Do You Know This Man?
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 1, 2004; 9:06 AM
Deep in a story about the latest New York Times/CBS poll showing a dead heat between Kerry and Bush was this eye-catching number: 36 percent of those surveyed had no opinion of the senator from Massachusetts.
Despite the zillions of dollars the Democratic candidate has spent on advertising, he remains a fuzzy image for millions of Americans.
That may explain why the Kerry camp unveiled a new TV ad for New Mexico yesterday that is little more than your basic bio spot: Kerry as a husband, father, hunter, hockey player, prosecutor and senator. It also tries to lighten his image, since he's so often glimpsed delivering leaden speeches on serious issues.
The upside for Kerry is that he can still fill in the blanks for plenty of American voters.
The downside is that Bush can fill in those blanks as well, since so many people lack a strong image of Teresa's husband.
Kerry has made some weighty proposals in recent weeks on child care and college tuition, but they've gotten limited coverage compared to, say, the veepstakes.
The bottom line seems to be that Kerry has two chances to score over the next month: Pick a running mate who will help galvanize the ticket, and deliver a boffo speech at the Boston convention. Everything else -- speeches, ads, position papers, rapid response -- matters far less, particularly in an news atmosphere that continues to be dominated by Iraq.
Unfair? Probably. But that's the modern television age.
The Wall Street Journal's John Harwood underscores the problem by covering a focus group in Norfolk, Va.:
"The focus group suggests Mr. Kerry's message hasn't broken through. Lisa, a 44-year-old Naval electrician who is the only definite Kerry voter at the session, laments that the candidate 'can't express' strong opinions.
" 'I need to know what his focus is, and see some kind of consistency,' adds Cheri, 32, an Air Force health worker. Joseph, a 42-year-old Army account manager, says it's 'possible' he could vote Democratic if the candidate answers, 'Where does he really stand?'...
"The session makes clear that he has made little headway in defining his image since wrapping up the primary contest in March and spending tens of millions of dollars on campaign ads."
Daniel Drezner weighs in on the John Edwards boom:
"Here's the thing, though -- just how different is Edwards from Gephardt? On policy positions, both of them lean strongly protectionist, and both of them voted in favor of the war in Iraq. Both of them championed the down-and-outers during their primary campaigns. Edwards is from the South and Gephardt is from the Midwest, but I'm betting the reason Gephardt is still in play is because Kerry thinks that the Midwest will be the key battleground, while the South doesn't matter.
"If one were to choose based on political experience, even Edwards would have to concede that Gephardt's 20 years in DC outranks John Edwards' single term in the Senate.
"So is there a difference? As one of those still on the fence, yeah, in my mind there's a difference. If Kerry picks Gephardt, there's no chance in hell I'm pulling the donkey lever. If he picks Edwards... I dunno. When I see Richard Gephardt on television, all I can think of is, 'idiotic protectionist.' When I see John Edwards on television, I think, 'Hmmm... seems like an OK guy, maybe he's not as much of a protectionist as I suspect.' "Why is this? Policy is not the only thing that matters in making political choices. There is such a thing as political skill. For example, the most important gift in campaigning is the ability to say something a voter disagrees with while making that voter think you're still a good guy.
"Reagan had it. Clinton had it. Edwards has it.
"Gephardt doesn't have it."
"It" is pretty important.
Blogger Belle Waring is gagging over one veep finalist:
"Gephardt? Gephardt??!! Please, God, don't let the Democratic party snatch certain defeat from the jaws of potential victory by choosing Dick Gephardt as the VP candidate. Pleasepleaseplease. Anybody but Gephardt.
"If the DP makes me cast a vote for a Kerry/Gephardt ticket I'm going to...well, crap, just put out like a straight-ticket ho. They could put a can of processed cheese food on the ballot against Bush, and I would vote for it. But I'm not going to enjoy it! And no ticket with Gephardt on it is going to win, ever in a million years!"
Matt Drudge is hyping a "top Washington insider" as predicting that Hillary will get the nod. (In the conservatives' dreams, maybe.) Hey, I'm a top Washington insider, and I don't think so. Of course, my inside knowledge is the same as this guy's: zero.
National Review's Jim Geraghty scoffs, if it's possible to scoff in print:
"Unless Drudge's Washington insider is Jim Johnson, the Kerry adviser heading the veep search, his 'scoop' that Kerry will pick Hillary seems dubious.
"He says it is the solution to 'every Kerry problem,' but it also creates a slew of new ones. It energizes the right, overshadows the top of the ticket, makes Hillary the issue instead of Bush, puts Bill Clinton back on the campaign trail, etc. Kerry would become an afterthought in his own campaign.
"Second, the comments as a whole sound more like analysis or gossip than any actual inside information."
While the speculation heats up, the veep decision now looks like it's happening -- or is it?
"John F. Kerry spent yesterday in isolation at his wife's 90-acre suburban farm, working on his convention acceptance speech amid signs that the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee may announce his choice of a running mate here as early as next Tuesday," the Boston Globe says.
As long as it's not July 4 -- I'm taking the day off.
"Kerry's public campaign schedule has been disclosed only through Monday, the day after he wraps up a Fourth of July bus tour through the Midwest and then flies back to Pittsburgh. His staff has assembled the telephone numbers and schedules next week for potential running mates, said a top adviser to one of the candidates. Kerry has asked a select few of his closest supporters to reserve Tuesday and Wednesday to travel with the campaign, which would allow for a barnstorming tour by the Democratic duo in advance of a gala fund-raiser next Thursday in New York City."
Yet another poll, this one from the Wall Street Journal, finds things going badly for Bush and yet Bush bouncing back in the race:
"A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll documents the toll that months of setbacks have taken on the president's standing. A majority of Americans say that the Iraq war has increased terrorist threats, not reduced them, and that the U.S. economy is headed for long-term trouble. More voters want Mr. Bush defeated than want him re-elected.
"Yet he remains deadlocked with Democratic challenger John Kerry, and can even nurse hopes of a rebound before the Nov. 2 election. Recent job gains have left Americans slightly less gloomy about Mr. Bush's economic stewardship. Voters applaud this week's handover of power in Iraq and look forward to the departure of U.S. troops, notwithstanding doubts that a post-Hussein Iraq is ready to rule itself . . .
"For all the erosion he has suffered, Mr. Bush is tied with Mr. Kerry at 47% in a two-way matchup. When independent Ralph Nader is included, Mr. Bush holds the narrowest of leads: 45% to 44%, with Mr. Nader drawing 4% of the vote."
Speaking of Nader, Salon has an unusually harsh profile, by Lisa Chamberlain, of the independent candidate:
"While Nader's legacy as a consumer advocate is unparalleled, it is worth noting that the onetime national hero wasn't celebrating his landmark birthday surrounded by the hundreds of people he has worked with and influenced over four decades. Indeed, virtually no one who worked with him since the heady days of Nader's Raiders is supporting him politically or personally today. He has inspired almost no loyalty and instead has alienated many of his closest associates.
"The estrangement between Nader and many of his former intimates is not a new phenomenon; it's not the result of his ruinous campaign for president in 2000; it dates back to his earliest days as a public figure.
"Dozens of people who have worked with or for Nader over the decades have had bitter ruptures with the man they once respected and admired. The level of acrimony is so widespread and acute that it's impossible to dismiss those involved as disgruntled former employees, disillusioned leftists or self-seeking turncoats. Usually it was Nader himself who ratcheted up what was often just a parting of ways into professional warfare and vitriolic personal attacks.
"While Nader continues to campaign against corporate abuse, his own record, according to many of those who have worked closely with him, is characterized by arrogance, underhanded attacks on friends and associates, secrecy, paranoia and mean-spiritedness -- even at the expense of his own causes. If he were a corporate CEO, subject to the laws governing publicly held and federally regulated firms, there can be little doubt he would have been removed long ago by his company's board of directors."
Other than that, he's a terrific guy.
And speaking further of Nader, the Associated Press reports he's getting into the debates --well, at least one debate:
"Among the debate topics: Should Ralph run for president? The participants: Howard Dean and a candidate who always has an opinion on the subject -- independent Ralph Nader.
"Dean, the former Democratic presidential hopeful who attracted legions of liberal followers before his bid fizzled out, will debate Nader for 90 minutes on July 9 before a studio audience.
"National Public Radio's weekly program 'Justice Talking' is sponsoring the debate."
Save the date.
Gossip? I'm shocked.
How much does the handover help 43? Not much, says the New Republic's Noam Scheiber:
"The Note considers how 'local media are tackling an all-important question on the heels of the Iraqi handover: will our hometown soldiers get to come home any sooner?' The conclusion: 'Few stories are answering this question in a way helpful to the Bush Administration.' "I've generally viewed the handover as a way for the Bushies to get Iraq off the front page, at which point they can gradually (and quietly) ratchet down the U.S. military presence there. But the local coverage the Note has flagged suggests the handover may be having a slightly different effect: raising expectations that the troops' return is imminent, when in fact their return is still a long way off. This dashing of raised expectations seems like it could be as politically problematic to the Bush administration as the mere fact of the handover -- and the appearance of progress -- is politically helpful."
The aforementioned Note features some quick bursts of insight on the state of the race:
"Bush advisers who are putting all their chips on the Iraq handover leading to an improvement in right track/wrong track and the president's job approval are (semi-)secretly worried that -- even if the facts on the ground improve -- public opinion and perception will lag and not improve commensurately (and enough) by November to make a difference -- a la 41 and the economy in '92 . . .
"Nearly every political reporter in America is having the same experience -- they keep finding Republicans who say they will never vote again for President Bush (over the the war and the deficit, usually) but they have a heck of a time finding anyone who voted for Gore in 2000 who are now certain that they will vote for Bush (and Gore apparently won the popular vote)."
How important is the handover of Saddam?
"When Saddam Hussein is charged with crimes against humanity in an Iraqi court on Thursday," says the New York Times, "much more will be at stake than his own fate...
"For the fledgling Iraqi government, it could offer an opportunity to shore up confidence among a weary citizenry.
"For the Bush administration, known for its dislike of international criminal tribunals, it could mean a chance to establish a war-crimes court it can hold up as a model."
Any skepticism out there?
"Critics say they wonder whether an Iraqi judiciary, crippled from years of isolation and repression, is up to the task of carrying out such a complex war-crimes case."
Janet Jackson has paid no penalty for her halftime flash, but CBS will.
The Los Angeles Times reports: "In a new record for pricey airtime at the Super Bowl, the head of the Federal Communications Commission has recommended that Viacom's CBS network be fined $550,000 for broadcasting the infamous two-second exposure of Janet Jackson's breast during the Feb. 1 halftime show. The annual pro football event has long been a showcase for blue chip advertisers, who this year paid more than $2 million for a 30-second commercial. But the fine sought by FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell, if approved by the four other FCC commissioners, would be the highest forfeiture ever imposed on a television network."
Would the fine have been doubled if she had shown both?
Howard Stern, meanwhile, is on in nine new markets, including several where he'd been dumped by Clear Channel after the Jackson wardrobe malfuction.
"Stern accused Clear Channel of taking him off the air not for reasons of obscenity but because he had spoken out against President Bush," reports CNN.
" 'Clear Channel is very tied to the Bush administration' Stern said. 'Clear Channel for years has been defending me...I criticize Bush and then I'm fired...They acted out of politics.' "Stern lashed out against Bush administration's policies on everything from the environment, to stem cell research and the war in Iraq."
Finally, the Sacramento Bee's Dan Weintraub does some wiping up after the NYT:
"Contrary to recent reports in the nation's Paper of Record, the toilet paper in California's Capitol has not been downgraded in a money-saving move by the cost-conscious Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"A colorful front-page New York Times story last week based on an interview with the governor concluded with these lines:
On fiscal matters, Mr. Schwarzenegger considers himself an old-school Republican determined to ferret out waste. No item is too minor to escape his attention.
For instance, since Mr. Schwarzenegger took office on Nov. 17, the toilet paper in the Capitol has been switched from two-ply to one-ply, a saving of thousands of dollars over the years. "It's not anymore the two-ply," he said. "Because you know what? We're trimming. We're living within our means."
"But after inquiries by this reporter, the governor's communications director, Rob Stutzman, acknowledged that the claim was untrue. It was, Stutzman said, part of a running joke between Schwarzenegger and Times reporter Charlie LeDuff, dating back to last fall's recall campaign."
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