President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry have launched headfirst into the final stretch of the 2004 campaign.
washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent Terry Neal took your questions on the campaigning, the candidates and last night's debate.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Terry Neal: Good afternoon, all. Thanks for joining me today for my regular weekly chat. While I'm still hyped up about last night's baseball game, I'm looking forward to talking about politics. So let's get right to it!
George Will used a word in his column that I had to look up: meretricious. It means 'plausible but false or insincere.' I think it is the best word to describe the campaign strategies of this year's election. The problem with being a news junky is you get burnt out and cynical during Presidential campaigns. I just wanted to thank the Post for helping maintain some sanity and for improving my vocabulary.
washingtonpost.com: Voters' Obligations (Post, Oct. 21)
Terry Neal: That's funny. Yes, I often find it's best to keep a dictionary nearby when reading Mr. Will. I haven't had the pleasure yet today of reading it, but will before the day is over.
In any case, I'm glad the Post has provided you some value today.
Love your columns and on-line discussions - thanks.
I've been reading/hearing many stories recently of potential new voter registration fraud (new voter registrations of one party being discarded, new voter registration works avoiding households of one party, etc). From the stories I've heard, it sounds like the Republicans are the ones [allegedly] engaging in these practices much more so than the Democrats.
Is this the case (or your sense of the reporting)? These examples, along with other tactics makes it seem like the Republicans are using disenfranchisement as a major strategy to win the campaign.
Terry Neal: Thank you for your note. I have no empirical evidence that one party is guiltier than the other.
It's is not unusual for there to be a flurry of concerns/allegations about voter fraud and disenfranchisement in the weeks leading up to a presidential election. But I've never seen anything like what's happening this year. In state after state, the charges are flying all over the place. Much of this is just hysteria. Sometimes the parties use these allegations of abuse to motivate their own respective bases.
I wrote about how this is playing out in Florida in a long story and video package that ran last week on washingtonpost.com.
washingtonpost.com: Florida: Under the Magnifying Glass (Video)
Is anyone being brave enough to predict voter turn-out on Nov. 2? Care to venture a guess yourself? Personally, I don't think all the activism and grass-roots organizations have helped increase the number of fully-informed voters, but I suppose that would be too much to ask from partisan groups.
Terry Neal: Well, being fully informed is not a requirement for voting in a Democracy--or at least this one.
One thing is certain, both parties have been harder than ever to register new voters. Some journalists and pundits belief that the Democrats, by shear motivation and early start, have the edge on new registrations in key battleground states, such as Ohio and Florida. The New York Times did a front-page story on this subject a few weeks back. It concluded that new registrations in D-heavy geographical areas far exceeded new registrations in R-heavy areas of those states.
Now of course, registering to vote is not the same thing as voting. The great question of this campaign is, are some of these people who got voter registration forms shoved in their faces outside of grocery stores and on college campuses going to actually come out to vote?
I'll venture a guess and say, in any other year, probably not. But in this year, I think it's more likely that some of these marginal voters will actually get out to vote. And this could give Democrats a slight edge. But I don't know whether I'd bet on it.
Whatever the case, I think turn-out is going to be extremely heavy this year, not only because both sides are very motivated but because many states have made voting easy by streamlining or easing rules governing early voting and absentee voting.
Fort Belvoir, Va.:
In retrospect, do you think the Democrats picked their strongest candidate(s) from the primary contenders and ran the best campaign they could?
As a Democrat, I've been watching the primaries/general campaign since January. I'm addicted to daily tracking polls, obsess over the online electoral vote maps, and am generally a nervous wreck by this point! I wish the vote were today because the suspense is killing me.
Terry Neal: I generally don't like to answer questions like this, because they involve so much coulda-woulda-shoulda and Monday-morning quarterbacking. And even beyond that, it's generally best if journalists (well, at least non-editorial writers, anyway), refrain from opining about the quality of their nominees.
I will say this, I think there were at least four Democrats in the field this year that would have made legitimate nominees, but each had his own set of specific problems that Republicans would have exploited in the general election.
Much of this is about picking a horse and just sticking with it all the way through the finish line.
I'm a Kerry/Edwards supporter but I must admit that Ms. Heinz-Kerry makes me nervous. I respect her intellect and achievements and right to speak anywhere about anything. But the campaign isn't about one's right to speak. It's about getting votes and not offending people, while still managing to be true to your causes.
How much angst is there in the Kerry/Edwards camp about her?
Terry Neal: This is a great question. I'll put my answer like this: Rather than defend or attack some of the more controversial things she said, I think it's easy to be critical from a purely strategic standpoint. Heinz-Kerry seems to take the campaign off message at least once a week with some statement.
So you could argue that the Republican reactions to some of this stuff is overblown. But that doesn't change the fact that the biggest story yesterday was what she said about Laura Bush.
To that extent, I'm a little surprised that they continued to make her as available to the media as they have at this critical juncture in the campaign. But hey, as a media person, I'm not about to complain about that!
Do you think voter turnout will really be so high as everyone says? I can see it true in battleground states but I see my vote as not counting since I live in a red state and I would vote for Kerry.
You know that is a good question, and it is something that I have considered. If you don't live in one of the battleground states, you may have never seen a campaign commercial (or very few), never had the option of attending a political rally with one of the candidates, never read a local story about political rally with the candidate, etc.
I wonder what turn-out is going to be like in places like Texas and California, Alabama and Rhode Island, when it would be easy for some people in those states to conclude that their votes don't matter.
You know, I still tend to think that voter turnout over all is going to be up. But maybe in a few of these non-battleground states, it'll be down some. Who knows. We'll see in a couple weeks.
With all the publicity about the use of lawyers at polling places, I can't help but wonder who's going to watch the lawyers.
washingtonpost.com: Legal Battle for Presidency Underway (Post, Oct. 20)
Terry Neal: Hmmm...I think we'll probably have lawyers watching lawyers watching lawyers, which--I don't know about you--doesn't make me feel a whole lot better.
Hi Terry -- I too love the chats and thanks for being with us. I would caution the previous poster from Hawaii to be careful about saying one side is up to more dirty tricks than the other. Many Republicans I know think Democrats are bribing homeless people to vote with crack, and many Democrats I know think Republicans are threatening African-American voters. Our biases affect our analysis -- we're human.
My question is do you think that politics is really any dirtier than it ever has been? I mean history is full of scandals, vote buying, intimidation, fraud, etc. Just not as much in recent memory. I think when people are passionate, they take an "any means necessary" outlook. Or maybe I'm the one who's being naive.
Terry Neal: I tend to agree. I mean, I'm only 37, so I haven't been around long enough to answer this from a personal perspective. But I mean, just look at history--politics in this country has always been harsh and negative and tough. I mean, is what we see today any nastier that what went on at Tammany Hall? Is what's happening today any more negative than the nastiness that Jefferson and Adams were involved in centuries ago?
Or remember the Grover Cleveland vs. James Blaine in 1884...
Cleveland's slogan was "Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, The Continental Liar from the State of Maine." And Cleveland's was "Ma, Ma, Where's my Pa, Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha" (in reference to an allegation that Cleveland fathered an illegitimate child.)
Heck, at least we don't have politicians challenging others to duels now days.
Oh, well there is Zell Miller. But you know what I mean.
In your "Florida Under the Magnifying Glass" video piece, a Democrat running for Congress expresses concern that Florida has failed to take adequate measures to ensure that non-citizens aren't able to vote in the election. Is this a widely-recognized and discussed issue in Florida, and do you think enough is being done about it?
Terry Neal: This is an issue of concern to both parties, given the fact that the state's immigrant population is so large and has segments that are very loyal to both parties. There is no question that there are loopholes and weak spots in the law. But on balance, I'm not convinced that these problems benefit or hurt one party more than the other.
Los Angeles, Calif.:
What impact do you think the negative movie on Kerry will
have on the election. Will it have an impact?
Terry Neal: I assume you're referring to the Sinclair Broadcasting plan to air the anti-Kerry movie Stolen Honor. The last I heard, they're not going to run the movie in its entirety, but run some sort of news show that discusses the movie and shows clips of it.
If that's the case, I don't think it will have much impact on what happens Nov. 2. At this point, the only thing that's clear is that Sinclair has managed to give the Democratic base another reason to get fired up.
A comment for person wondering about turnout. I'm not exactly in a battleground state here, but I do think people are talking about politics way more than usual. People who I had thought were pretty much apolitical turn out to have some very strong opinions. And according to local media, early voting has been lively.
I think turnout is going to be very high indeed.
Terry Neal: Thanks for your note. I agree.
Does a Boston Red Sox win over the Houston Astros foretell a Kerry over Bush victory. Could happen.
Boston and Houston are both Wild Card teams this year... assuming Houston gets there, that is.
Terry Neal: Well, the Astros have to get there first. And they've got to go through the Cardinals. And even though as a Kansas City native, I'm a Royals fan (poor me), I've gotta pull for my Show-Me-State boys on this one.
I have to admit an Astros-Red Sox matchup would be just too interesting and ironic, though. Wonder what they're saying in Vegas...
Terry Neal: Well folks, my time is up. I really hate that I could not answer every question--no I really do!
But try me again next week, and maybe I can get to you.
Thanks for joining me and have a great day.