The more I watch the general election shape up, the more I'm convinced that it may not be as close as people think. I think most pundits and people think it is going to be another nail biter with Bush eeking it out. But I beg to differ. I'm going out on a crazy limb, but I Kerry just might win by 8-10 points. If nothing else, the Bush-Rove political machine has shown itself inept.
First of all, they completely misread the political landscape regarding the Democratic primaries. it is true that all the pundits and political handicappers were calling it for Dean and that Dean had raised an insurmountable $40 million, etc, but for the Rove team to have been caught off guard by the Kerry win is inexcusable. Kerry's win was not a surprise to Kerry supporters and a few analysts. In November and December, we all got a sense that we could win iowa, but the press and the pundits ignored that completely. For one, Kerry supporters are quiet but steely bunch. We were and are a group that goes down fighting, and fighting smart.
Anyway, the Bush political machine prepared a State of the union speech that was addressed to Dean. But it fell flat. The SOTU was right wing and the President's ratings fell afterwards. One miscalculation, i.e., writing with Dean in mind and not nimble enough to adjust to Kerry.
Miscalculation 2: Rove scheduled the SOTU right after Iowa and before NH. The idea was to steal at least 2 or even 3 days of news cycle from the Democrats and quash the news of the primary. Brilliant, except if Kerry wins hugely and Dean collapses, then nothing can get Iowa off the news cycle. Well, in fact, Kerry swept the floor with everyone else and Dean imploded and nothing could get the Kerry win off the front pages or the Dean scream off the headlines. Bush's speech, once brilliantly positioned to steal the spot light, was now clearly very ill-timed.
Miscalculation 3: When Dean was in his hey day. Whenver he gave his speeches at events, Dem. dinners, debates, etc., he always spoke about process, i.e., that he had raised such and such amount of money, average donation was $77 from so many people, blah, blah. He never talked message when he had that national spotlight. The mistake they made was that they thought that $40 mill was the election. Well they learned that people, not money, vote. Now, the Bush team is making the same miscalculation. All we hear is about how they will have $200 mill and they think that solves their problem. One thing that Dean learned was this, money's purposes is to buy you favorable recognition, but with Kerry winning and being catapulted to the national stage, Kerry got $100 million worth of free publicity which said "Senator John Kerry, Vietnam Vet, Fighter, WINNER!" Simple. You can't buy that kind of publicity. So having $200 mill means nothing, if that is nullified by the free positive publicity being given to your opponent.
Miscalculation 4: Bush has time, now, before he can begin to paint Kerry as Mass liberal and weak on national security. The thinking is that once this primary process is over, then the Bush team will unleash the fury of the millions and paint Kerry as a Massachussets Liberal and weak on national security. This would be a pre-emptive strike and paint Kerry negatively even before he gets out of the corner. However, the Bush team has been out flanked by Kerry. Kerry is riding a very strong wave of positive publicity, especially as a vet and war hero. On the other hand we are in the third week news cycle of Bush as AWOL. I've got news for Rove, the debate has already been framed: Heroic Vietnam Vet against AWOL bluster. Fair or not, Kerry v. Bush is already been framed by the media in these terms.
What may have once been an uneven playing field in Bush's favor has tilted somewhat steeply and he now has to climb out of that negativity. That already negates his $200 million because some of that is going to have to be spent to rehabilitate his declining favorability. This was the trick against Dean. We all watched as Dean's unfavorabilty increased and Kerry's went down. That's always the key, because people vote favorability as much as anything else. Favorability savs you publicity dollars, unfavorabilty sucks up money because you have the additional task of rehabilitating your image.
Miscalculation 5: Bush-Rove thought that AWOl story would dissappear. First Michael Moore called Bush a deserter and Clark would not disavow such comments, thus the first week of news cycle, of Bush associated with the word AWOL. The second week was McAulif calling Bush AWOL, that starting a media frenzy of investigations into the story. Bush goes on Russert and then spends 30 minutes having to deflect this AWOL story and promises to release ALL documents. This promise then gives this story one more week of life and then now a former Guardsman has come forward and is saying that Bush's records were cleansed. True or not, this is going to be at least another week of stories. And then another week if it dies out. But it won't because the Whitehouse is stonewalling on releasing documents and is all of sudden "finding" pieces here and there and jurnalists smell blood. The point is that there is going to be at least a 5-6 week news cycle associating Bush with AWOL, while, on the other hand, Kerry is riding a wave of positive publicity as a war hero. Negative news cycles are like inflation that eat into the value of your campaign war chest. There was a terrible miscalculation on the part of the Bush-Rove team that this story would die and they've only fanned the flames.
Miscalculation 6: Painting Kerry as Dukakis mode liberal. Kerry has one of the most compelling personal narratives of anyone who has ever run for President. Rich kid who volunteered to serve on what many considered crazy and suicidal type swift boat missions. There are stories of unparralled courage and adventure and on and on. Try as you may, it is extremely difficult to stick liberal on someone like that. Also he is constantly surrounded by firefighters and vietnam vets. He is a gun owner and apparently a great shot. he has a record as a tax cutter and was a fiscal conservative supporting Sen Hollins in the 80s on balancing budgets. He is pro business and viewed with some suspicion by labor unions even though he is pro-labor. So a play book that tries to define Kerry as liberal is old and tired. Also RNC chairman, Gillespie is trying to point to budget cutting requests by Kerry to show that he is weak on national defense. But the problem they have is that Kerry is a military war hero. The Mass liberal issue has legs only with conservatives who'd never vote for Kerry anyway, but it affects little, those who are wary of Bush. The one thing also that they hve failed to note about Kerry is that he is attracting an awful lot of Republicans. I know this as a Kerry supporter. In IA 6% of caucusers described themselves as conservative, a few thousand. Of the conservatives, Kerry got 43% of that vote. Something about Kerry is appealing to conservatives and the Rove team has not yet identified what it is. If they don't identify that so that they can go after it, then Kerry will pick off moderate Republicans right under their nose. Not that I am complaining about that.
There is more, but I'll leave it at this. I think the Bush Rove team has not shown itself adept at reading the situation and adapting to it. If I were a Bush supporter, I may not be frightened, but I'd begin to shift in my chair.