The Gipper`s final hurrah

The Baehr Essentials

President Reagan`s death and funeral appear to have lifted the current President and his party in all the new polls out this week.  Less than two weeks ago, Senator Kerry jumped out to a six or seven point lead in two national polls, Gallup and the LA Times.  This week, Bush leads by from one to three points in several national surveys. For a race that has been very close since Senator Kerry clinched his party's nomination, this turn is not insignificant.

I have been in Europe and did not see the American coverage of the Reagan funeral and events. As many travelers know, CNN International is significantly less friendly to the mother country than CNN in America, much as the International Herald Tribune, now solely owned by the New York Times, makes the New York Times itself seem fair and balanced.   I have relied on these sources for the Reagan events, and both CNN and the Tribune strained to give Reagan their blessing at least for his communication skills, which were compared of course to those of the current White House occupant.   But the reader or viewer was also reminded constantly about Iran Contra, AIDS, deficits, the 'failure' of supply side tax cuts, and Reagan's good fortune to have had Gorbachev as his opposite number in the Soviet Union.

From email contact with friends, it is apparent that I missed a weeklong show of great dignity and respect, and an outpouring of sympathy and support for Reagan, and his family. Reagan was elected twice by solid majorities. His first victim, the hapless Jimmy Carter, won fewer electoral votes than any other defeated incumbent in history, just 49. For Walter Mondale in 1984, it was worse. A 3,000 vote victory in his home state of Minnesota was all that prevented a 50 state sweep for Reagan.

Clearly Reagan was a popular President. But many Americans were first introduced to Reagan last week. Ninety million Americans have been born since Reagan first took office. Another thirty million had not yet reached third grade by the time he was inaugurated.  Add twenty million immigrants who have come here the last two decades.  So the Reagan legacy was new news for 40% of the country, and a refresher for many of the rest.

Next week begins the hysteria and hype for the Bill Clinton book tour.  It is fair to say that the Reagan events have taken some of the air out of that balloon.  The former President seemed taken aback this week by the warm words offered by President Bush at the unveiling of the official Clinton portrait at the White House. When the curtain came off the picture, it only got worse, as Clinton appeared wooden and sullen, next to a smiling new Hillary first lady portrait.  Legitimate comparisons of the Reagan and Clinton achievements will not be flattering to the former Arkansas governor.

The Rasmussen poll surveys support for Congressional candidates by a generic Republican versus Democratic choice. The GOP is up 5 points this week in this survey too. Then there are the state polls. A new Florida poll gives Bush a 7 point lead in the state that was effectively a tie last time around. William Saletan says Bush has to be considered the favorite in West Virginia, a state he won in an upset in 2000. New Los Angeles Times state surveys give Bush an 11 point lead in Missouri, a state he won narrowly last time around, and a small lead  in Wisconsin, a state he narrowly lost. All the Pennsylvania polls except Zogby show the race effectively tied. Gore won the state by 5 points last time.

We are just under 20 weeks to the election. Many ups and downs remain for the two candidates. The conventions will give each nominee a temporary boost for a short period. The debates could prove decisive. A particular Vice Presidential selection could help Kerry nationally or in selected states. Events in Iraq, or terror at home could cause big swings in the race. Americans may wake up one day and realize a few hundred thousand new jobs are being created each month, and not outsourced to India or Mexico.

But for now, the Reagan glow has helped the President. An ideological, decisive President has cast his last spell on the electorate and the country. He never dined at the Waffle House.