Advantage: Bush

The Baehr Essentials

The national polls show varying leads for President Bush at the moment, with most in the 3—5% range, and a few suggesting a bigger lead. But the state surveys are telling a more consistent story, with Bush holding a solid and growing lead. This is not surprising, given recent history.

Modest popular vote margins often translate into very decisive Electoral College victories. In 1992, Bill Clinton was elected by a 43—38% margin (Ross Perot got 19%). But Clinton won easily in the Electoral College 370—168, winning 32 states. Clinton won again in 1996, by 8% over Bob Dole, the same margin by which Bush's father beat Michael Dukakis in 1988. Clinton received 379 Electoral College votes in 1996, winning 31 states, and Bush I won 426 Electoral College votes in 1988, taking 40 states. 

During the late Spring, and early Summer, President Bush never led in any of the 'blue' states that were won by Al Gore in 2000.  But John Kerry at times was running even, or ahead in a number of 'red' states, that Bush had won in 2000.  These included Ohio, Florida, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Nevada, Missouri, and Arkansas. Kerry was also running close behind Bush in Virginia, Colorado, Arizona, Tennessee and North Carolina.  While Kerry's national lead in the polls was only 2 to 4%, he led in states with over 300 Electoral College votes (270 needed to win). 

The tables have now been completely turned. Kerry is behind nationally by a few percent, but he is also behind in every red state, as well as in a few battleground blue states.  And in several blue states that were not considered to be battlegrounds, Bush is running even with Kerry: New Jersey, and Maryland to name two.  Bush is now ahead in states with over 300 Electoral College votes.  Most importantly, the Bush lead in the states likely to decide the race is widening.

In Florida (27) the first post—Hurricane Ivan survey shows Bush up 8%, and another poll puts him up 13% in the I—4 corridor, where most close Florida elections are decided.  For a month, Kerry did not visit the state, given that campaigning in the midst of all the hurricane  reconstruction might have appeared unseemly. In the meantime, Bush was flying down after every storm dropping off billion dollar aid packages for those in need.  Not a fair fight, really.

A recent poll in Ohio (20) has Bush up 11%. Other surveys show him up by 4% to 10% in the Buckeye State.  If Kerry can not win either Florida or Ohio, his chances of becoming President are nil.  Karl Rove told a Washington Times reporter recently that Ohio is almost locked up.  Rove also said that Bush is pulling away in West Virginia (5), and a poll this week showed the President up there by 6%.  He is also ahead in Nevada (5), and New Hampshire (4). The two latest Nevada surveys give Bush a 6—9% lead, and the two latest surveys in New Hampshire give Bush a lead of 2 to 9%.  These five states are the only states Bush won last time in which the Kerry team or the DNC is putting on a heavy ad campaign. If they cannot crack through in these states, Bush need not win any blue states to get re—elected.  The Kerry campaign was pretending that Colorado (9) was in play until a new poll this week showed Bush ahead by 12%. The Democrats have all but written off Missouri (11) and Arizona (10), and the entire South except for Florida. 

Then consider the fact that Bush is dong very well in many blue states at the moment. He is up 6% in two different Iowa (7) polls, and is ahead  by 5 — 10% in a collection of Wisconsin (10) polls. Bush is ahead more narrowly in Pennsylvania (21), and is also competitive or slightly ahead in New Mexico (5), Oregon (7), and Minnesota (10). This does not mean that the national race can't tighten up, or that Kerry will not regain the advantage in some of these blue states. If Bush were to win nationally by less than 4%, he might lose several of the blue states in which he now leads.  But to use a football analogy, the Bush team now has a distinct field position advantage. Bush is pushing hard in blue states Kerry must win, and Kerry has less time and money to apply to peel red states away from Bush.

The polls matter at this late stage because they provide additional momentum to one candidate, and anxiety for the other campaign. And for Americans who will vote but are not political junkies (the way this writer obviously is), many will be more apt to vote for the guy who seems to have his campaign together, than for the guy who seems to be struggling.  This also carries over into evaluating the two candidates on leadership, and their ability to manage the difficult war in Iraq. If one can't put together a good campaign, how good a Presidential leader will one be in wartime?     

To the Bush team's credit, when they were struggling earlier in the year, there was no sign of panic, and no campaign team shake—ups.  For the Kerry operation, the team has changed twice already — first after Kerry fell behind just before the primaries and several Ted Kennedy operatives signed up, and now with the insertion of a few Clintonistas when Kerry fell behind after the Republican convention. The new members of the team have simply made the Kerry team larger. Ostensibly, nobody has been fired or resigned. So there are more people trying to influence the candidate and shape his message, and this is all happening with less than six weeks to go. This leads to incoherence and the appearance of flip—flopping, which, of course, has been evident to just abut the entire country.

The new policy slant this week seems to be to have Kerry play Howard Dean on Iraq — the wrong war at the wrong time in the wrong place.  The same messages that Kerry slammed when they came out of Dean's mouth are now coming out of his mouth.  Will America want to put in charge as commander in chief a candidate who seems to be a defeatist on the war?

Kerry has argued that he will deliver increased support from the European allies we supposedly froze out of the reconstruction process, who will now jump in with their men and money to fight this war with us. But Kerry has now told them that this is the wrong war at the wrong time in the wrong place. If they were unpersuaded by Bush, who believed in the war, how likely is it that they will salute John Kerry who is trashing the war effort? Or will they love Kerry so much they just make this commitment to do him a favor? And given the way Kerry and the Democrats have belittled the efforts of those countries which have supported us, what kind of inducements would Kerry need to provide to convince the reluctant Europeans to take the plunge?

Many American are turned off, I believe, by rank partisanship during a war. In a shocking display of bad form and taste, yesterday 30 of 49 Democratic Senators managed to stay away from the Capitol, so as to miss hearing the interim Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi speak.  Did our troops sacrifice their blood so that the representative of a free Iraq can be shunned by one of the two major political parties?

Senator Kerry showed his lack of class by joining in the childish display of pique, hurling abuse at Allawi for painting too bright a picture of conditions in his country.  Are Iraqis not permitted to hope for a better future without Saddam crushing them, as he did for thirty years? But then again, Kerry this week said Iraq was worse off for our effort than had we not removed Saddam, again echoing Howard Dean, circa December, 2003.

I think the blast—Bush—on—Iraq strategy is a loser. It is likely to accentuate the doubts that many voters have on Kerry's ability to lead. And the constant negativism and carping, when added to a sourpuss personality, may not encourage Americans to select him as the man they will have to listen to for four years, if elected.

Bush is in the driver's seat. But the bubbly should be held off for a few weeks at least. Bush needs to hold his own in the debates (he needn't sparkle).  And Bush cannot manage the news from Iraq nor guarantee that there will be no new terror attacks, the way a President can hand out money after a hurricane.  But the President has the advantage, and seems to be holding a better hand, and playing it more confidently.  

The Democrats' hole card is fraud. The Democrats have tried to insulate themselves from any appearance of malfeasance by repeatedly dredging up the myth of the stolen election of 2000 in Florida.  But there are lots of people who should not be eligible to vote (illegal aliens, non—citizen permanent residents, felons, dead people, underage people) who are likely being registered in the battleground states by ACT, one of the big Democratic 527 groups, and ACORN, a radical group tied to the unions and community activists. And Democratic lawyers are collecting absentee ballots on Indian reservations, and in minority communities, effectively casting multiple votes for Kerry. This 'approach' of mining the Indian reservations for absentee ballots enabled Tim Johnson to hold onto his Senate seat in South Dakota in 2002.  Wall Street Journal writer John Fund has been warning of the magnitude of this effort this year. 

It may be that Bush has to win nationally by 3 or 4% to overcome the built—in bias of the phony voters who are being lined up on the other side. That is one more reason to keep the champagne corked.