Heading Into The Final Debate
Heading into the final debate tonight, Adam Nagourney of the New York Times runs a good piece on campaign strategy. In his piece, he summarizes how each campaign is focusing its remaining efforts and how the debates have undercut White House assumptions about how they would have wrapped up this race by now, despite the “we always thought it would be close” blather from the GOP.
President Bush and Senator John Kerry meet in their final presidential debate on Wednesday night after two encounters that polls suggest weakened Mr. Bush and fortified Mr. Kerry, leaving some Republicans concerned that the final 20 days of the contest would be more competitive than they had expected.
Republicans who had been confident of victory before the debates said they were uneasy as Mr. Bush returns to a format - 90 minutes of questions from one moderator - that has seemed to play to the strength of Mr. Kerry, a 20-year senator and former prosecutor. Mr. Kerry burnished his credentials in the first two debates, averting an early collapse that Republicans had sought, and Mr. Bush has lost some or all of the lead he had before their first debate in Florida on Sept. 30, a series of recent polls suggests.
Republicans are also concerned that the debate, at 9 p.m. Eastern time in Tempe, Ariz., is the only one devoted to domestic policy, and polls show Mr. Kerry has an edge on many of those issues.
"By any objective measure - if Republicans are going to be intellectually honest with ourselves - prior to the first debate, we were pretty comfortable, '' said Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster.”It was a chance for the president to lay him out and just lock it. In the past two weeks, that's been turned on its head."
Even the spin from the RNC and White House is being smacked down by more honest GOP consultants:
Mr. Bush's aides and some Republicans said they were not worried about how the race was shaping up, saying they had always expected it to tighten.
"Kerry gained some traction because the expectations were set so low,'' said Sig Rogich, a veteran Republican consultant. ''But I think it's now the president's to lose. I don't think the American people are going to want to change direction at this particular time."
Mr. Fabrizio, the Republican pollster, said Mr. Bush's advisers were expressing confidence at their peril. "We should be concerned,'' he said.”The race is close. This whole 'We expected it to get close again' thing, I just don't buy it."
A note for Sig: whose expectations on whom were set so low? It was the White House that played up Kerry’s debating ability, and Kerry has exceeded even those lofty spin jobs by Rove to the point that voters now assume that Kerry will win again tonight. You guys in the GOP are to blame for screwing up the expectations game. Of course, it doesn’t help that your guy needed electronic assistance to screw up the first debate, and then needed more electronic assistance to practically charge into the moderator at the second debate. And your candidate continues to lie in his ads, but we expect that now.
Nagourney notes that Bush is focusing his remaining efforts by pumping up his base with the “Kerry is a liberal” tag line, a staple of the GOP for several decades. Kerry is focusing his remaining energy on going after swing voters while taking steps to get the base to come home with an appeal based on Bush’s special interest ties and failed domestic record, like on health care.
We’ll see how it all plays out tonight.