Money talks

The Baehr Essentials

On Saturday, Smarty Jones will try to become the 13th winner of racing's Triple Crown, and the first to accomplish this since Affirmed in 1978.  Smarty Jones is an unbeaten three year—old, and was an impressive winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. The horse is expected to go off at odds of 2—5 or better in the Belmont Stakes. 

There is another new odds—on favorite today.  The Iowa Presidential electronic market is now open, and taking wagers. 

And George Bush is the early favorite. Everybody has an opinion on the current Presidential race, but now real money is speaking. In the first two days of trading, President Bush has been established as an 11—9 favorite. 

There are some factors which clearly favor the President's re—election, not the least of which is his ability to control the news to some extent. The challenger is just campaigning, the incumbent is already President.  Also, the news on the economy continues to be favorable. But in addition, in the past week or two, the news on Iraq has turned a bit more positive, with the naming of an Iraqi President, and appointment of Cabinet members for the next interim stage towards national elections. Sixty—two percent of Americans in a recent poll indicated that the Abu Ghraib scandal had been overplayed by the media, and it has faded a bit from the news this week. Add to this the mindset encouraged by Memorial Day, and the opening of the World War II Memorial in Washington, and  the country has had a bit of a patriotic surge recently to counter the images of the Iraqi prison. 

There has not been a new national poll in over a week. The Rasmussen Poll continues to show a deadlock (Thursday: 44—44).  However, Rasmussen also found that 54% of voters would consider voting for Bush, while only 49% would for Kerry. There is a margin of error for this type of question, as with all others, so caution is advised.   Rasmussen's survey also indicates that only 12% of voters are undecided. Within this group, men outnumber women (56% to 44%, and there are slightly more self—described moderates than conservatives, and many more conservatives than liberals. At the moment, if pushed for a choice, these swing voters lean slightly to Kerry by a 3% plurality. 

This survey confirms what many others have stated about this race, that high percentages of the population have already made up their minds.  But it differs in another way, in that the undecideds could really go either way. Some other pollsters have hypothesized that those who are not already for the President, after three and a half years, are unlikely to decide to support him in the next few months. Hence, according to this theory, the undecideds will more likely swing to Kerry in the end than to Bush, and give him the victory.

There has been a series of new state polls, and here the news is much better for the President than in last week's battleground state polls released by John Zogby. The Zogby state surveys are online polls, and may be less reliable in terms of sampling than his national telephone interviews. In any case, two new Ohio polls give Bush the lead by 2 and 6 points, while Zogby had Kerry ahead by almost 5% in the state. I have my doubts that Zogby got it right in a few other states as well, including Missouri, and Nevada, where he shows Kerry ahead in both cases.  In several competitive states, new state polls show the race much closer than in Zogby's survey (Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania), and in Michigan Zogby shows Kerry comfortably ahead, while another recent poll in the same state shows Bush ahead.

The number of states in play seems to be increasing. The Democrats have started advertising in Virginia, which last voted for a Democrat for President in 1964.  Despite big poll leads for Bush, Kerry has visited Louisiana three times, and is advertising there.  If John Edwards joins the ticket, North Carolina will become more of a target for the Democrats. Colorado is another state the Democrats may contest more seriously. On the Republican side, decisions will have to be made about two very expensive states for TV advertising, New Jersey, and California, which show signs of being more competitive than expected, five months out.

Some of this posturing by the campaigns as to which states are in play is no more than a head fake. The President will have a financial advantage over Kerry in the general election race. Bush will have two months to spend his $75 million in federal funds after the early September Republican convention, while Kerry has three months to make his money last, after the earlier Democratic convention in July. In August, while Kerry will have to spend his general election funds, Bush will still be able to advertise with money from his existing campaign war chest.  This is what led to Kerry's one week of dithering over whether to delay his acceptance of his party's nomination. So some of the posturing by the Democrats about the greater number of competitive states is likely an attempt to lessen the Bush money advantage, by diverting Bush into spending on states that are probably safely Republican.

The Democrats' fund raising disadvantage will certainly be overcome to some extent by the Democrats' big advantage in independent spending by 527 groups. However, these groups are not allowed to coordinate their activities with the Presidential campaigns, and their messages are almost entirely negative, rather than positive messages for their candidate of choice. These groups have had a very hard edge to their ads so far, and they may drive more voters away than the number they recruit.

While last week's insight of the week from the punditry was that Kerry was pulling away, there is a lot less of this talk this week. As I have argued since I started writing this column, I expect this to be very close, and to come down to three states: Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.  If either candidate wins two, he is the likely winner.

Richard Baehr is a columnist for The American Thinker