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The Gap Between Closed Minds

By Dana Milbank
Sunday, October 24, 2004; Page A04

This past week brought confirmation that Bush and Kerry supporters live in alternate universes.

The Program on International Policy Attitudes, affiliated with the University of Maryland, released a poll finding that supporters of President Bush and Democrat John F. Kerry were divided not just by their views but also by the facts:

Sen. John F. Kerry, waving, emerges from a hunting trip in Ohio. He got a game bird, a lot of coverage and some flak from the Bush campaign. (Gerald Herbert -- AP)

A majority of Bush supporters, 72 percent, believed that Iraq possessed prohibited weapons or had a major weapons of mass destruction program, compared with 26 percent of Kerry supporters who held such beliefs. A majority of Bush supporters also believed experts agree that Iraq possessed banned weapons just before the war, and that U.S. weapons inspector Charles A. Duelfer concluded that Iraq held prohibited arms or ran major programs. In fact, Duelfer and the others who have probed the matter found neither weapons of mass destruction nor major programs for producing them.

On al Qaeda's ties to Iraq, similarly, 75 percent of Bush supporters believed that Iraq either gave al Qaeda "substantial support" or direct involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks; 30 percent of Kerry supporters held these views. A majority of Bush supporters believed the 9/11 commission backed them up on these beliefs, although the panel found no cooperation between the two, only some contacts.

The PIPA poll also found that 31 percent of Bush supporters believed the majority of people in the world opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq, compared with 74 percent of Kerry supporters. Bush supporters also believed most of the world favors Bush's reelection. PIPA, analyzing these results, found a "tendency of Bush supporters to ignore dissonant information."

Bush and Kerry supporters agreed on a couple of things. Majorities of both said the Bush administration continues to say that Iraq possessed prohibited weapons just before the war, and that the United States has found clear evidence that Saddam Hussein worked closely with al Qaeda.

Another polling outfit, SurveyUSA, has found a broad "education gap" between Bush and Kerry supporters. Nationwide, those who attended graduate school are 11 percentage points more Democratic than those who did not attend college. The gap is largest in Maryland, where it's 38 percent.

One Picture Is Worth Ten Thousand Birds

Why does Mike McCurry keep reading the stage directions aloud?

The Bush campaign has a firm rule: Don't talk about "the process" of politics, because that only results in unflattering stories. But McCurry, the former Clinton press secretary and now Kerry adviser, speaks freely about the motives behind Kerry's words and actions.

"What we're trying to do in all of these speeches is follow the frame that you've been hearing in over the last several days, that there is hope for the middle class if you can look at John Kerry as the guy who's going to fight for you," McCurry volunteered last week. And: "We have got to press as hard as we can in this coming week to define that choice."

McCurry may have pulled the curtains back too far when he said that Kerry was going goose hunting on Thursday, not just for pleasure or sport but to show a "personal dimension" of Kerry, who has "likability" problems. "We want people to have a better sense of John Kerry the guy."

This, naturally, produced a round of stories less about Kerry's hunting trip than about how the campaign was trying to make Kerry look like a regular guy -- and a memorable Bush quip: "He can run -- he can even run in camo -- but he cannot hide."

Giving Obama the Keyes to Victory

These have not been the best of times for Alan Keyes, the perennial presidential hopeful who is now the GOP candidate for the Senate in Illinois. The most recent poll by the Chicago Tribune shows him trailing Democrat Barack Obama by an incredible 51 percentage points. National Republicans have kept their distance, particularly since Keyes disparaged Vice President Cheney's daughter.

Now it seems even the Illinois GOP is cutting Keyes loose. The Tribune reports that he was left off a state party mailer -- "Your 2004 Republican Team" -- listing every candidate from Bush to the state legislature. The state party spokesman said no snub was intended because "the Keyes campaign is doing its own thing."

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