All of a sudden, the conventional wisdom is talking Bush loses and the edgy folk are talking Kerry landslide. Even Howard Kurtz is hedging his bets.

This is a common euphoric moment between the challenger's convention and the incumbent's. It's the bounce, stupid. Remember how Gore was way up in the polls at this point four years ago?

I still think the fundamentals are there for Kerry to pull it out, maybe by a lot, but this euphoria is way premature. First, it's highly likely that the Republican convention will produce a Bush bounce (do I hear anyone predicting the 15% the Bushies predicted for Kerry?). Republicans are good at TV events, and they are working hard to put their more sensible, moderate wing front and center while keeping the frightening types in the closet.

If the post-convention bounce is likely, the next thing is a dead cert: there is one absolute constant in the Bush family M.O. when threatened electorally—go deeply negative, ideally via surrogates. I first saw this in action in the Republican Presidential primary in Connecticut in 1980, when for a time it looked as John Anderson might carry one of GHW Bush's several home states. All of a sudden anonymous fliers, mass telephone calls, and ads on small radio stations blanketed the state making false allegations against Anderson such as that he wanted to eliminate social security. And all of a sudden GHWB's poll number bottomed out.

Indeed, it looks to me as if the smear campaign is already well under way. If the Kerry people know how to respond to this beyond posing with generals and other veterans (which is good, but not enough), they've yet to demonstrate it. It's always possible the voters will rise above this sort of smear, or that the press will treat it sufficiently critically to defang it, but 'hope is not a strategy'.

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5 Responses to Whoa

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  2. MP says:

    “Indeed, it looks to me as if the smear campaign is already well under way.”

    People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

  3. Chris says:

    To be sure, the Demcrats don’t really have to throw stones. All they need to do is report exactly what the Bush administration has done, and the effect may as well be described as a smear campaign.

    Back to Michael’s point, though, from what I understand, re-elections tend to be seen as referendums on the incumbent. That is, the incumbent has the burden of proof for showing that he/she merits another term. A Bush re-election campaign based significantly on negative ads might be interpreted–fairly or unfairly–as a confession that the current administration hasn’t any accomplishments to report. Again, I’m having a hard time understanding Republican political strategy. Whatever they do sounds good in the short-term, but has incredible risk of rebounding back to them catastrophically (including FL voting questions, attacking Kerry’s military record, among others). This seems to be characteristic of all decisions made by this administration.

  4. Jonathan says:

    Of course, there is one very critical difference between now and 2000: Bush is now an incumbent, a known quantity with a record. This known quantity got next to no bounce out of his last major speech to the nation (his state-of-the-union speech).

    Historically, incumbents get very little bounce out of their conventions for just this reason. Nonetheless, I’m hedging my bets with a prediction for a 5 point bounce. I could be going high; from all indications the GOP convention will not be a media masterpiece, what with Arnold, rather than Rudy, being televised, competition from football preseason, etc.


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