Wednesday, July 28, 2004
Well, Bush-partisans should be feeling pretty good right now. The Democrats are two days into their convention, and there is no evidence of a bounce. In fact, the bounce is going the other way - Bush's job approval numbers are up and he's gaining on Kerry in both head-to-head and 3-way (with Nader) polls. The Edwards selection appears to have had no impact on the race (unlike, for example, the Kemp selection in 1996 and the Lieberman selection in 2000, each of which generated a significant bounce).
The 9-11 Commission report appears to have benefitted the President, for three reasons: (1) it reminded people of terrorism, which is still a positive for Bush, as against Iraq, which is a negative; (2) it basically endorsed a wide-scope view of what this war is about - that we're at war with ideological Islamist groups with expansive aims, and that the war cannot be fought in a law-enforcement manner - which dovetails with Administration rhetoric; and (3) it was evenhanded in blaming Bush and Clinton for each failing to attend to the terrorism problem before 9-11, which benefits Bush because it effectively takes pre-9-11 performance off the table. In addition, consumer confidence is up (which probably reflects an improving climate for job seekers) and Iraq is (mostly) off the front page.
It seems to me, at this point, the news cycle probably favors the President. If the situation with Iran heats up, that benefits the President because no one is going to think Kerry is a better guy to be tough on Iran. If it doesn't, then that also benefits the President because it makes it look like his foreign policy is working. If things deteriorate badly in Iraq, that certainly hurts the President. Demographically, Bush's biggest problem is that he hasn't sewn up white working class voters, the main reason being the war in Iraq. But Kerry has a somewhat hard time taking advantage of this because (at this point in time) his position is that we need *more* troops, and the reason Iraq is a negative for Bush is that the country wants *out* of there. All in all, it doesn't put Kerry in a great spot.
Then let's take a look at the electoral map, at least as drawn by Rasmussen Reports. It shows Kerry with 227 Electoral Votes and Bush with 208, which is Bush's best relative showing since they've been compiling this chart. And while the chart shows Kerry in the lead, the lead is somewhat deceptive, because the tossups are disproportionately in states that Bush should be able to carry. Specifically: Rasmussen puts Arkansas, Florida and Virginia in the tossup category, and I find it hard to see Bush losing any of these three except in a blowout. Virginia and Arkansas are prime Bush territory, and Bush has been polling pretty well in Florida, Florida has been doing economically better than average over his Presidency, and the Jewish vote in Florida - while it will still go solidly to Kerry - should be less overwhelmingly Democratic now than it was in 2000 without Lieberman on the ticket and with Bush's strong pro-Israel record. (The flip side is that the Cuban vote in Florida should be less energized for the GOP without Elian in the headlines, and as the exile generation ages.) If we assume Bush gets all three of these states, that puts him at 254 Electoral Votes - 16 short of victory.
Where does he get the 16 votes? Well, Rasmussen has 4 tossup states that are reasonable Bush targets - Iowa (7), New Hampshire (4), Ohio (20) and Pennsylvania (21). New Mexico (5) has been trending increasingly Democratic, so I think that state will be tougher, but Bush shouldn't write it off. In addition, Bush won't write off Wisconsin (10) or Minnesota (10) which have been trending Republican and in each of which Bush has been polling OK. So Bush can win by taking any two of Iowa, Wisconsin or Minnesota, or by winning just Ohio, or by winning just Pennsylvania. In other words, assuming Bush holds on to his Southern base, Kerry needs to *sweep* the Midwest battleground states to deny Bush a victory. That should make Bush feel better than Kerry, I should think.
Of course, there are two important caveats to the above. First, Rasmussen has Missouri in Bush's column. That's questionable. If, on the one hand, I'm surprised to see Arkansas considered a tossup, I'm also surprised they have Missouri solid. Bush should be favored there, but Kerry shouldn't write off that state. By the same token, just as I think Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa are genuinely all in play for Bush, with 27 total Electoral Votes that Kerry absolutely needs to win, I think Arizona, Colorado and Nevada, with 24 Electoral Votes that Bush absolutely needs, are in play for Kerry, and Rasmussen has these as Bush states. Nevada is certainly a tossup, and while Bush is clearly favored in Colorado and Arizona, he will probably have to fight to defend that turf.
Notwithstanding these two caveats, though, I think the map still favors Bush rather than Kerry. Coupled with recent polling trends, and the likely shape of the news over the next couple of months, Democrats shouldn't be anything like as confident as they appear to be. Unless Kerry's acceptance speech is a home-run (long odds based on his history), the Dems probably come out of the convention roughly even in the polls. Bush should get a bounce from his convention, which puts Kerry behind going into Labor Day. Which means the Democrats are really counting on a knockout in the debates or bad news that is blamed on Bush. I wouldn't feel good about that if I were them.
This is still a very close race, and Kerry could definitely still win. But statements that this is Kerry's race to lose are decidedly premature.