Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Guru Charlie Cook On The Race

Conventional wisdom has it that Kerry was ahead and now he's not. At best he's tied, at worst he's a point or so behind Bush. National Journal's Charlie Cook has an interesting take on the state of the race right now:

Bush campaign operatives argue that one cause of this small shift from Kerry to Bush was Kerry's statement that he would have attacked Iraq. My own view is that Kerry has been dinged by the questions raised about his record in Vietnam. Plus, the swift-boat controversy dominated the political news coverage, suppressing other issues. A week when the focus is on the economy and jobs, or on Iraq and casualties, the management of the war, and weapons of mass destruction is a good week for Kerry and a bad week for Bush. When the focus is on almost anything else, it's very likely to be a good week for Bush and a bad week for Kerry.

The point is that in the absence of some major external event or a monumental screw up by Bush or Kerry in this fall's presidential debates, neither candidate is likely to build a significant, sustainable lead. One can look at all the relevant factors in the race and shade it in one direction or the other.

For example, I put great weight in the enormous levels of pessimism among undecided voters and their apparently low opinion of Bush. I think the president's climb is still a bit uphill. My experience tells me that undecided voters invariably break against well-known, well-defined incumbents. Bush strategists acknowledge that the undecided voters are a tough nut to crack. But they argue that the campaign can offset the undecided voters who will break for Kerry by turning out a pool of conservative and Republican-leaning infrequent voters. Given the experience of 2002, when Republicans were able to elevate voter turnout far above normal in their strong areas, this is a plausible tactic, although it's obviously harder to do in a presidential election when turnout is going to be higher anyway.


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