Bush-Rather fight would be stopped by a ref

The Baehr Essentials

The wheels are flying off the Kerry campaign. In August, the Swift Boat Veterans' attack softened Kerry up. The Republican Convention then reinforced the contrast between President Bush as a strong leader, and John Kerry as somebody who can't make up his mind.  And now for the 9th straight day, the torch for the Kerry campaign is being carried by the aging, defensive and lying CBS anchor, Dan Rather. It is not a fair fight at the moment, and if it were in the ring, Rather and Kerry would both be carried out.

How bad have things gotten for Senator Kerry? The safest of blue states —— New York, Illinois, and New Jersey —— are now in play.  The latest surveys show Kerry up by 6 to 8% in NewYork, and by 4% in Illinois, and trailing by 4% in New Jersey. In 2000, Gore carried New York by 25%, Illinois by 12%, and New Jersey by 16%. If Kerry is in danger in New Jersey, what are his chances in Ohio and Florida? The latest surveys in those states show Bush pulling away, to a 9 to 12% lead in Ohio, and 6% in Florida.

States that Gore won narrowly in 2000 are now in the Bush column. Bush has widened his lead in Wisconsin to between 6 and 10% depending on the survey (Packer fans can sense an out of touch fraud who talks about how great it is to be standing near Lambert Field). Bush has pulled 3—4 points ahead in Pennsylvania, 2 points ahead in Minnesota, and 3 points ahead in New Mexico.  These four states have 46 Electoral College votes Gore won last time, that are now in the leaning towards Bush column. Throw in New Jersey, and Bush is in the 330 Electoral College vote range.

The most recent polls in Michigan and Oregon, two more Gore states, show Kerry barely ahead, and Bush tied with Kerry in Maine, another Gore state.  In Iowa, there is no poll out this week, but based on what is happening in neighboring states, Bush may be ahead here as well.  State surveys in a few other small reliably blue states —— Connecticut, Hawaii, and Delaware —— show Bush competitive in all of them.  Should Kerry take comfort that his lead now seems rock solid only in the District of Columbia, Massachusetts and Rhode Island? 

An article in the Washington Times says that Bush is now ahead in states with 269 Electoral College votes and only five states are tossups. Four of them were won by Gore last time —— Iowa, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Only West Virginia was a Bush state in 2000. Other national surveys of the states have already moved several of these states to Bush.

Since the 60 Minutes 2 report on the Texas Air National Guard memos, the Democrats' campaign has for all practical purposes chosen Dan Rather as their principal spokesperson. The DNC has attached itself to Rather, echoing his charges about Bush's Air National Guard service. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Senator who lied about his service during Viet Nam (he claimed to be a Viet Nam vet, but served in Japan), held a press conference to repeat charges that Bush got special treatment.  Harkin would not do this without coordinating with the DNC and the campaign. This has become the Kerry campaign's theme that is crowding out everything else.

We do not yet know who was responsible for providing the bogus documents to Dan Rather. What we know is that CBS was anxious to run with them, and ignored warnings from some of the experts they interviewed, who told them that the documents were not reliable.  Now for over a week, they have stood by the story despite withering assaults from both the bloggers and some in the mainstream media (kudos to the Washington Post and ABC, in particular, for daring to challenge a member of their own fraternity). As the Los Angeles Times (no friend to Bush) editorialized: Rather was had.

But his response has been to argue that even if the documents are fiction, the underlying story is true. Well, how would we know that? What non—fiction documents prove the point?  And what if the underlying story were true? Do the American people care that 30 years back, Bush might have been cut a little slack?

Rather is trying to protect his reputation, which was not much to begin with, even before this comedy of errors, but is now, deservedly, in pieces forever. CBS is trying to figure out how to preserve their once premier news reputation (the network of Murrow and Cronkite). Pretenders to Rather's anchor throne have not figured out yet whether to stick with Rather in his pig—headed defense, or create some space to protect their own reputation for integrity going forward. CBS has become the show: inside the eye politics so to speak. The Rather unraveling is what the nation is watching (plus the hurricane of course), though not on CBS itself apparently, where ratings have plummeted.  Rather might have dealt a death blow to his network's critical Fall season, if conservatives tune out in general from CBS entertainment shows as well as news shows in protest.

By charging that the essence of the story is true, and that the Bush campaign and Republican partisans are trying to muddy the waters by focusing on minutiae (the evidence?) rather than substance (the smear?), Rather has made this tussle a CBS—Kerry tag team against the Republicans.   And the Democrats seem willing to stay linked to Rather and CBS, as he carries both the network and the Party down around him.

Pat Caddell, the former campaign coordinator for President Jimmy Carter, has argued in very convincing fashion that his party is self—destructing. He says they are so crimson with anger at Bush, that they have lost their critical faculties. He believes that packaging John Kerry as a Viet Nam hero was an absurd strategy, given the demons  Kerry's post war activities were sure  to release. He says the food fight within the Party between the Clintonistas, who have recently arrived in the Kerry campaign, and the more leftist Ted Kennedy acolytes is getting ugly. Caddell's former boss, Jimmy Carter, invited the ugliest of the haters, Michael Moore, to share his Presidential box at the Democratic National Convention. Moore, may be the most popular man in the country among Democratic partisans. But no electoral majority will form around his ample waist.

As Caddell points out, President Bush was beatable this cycle. Iraq is not going well at the moment. The domestic economy is recovering, but there is still a lot of anxiety in the country over the rapid changes that are underway. Democrats could run against burgeoning budget and trade deficits, weak job creation, tax cuts that were misdirected, and raise lots of other substantive challenges. But instead, they have chosen to make the fight over Kerry's Viet Nam service versus George Bush's National Guard service and chosen to allow the hapless Dan Rather to serve as their primary national spokesperson in the effort.

For years, the national media has enjoyed calling the Republicans (and Bush) the stupid ones. As even lefty comic Jay Leno joked this week, maybe all along the Republicans were the smart ones. The self destructive Democratic campaign will be a rich source of material for political books in the coming years. The party nominated a terrible national candidate, utterly lacking in human warmth or charm, with a Senate record remarkable for its lack of achievement. They then chose to run their national campaign on national security, the President's long suit, by trying to compare their candidate's 4 months of Viet Nam service with the President's Air National Guard experience: the server versus the shirker. The strategy has failed miserably. The people will judge Bush by his four years in office, not his Air National Guard duty, and with Kerry the Democrats have offered the country a cold blank slate as an alternative.

There may be time for Kerry to recover, though I have my doubts. He may lead in a dozen states today, and is close in a few others, but at the moment, all the internals and the state polls show the Kerry campaign coming apart.  The election year gamblers believe Bush is now a laydown —— by over 2 to 1 on tradesports.com,  and 3 to 2 on the Iowa Electronic Market. Bush is probably ahead nationally by between five and ten points today  though some of last week's national surveys show the race closer. If Bush is only down by 6% in New York, Bush can not just be barely ahead nationally. If he is ahead 9—12% in Ohio, a bellwether state, the national lead may be closer to that margin.

The Republicans should hope for a few more weeks of Dan Rather blowing in the wind. It is not a pretty sight to set your own caravan on fire, and then see the wagons circled by the likes of Terry McAuliffe.