Thursday, August 26, 2004
Just a brief note about the polls: I think Bush partisans are right to be optimistic at this point, but they shouldn't get carried away. The trend in the polls is pretty much unmistakeable: a small uptick in support for Bush pretty much across the board and a more significant drop for Kerry. Bush appears to be getting a bigger margin in solid Bush states, taking a slight lead from Kerry in battleground states that Bush must win like Florida, Arkansas and Ohio where a few weeks ago a number of polls showed Bush slightly behind, and even coming into contention in states that Kerry absolutely has to win, like Michigan and Wisconsin. Even the Iowa Electronic Market has taken note.
I think two things are happening. First, Bush is firming up support from his base. That's certainly what Gallup was indicating a week ago. I suspect that conservative voters who never seriously considered voting for Kerry but who are angry with Bush (about Iraq, or about immigration, or about domestic spending) are coming home out of antipathy for Kerry or residual support for Bush on social issues. (Buchanan - who is critical of Bush on a wide array of policies from the Iraq war to his support for Israel to his overspending to his (general) support for free trade to immigration to . . . I've lost track of how many things Buchanan disagrees with Bush on. Anyhow, Buchanan says he's still supporting Bush largely because of his likely impact on the courts and because Kerry won't be better than Bush on anything that matters.) Second, I suspect that Kerry has lost supporters to the "undecided" column for two reasons: because of the ads taken out by Swift Boat veterans who despise him and because he is resolutely incoherent on Iraq in a way that makes people really doubt whether he could be Commander in Chief.
But Bush still has to close the sale. He's the incumbent; the election is going to be a referendum on him, not John Kerry. Bush, of course, has to sow doubt about Kerry, and that's very appropriate. The recent what-Kerry-says-vs.-what-he-does are effective negative ads. But if we come into the home stretch with 46% of voters for Bush and 45% for Kerry, with the rest undecided, Bush is going to lose, because those undecideds are going to break for Kerry. Kerry can pretty much win just by convincing enough people that another guy deserves a shot; whether the ideal other guy is him is secondary. Bush has got to close the sale that he specifically deserves another term.
Bush has got to open a meaningful lead during and right after the convention. And then he has to keep working to maintain that lead; he can't sit back and coast like he did in 2000. Kerry is, as they say, a good closer. He's going to be more dangerous in the debates than Gore was. He's going to pull out everything he has in the last two weeks of the election, knowing that at that point there won't be time for a new rebuttal. Again, all Kerry has to do is keep Bush within striking distance; he doesn't have to pull way ahead this early to beat him. Bush is the one who needs to pull well ahead, over the next two weeks, and then stay there.