Threading a small needle

The Baehr Essentials

The Democrats have all but formally written—off the entire South, except for Florida, as well as a few other states once considered prime pickup opportunities. The ad buys for the next month by the Kerry campaign and the DNC do not include a dollar for ads in Missouri, Colorado, Arizona, or five Southern states that were thought to be possible pickup opportunities —— Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia. Two recent polls give Bush a 14 point lead in Missouri, and a 16 point lead in Arizona. Those states are off the board, and Kerry's campaign knows it.

In the 14 states in which the Kerry campaign and the DNC will advertise, 9 are states won by Gore last time. So the Kerry team is now fully aware they will have to play defense first —— get a firmer grip on their own states. Ads will air in these 9 Gore states: Iowa (7), New Mexico (5), Michigan (17), Oregon (7), Wisconsin (10),  Pennsylvania (21), Maine (4), Minnesota (10), and Washington State (11): 92 Electoral College votes in all.  

Bush is ahead in the latest polls in Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin, by small margins in each. He is tied in Iowa and Minnesota, and behind in Michigan, Washington State and Maine. States such as Washington should be in the bag by now for Kerry. The latest poll out Thursday shows a 3 point lead for Kerry there, a sharp drop in the space of a week. I would not be surprised to see a few ads by the Kerry and DNC people in New Jersey soon too, if Kerry's lead there stabilizes in the 2 to 4 per cent range where it is today. If the GOP starts to advertise in New Jersey, we will know the state, with 15 electoral votes, is either in play, or the Republicans are playing mind games with the Democrats.

The five Bush states that will see Kerry or DNC ads are Ohio (20), Florida (27), Nevada (5), New Hamsphire (4) and West Virginia (5): 61 Electoral College votes in total. Kerry has led in New Hampshire all year, but no new poll has been taken there in weeks.  He also led narrowly in a recent poll in West Virginia, but that too was before the Convention. Two recent polls show 6 to 9 point leads for Bush in Ohio, which would be disastrous for Kerry if such a key state slips away this soon.  This would mean Kerry would have to win Florida, or get at least 10 Electoral votes from the three small states of West Virginia (5),  Nevada (5), and New Hampshire (4), since the 20 Gore states from  2000 only provide 260 Electoral College votes this time around.  Just getting to 269 (say with pickups for the Democrats in New Hampshire and West Virginia) will not do it for Kerry, since a tie goes to the US House, where Bush would be very likely to win.  

This scenario, of course, assumes Kerry can hold all the 9 Gore states that his own campaign feels are now vulnerable.

This is a thread the needle strategy with almost 8 weeks to go. We are seeing shades of the 1988 Dukakais campaign at work, a repeat of the collapse mode. Nominating a liberal from Massachusetts with no national appeal, who also happens to be personally unlikable and dull, didn't work the first time out.  The Democrats projected their own obsessive hatred of Bush onto the national electorate, and were stupid enough to believe that they could sell Kerry as a savior.