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A Coalition of the Uninitiated and Sometimes-Indifferent

October 04, 2004

Yes, it's just a national poll, not one of the more valuable state-by-state polls illuminating the electoral college mosaic which ultimately decides the Presidential election. Still, it's interesting to note that in a major WaPo/ABC News post-debate tracking survey released less than an hour ago, George W. Bush still leads John F. Kerry by 5 points among likely voters. Bush's lead among "registered" voters - those who don't always go to the polls, or haven't been able to until now due to their age - is down from seven points before the debate to three now, certainly within the statistical margin of error.

Kerry supporters will continue pushing to get new and occasional voters to the polls, as well they should. Voters who've been at it for a while tend to notice Kerry's foreign policy doesn't pass the ah, smell test.

After viewing last Thursday's presidential debate, Michael Barone of U.S. News and World Report, has this about John Kerry's foreign policy. It's from his latest syndicated column:

Pollster Scott Rasmussen asked....Should we be using more military force in Iraq, about the same amount of military force or less military force? The answers may be surprising. A plurality of 39 percent said more military force, 26 percent said the same amount, and only 22 percent said less military force.

Republicans and Democrats, as you might expect, take very different stands -- which provide a good backdrop for assessing Kerry's and George W. Bush's performance in the first presidential debate. Bush voters are overwhelmingly for more force (51 percent) or the current level (37 percent). In other words, when Bush called for using as much force as it takes to prevail, 88 percent of his voters are with him.

Kerry voters, in contrast, are polarized. Some 40 percent say we should be using less force -- presumably, most of these want us out altogether. But 28 percent say they want more military force, with 15 percent saying the same level. If Kerry wants to rally his supporters, he must appeal to both those who want to win and those who want to get out.

Appealing to people with opposite views is difficult....John Kerry...In the debate.....spoke more pithily than he usually does and in less stilted language. But the result was still ambivalence.

At one point, Kerry said, "The president made a mistake in invading Iraq." Then, asked if the troops in Iraq were dying for a mistake, he said, "No, and they don't have to, provided we have the leadership that ... I'm offering." In his presumably carefully prepared closing statement, he said that "parents of kids in Iraq, you want to know who's the person who could be a commander in chief who could get your kids home and get the job done and win the peace." Then, less than 60 seconds later, he said: "I'm not talking about leaving. I'm talking about winning." Win or get out: take your pick.

Much of what Kerry offers unambivalently is simply not realistic. You might believe that his appointees would train Iraqi forces and rebuild infrastructure more rapidly than Bush's -- though Kerry's managerial experience is limited to a prosecutor's office, his Senate staff and this campaign. But his proposal for a summit to bring in allies is unrealistic. Summits require extensive preparation to succeed. Countries with serious militaries not in Iraq have made it plain they won't change their minds. Nor could they make much difference.

...Kerry's Vietnam-era tendency to consider America the problem and not the solution showed up at several points. The International Criminal Court he favors would subject U.S. troops to French prosecutors and Swedish judges, which is why Bill Clinton never bothered to submit it to the Senate -- it's a non-starter. Kerry opposes development of bunker-blasting nuclear bombs as "nuclear proliferation," though we're not going to give them away and despite their usefulness against possible targets in a nuclear Iran or North Korea. He says the president has the right to make pre-emptive strikes, but "if and when you do it, Jim, you have to do it in a way that passes the test, that passes the global test."

Suddenly the ambivalence is gone -- and we have a clue as to whether a President Kerry would win or get out.

See John run.

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at October 4, 2004 02:38 PM

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Something interesting to note is that Pew also has Bush up 5 points among likely voters, but for registered voters he's up 7--which balances out to a nice even 5 overall.

Posted by: Timothy Goddard at October 4, 2004 03:20 PM

Bush seems to be pulling ahead in the polls once again, almost faster than the news media can celebrate a "dead even race." Oh brief spasm of glory!

The Iowa Electronic Markets, while showing a dramatic 21% decline for Bush following the first debate, still gives him a 58% probability of winning the election. In fact, 37% are predicting a popular vote greater than 52%.

One can only conclude that Bush's best debate strategy is just to let Kerry talk, and then draw out the logical absurdities in Kerry's position. Whenever Bush attempts to explain his own position, he reminds listeners, as Tucker Carlson aptly put it, of a drunk trying to cross an icy street.

Posted by: Tom Rekdal at October 4, 2004 08:13 PM

Although I don't agree with Tom's harsh assessment of Bush's communication skills, he is certainly no world beater with unscripted public speaking. But, the "debate" format is not the sole means of communicating with voters. The President has given some powerful and forceful speeches before Congress after September 11 and before the UN; shaming them for their inaction and laying out democratic principles for the world. His visit to ground zero, bull horn in hand, arm around a fireman, and his promises to the world that day were an inspiration.

We spend too much time hyperventilating over the moment and forget the sum of the parts and the other ways this and other presidents reach the voters.

A belief that John Kerry "won" the debate in the afterglow of the event has to ignore Kerry's lack of substance and his twisted logic. He certainly gets some style points. But did we really hear what he said? Kerry won based on what our eyes told us of the moment. It's our brains that must do the heavy lifting.

Posted by: Gary B at October 5, 2004 10:54 AM

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