A big whoop?

The Baehr Essentials

Last week, Bush campaign strategist Matthew Dowd emailed Bush supporters that they should expect to see a 15 point bounce for John Kerry in the next month. This bounce would be consistent with those for candidates in previous campaigns, Dowd said, and would be the product of the selection of a Vice Presidential nominee and the positive publicity from the Democratic Party's national convention.

The instant polls are now out, at least for the VP selection. In a CBS poll, the Kerry ticket has picked up 4 points from last week's survey. Scott Rasmussen shows the Kerry ticket one point further behind than it was yesterday (a third of the Rasmussen poll consists of voter interviews occurring after the Edwards selection). Several surveys indicate more people approve than disapprove of John Edwards and his selection by John Kerry.  Perhaps most importantly, in the Iowa Presidential futures market, Kerry has pulled very slightly ahead of Bush.

Dowd, in previous discussions, has argued that the electorate this year is largely fixed in its view of the two parties and the two candidates for President. He has estimated that as many as 90% of the voters have already made up their minds, split roughly in half between the candidates. Hence, only 10% of voters are in play.

Of course, the big imponderable in any campaign is voter turnout. In 2000, the Democrats had a better ground game, enabling them to win very close victories in several states, and almost take Florida. This time around both parties are registering their supporters and doing the door—to—door politicking very early on.  Some observers have suggested that the new Michael Moore movie is particularly appealing to younger voters, and might increase turnout among this group, which traditionally votes at far lower participation rates than other voters, and that this could help Kerry.

If you believe that most voters' allegiances are fixed, then how can one candidate get a 15 point bounce in a month? One possibility is that Dowd is sandbagging, fully expecting the race to still be close in August (with Kerry up a few points), and thereby making the Democrats appear to be floundering despite their month of hogging the national stage. In 2000, when Joe Lieberman was announced as the Vice Presidential running mate for Al Gore, the Gore ticket jumped more than ten points in a day. The selection of Lieberman followed soon after the Republican convention, after which Bush jumped to a 15 point lead in the polls. After Lieberman was picked, the lead disappeared. After the Democratic convention, Gore was up by 3 to 5 points (perhaps he would have been up more without the closing night lip—lock with Tipper). This lead was maintained until the debates, at which point Bush shot ahead by 3 to 5 points in most polls.   In the final week of the campaign, Bush's lead disappeared after the Maine DUI story broke.

Tony Blankley has suggested that after all the hoopla of the Edwards pick, the two conventions, and the debates, that the race will be close to where it was before the Edwards selection: pretty much even. This assumes of course that neither side gets badly embarrassed in the debates, which is not a certainty.  But Blankley believes, as Dowd does, that voter perceptions in this race are pretty hardened already. You like Bush or you don't like him. If you don't like him, you will likely vote for Kerry. With Edwards on the ticket, you might feel a bit better about voting for Kerry, since some human warmth and color has been added to the ticket (assuming you have read enough John Grisham novels to believe blood flows through the veins of trial lawyers).   Blankley lays out the missing events that will attract more interest than the conventions or the selection of Edwards:  summer vacations, the Olympics, and the pennant races, playoffs and the World Series.

It is my own view that Kerry has added a little fuel to his ticket. Subtly, he is trying to have Edwards match Bush with his southern charm and folksiness, (and better elocution).  Kerry himself is more of a match for Cheney in the charisma department, though Cheney to his credit answers questions in shorter phraseology.  But in the debates it will be Kerry versus Bush, not Edwards versus Bush. Far fewer people watched the Vice Presidential debates last time than the Presidential debates, and that is likely to be the case this time as well.  Edwards will be a hit on the campaign trail, but most people who show up for campaign events are party enthusiasts already.

Kerry's selection of Edwards suggests that his handlers and he are not happy about where the race is as at the moment. After the media's Abu Ghraib overkill, a bad month for casualties in Iraq in April, Kerry's clean sweep through the primaries with no speck of dirt landing from his rivals, and with the economy picking—up a bit of steam, but voter perceptions still lagging due to the anxiety created over outsourcing  and job losses, Kerry probably expected to be comfortably ahead by early July. If that had been the case, maybe he would have gone with Dick Gephardt as his VP, or somebody else.

The early campaigning route for the Kerry Edwards ticket gives an indication of where the Kerry campaign is concerned about the race, and where they plan to focus.  This week, the candidates, will be in six states, including Pennsylvania, where the 'party' started yesterday and today. The two Democrats will also be in Florida, Ohio, West Virginia, and New Mexico before winding up in North Carolina this weekend. 

There have been conflicting indications from polls in both Ohio and Florida.  In neither case, is Kerry clearly ahead. This has to be a bit frustrating for Kerry. Florida was a draw last election, and with high job losses, Ohio was expected to be a good pickup opportunity as well. The fact that Kerry and Edwards will visit New Mexico, and West Virginia, each with only five electoral votes, suggests that a shift of just a few electoral votes may be crucial this election.  In the case of New Mexico, not exactly on the way between the other state hops, the visit reflects the fact that the state is very much in play, as it was last time, when Gore won it by only 366 votes.

The time concentrated in Pennsylvania is also indicative of a close race in the Keystone State. Some polls have Bush ahead, others Kerry in the lead in a state that Gore won by almost 5% last time. the fact that Kerry has to work to protect Pennsylvania, means that the Bush team is not the one playing defense this year.

Several political analysts have agreed with Dowd on the basic outline of the race. However, this does not assure that the race will turn out similar to the 2000 election. If the 10% who are undecided voters break 2 to 1 for either candidate, that would mean a 4% popular vote victory for one side, and an Electoral College margin of 100 votes or more, similar to Clinton's wins in 1992 and 1996.  Both parties are working every potential swing state hard, on the assumption the race will be a nail—biter. If it is not, then all or almost all of the battleground states will break one way.

The Democrats believe that the undecided voters are more likely to break their way, since Bush has had 4 years to win them over, and has not yet closed the sale. If Kerry clings to a five to ten point lead in early August, he will probably be ahead in all the battleground states outside the South, and may be ahead in some of them in the South.  The challenge then for Bush will be to jump back in the race with the focus gained from his convention, and then follow up with a good performance in the debates.

Larry Sabato, a thoughtful political analyst at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, believes that if the election were held today, almost all states would vote for the same party as they did last time. He identifies only three small states which today lean differently than they voted last time: Nevada, West Virginia and New Hampshire, with 14 electoral votes combined.  Bush won all three states last time and if they all shifted, Kerry would win in the Electoral College vote by 274—264.  Sabato says all three states could go back and forth before Election Day.  He thinks the South will stay with Bush, despite the Edwards addition to the ticket, but the Democrats will become more competitive in Virginia, North Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas and Florida, in addition to West Virginia (assuming you count this as a Southern state).  Sabato believes that Kerry has an edge in several states Gore won by very small margins last time, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Oregon, New Mexico, because the Nader factor will be diminished this time around.

In any case, neither side has any reason at this moment either to be overconfident or panicking. Bush partisans can take some comfort from improving economic confidence numbers, higher overall Presidential approval ratings, what appears to be a better—than—expected transition in Iraq, and generally solid economic and job creation numbers (though the June jobs report was disappointing, compared to the prior three months). Kerry can expect favorable press coverage for four months (as Blankley points out, at the Republican Convention, much of the coverage will likely be about the anti—war demonstrations), and has a popular addition to the ticket in Edwards, who will motivate loyal Democrats, appeal to women voters, and make the South a bit more competitive.  The race is still where it was four months ago —— a tossup.

One thing that Kerry accomplished with the Edwards selection is to put John Edwards's smile front and center on magazine covers, replacing Michael Moore's face. Moore may have done his one week of work for the Kerry ticket, but Moore is an unwelcome long term presence.  The deconstruction of his movie has begun, and there are, thankfully, a few journalists with enough integrity (e.g., Michael Isikoff),  who, despite working for mainstream (liberal) publications, have identified some of the garbage Moore has thrown at the viewers as the garbage that it is.

Both Edwards and Moore love to point out their common man roots, before they climbed to multi—millionaire success. But Edwards , unlike Moore, does not hate his country or trash it at every opportunity, as Moore does. Edwards's biggest claim to fame during the primaries was his speech, repeated constantly without any change in wording or inflection, about the two Americas: the comfortable, and those who have to struggle.

There may be two Americas, but Edwards's explanation of the phenomenon is much too simplistic a division. The larger division, if there is one these days , is probably more between those who think that any failure or loss is somebody else's fault, or responsibility (e.g. government or the bad corporation or doctor) and those who accept responsibility for their lives, or who believe in fate.  The trial lawyer/government entitlement/victimology culture, which Edwards and Kerry (and Moore) have bought into, is centered in one campaign this year. The entrepreneurial/ personal responsibility culture is in the other campaign. 

Liberal writers (e.g. Nicholas Kristof) love to argue that low or middle income voters are voting against their economic interests if they do not vote Democratic (and are instead swayed by conservative social messages to vote Republican). But that may be the case only if these people want perpetual dependency, and can only achieve at the level the government provides for them. Of course both Edwards and Michael Moore have benefited from their talents, rather than from entitlements. But they both argue for an America that provides fewer rewards for people of accomplishment, and more for those who sue or complain, or claim victim status. The Republicans might do well to highlight this division during the campaign.

Update: Zogby reports that "Kerry Fails to Get Lift From Edwards' Pick"

Forty—eight percent of 1,008 likely voters polled by Zogby from July 6—7 supported Kerry and Edwards and 46 percent back Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. The two percentage—point margin is within the poll's 3.1 percentage point margin of error and matches the two point spread in a Zogby poll taken June 2—5.

It looks like Dowd was just sandbagging.