Define or Be Defined
By Terry M. Neal
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 27, 2004; 3:46 PM
Although most Americans don't want politicians to get nasty, a large portion of undecided voters (about one-fifth of all likely voters) are dying to know what exactly John F. Kerry plans to do differently than President Bush and be convinced why they should change course at such a crucial time.
Democrats are seeking to balance the need to inform with the need to energize. Last night's events sought to do that, without going overboard on the flame-throwing rhetoric.
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll suggests that in recent weeks Kerry has lost much of the ground he gained on Bush on virtually every major issue.
When voters are asked which candidate would do a better job handling taxes, the economy, Iraq, terrorism, health care and education, there has been an average 12-point swing in Bush's favor between early July and now. There have also been significant net swings in Bush's favor on various personality traits, including whom the public sees as more honest and trustworthy and which candidate better understands the problems of people like you.
The Republican National Committee gleefully e-mailed the results of the poll to reporters this morning, with a little additional analysis thrown in for good measure.
"Americans believe that President Bush is more honest than Kerry, that he is a stronger leader, is more likely to take a position and stick with it, will make the country safer and more secure, and shares their values," Bush campaign strategist Matthew Dowd wrote in a memo addressed to "campaign leadership" and distributed to journalists this morning.
Why the slippage? My Washington Post colleagues Richard Morin and Claudia Deane explained in today's paper: "The poll suggests that negative ads by the Bush-Cheney campaign that have been airing since early March, as well as attacks by Republican officials, have been increasingly successful in planting the image of Kerry as an unreliable leader who flip-flops on the issues -- perceptions that Democrats will work hard to reverse at their convention."
And why have the ads been effective? Because a majority of voters still say they really don't know John Kerry.
In other words, team Bush is filling a vacuum of knowledge about Kerry, effectively defining him because no definition existed.
Fortunately for Kerry, the race is still essentially a dead heat, despite the recent slippage on individual issues. But if this sort of erosion on individual issues were to continue, Kerry would have no chance to win in November. People can talk all they want about how there’s no news at these conventions, but, viewed from a macro perspective, this week could make or break Kerry. And in my book, that's news.
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