPDATE: Wow. Check out this Al Hunt scoop, courtesy of Political Wire:
Kerry Weighs Campaign Shake UpEr, better late than never?
"As the Bush campaign commands an exquisitely directed convention, the faltering Kerry campaign might be on the verge of a major shake-up," the Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt reports. Aides says Kerry is "bouncing off the walls" in frustration.
The campaign "command structure" is "often frozen -- or at least tempered -- by too many chefs, a too-heavy reliance on polls or focus groups and an aversion to risks. As a result, the message often is muddled and the reaction to hard-hitting attacks from Republicans often is slow and unconvincing."
"A few very well-connected Democrats report something will occur in the next few days. One person who might assume more control is Joe Lockhart, a former press secretary to Bill Clinton and a respected public-relations figure, but one who has almost no experience in the high-stakes world of presidential campaigns. Another possibility: veteran Democratic politico John Sasso, currently at the Democratic National Committee."
UPDATE II: More from Political Wire:
The National Journal reports Kerry's campaign today "announced the official addition of several 'key new staff' for the race's final weeks. Joe Lockhart joins as a senior adviser, while Joel Johnson will be director of rapid response; other additions include Lori Denham, Karen Finney, Dr. Susan Rice and former Congressman Mel Levine. Rumor has it that the recent Swift Boat skirmishes are at least part of the reason behind the hires."That's right kids, it only took until August 31st to designate a "director of rapid response." Cheers!