Now they're even blaming him for windsurfing.

In the wake of the Swift boat debacle and the Republican convention that skewered him night after night, Democrats are doing a reasonable imitation of panic over John Kerry's campaign.

Gone is the confidence of the primary season, when Kerry rolled to one victory after another and the party establishment promoted him as the only viable alternative to Howard Dean. Gone is the euphoria that greeted the selection of John Edwards. Gone are the positive reviews of the Boston convention, when Dems said Kerry had given a boffo speech, introduced himself to the public and established his credentials on national security. Now he's seen as having blown the convention, botched August and fumbling around for a better staff and a more coherent message.

Comparisons to Michael Dukakis are popping up everywhere.

The hospitalized Bill Clinton was apparently more concerned about the sclerotic Kerry campaign than yesterday's quadruple bypass surgery.

What's driving this, in part, are Time and Newsweek quickie polls showing Bush with a double-digit lead after months of a deadlocked race.

Campaigns are never as good as when they're on a roll and never as bad as when they hit a rough patch, but with the election less than 60 days away, Kerry's supposed allies are openly worrying about whether he has the Right Stuff.

Thus it wasn't hard for Adam Nagourney to round up the doubters for the New York Times | http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/05/politics/campaign/05campaign.html?hp :

"President Bush roared out of his New York convention last week, leaving many Democrats nervous about the state of the presidential race and pressing Senator John Kerry to torque up what they described as a wandering and low-energy campaign.

"In interviews, leading Democrats -- governors, senators, fund-raisers and veteran strategists -- said they had urged Mr. Kerry's campaign aides to concentrate almost exclusively on challenging President Bush on domestic issues from here on out, saying he had spent too much of the summer on national security, Mr. Bush's strongest turf. . . .

"Many supporters also said they wanted to see Mr. Kerry respond more forcefully to the sort of attacks they said had undercut his standing and to offer a broad and convincing case for his candidacy."

And here comes the vacation slam:

"Several Democrats said they were not happy to see news photographs of Mr. Kerry windsurfing in the Atlantic waters off Nantucket during the convention, suggesting that it underlined the very image of Mr. Kerry -- as a wealthy, culturally out-of-touch liberal -- that the Republicans were trying to convey."

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell offered his two cents on the vital windsurf issue. (In fairness, Kerry also did some skeet shooting over the weekend.)

The Time/Newsweek numbers may have overstated Bush's bounce, if this USA Today | http://www.usatoday.com/news/politicselections/nation/president/2004-09-06-poll_x.htm survey is to be believed:

"President Bush widened his lead over John Kerry after a combative Republican National Convention deepened questions about the Democratic candidate's leadership, especially on terrorism.

"As the campaign enters its last eight weeks, a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday shows Bush at 52%, Kerry at 45% and independent candidate Ralph Nader at 1% among likely voters.

Before the convention, Bush led Kerry by 2 percentage points."

And HERE'S THE BIG CAVEAT: "Bush's lead remains within the survey's error margin. By historical standards, the race remains too close to call.

"But the New York convention has reshaped views of the political landscape and the candidates in ways helpful to the GOP. Views of whether Bush has the personality and leadership qualities to be president improved by 6 points; those of Kerry declined by 14 points.

"And the importance of terrorism -- the major issue on which Bush has an advantage -- surged. Voters now say terrorism is as important as the economy, and more important than the war in Iraq, in determining their vote."

To state the obvious, who says that swing voters can't be swung?

Former Dukakis czar turned Fox commentator Susan Estrich | http://www.creators.com/opinion_show.cfm?next=2&ColumnsName=ses suggests a low-road campaign that makes you wonder what she's been drinking:

"You have to fight fire with fire, mud with mud, dirt with dirt . . .

"What will it be?

"Will it be the three . . . drunken driving arrests that Bush and Cheney, the two most powerful men in the world, managed to rack up? (Bush's Texas record has been sealed. Now why would that be? Who seals a perfect driving record?)

"After Vietnam, nothing is ancient history . . . . What their records suggest is not only a serious problem with alcoholism, which Bush but not Cheney has acknowledged, but also an even more serious problem of judgment. Could Dick Cheney get a license to drive a school bus with his record of drunken driving? (I can see the ad now.) A job at a nuclear power plant? Is any alcoholic ever really cured? So why put him in the most stressful job in the world, with a war going south, a thousand Americans already dead and control of weapons capable of destroying the world at his fingertips.

"It has been said that in the worst of times, Kissinger gave orders to the military not to obey Nixon if he ordered a first strike. What if Bush were to fall off the wagon? Then what? Has America really faced the fact that we have an alcoholic as our president?

"Or how about Dead Texans for Truth, highlighting those who served in Vietnam instead of the privileged draft-dodging president, and ended up as names on the wall instead of members of the Air National Guard. I'm sure there are some mothers out there who are still mourning their sons, and never made that connection. It wouldn't be so hard to find them."

Does Estrich really believe the Dems can make booze an issue when there's no evidence Bush has had a drink since 1986 and Cheney's two arrests came while he was in his early twenties.

Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/2004/la-na-outlook6sep06,1,421001.column?coll=la-news-elect2004 dissects Kerry's switch to a feistier style:

"Nervous Democrats believe three key Kerry decisions helped Bush to recover. Many fret that Kerry didn't respond fast enough when his Vietnam War record came under assault from the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group with strong Republican ties. Others complain that Kerry placed too much emphasis on his biography and too little on his agenda at the Democratic convention. Others say the convention didn't deliver a strong and clear indictment of Bush's record.

"These second and third complaints are actually reflections of the same underlying strategic calculation. Since spring, the Kerry campaign has concluded that a narrow majority of Americans are ready to change direction and need more to be reassured that Kerry is an acceptable alternative than be persuaded to fire Bush . . . But, in practice, Kerry's decision to emphasize reassurance over persuasion ceded control of the day-to-day campaign debate to Bush. Because Kerry wasn't drawing sharp contrasts most days, Bush's attacks on the Democrat's record and decisiveness have dominated the news.

"Further, because Kerry has spent so much time trying to buff his credentials as commander in chief, he didn't drive a sharp message on domestic issues like the economy; in a recent Times survey, less than 40% of voters said they had a firm idea of his plans for accelerating growth."

The Washington Post | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A64274-2004Sep5.html has the Clinton play-by-play:

"Former president Bill Clinton, in phone calls with John F. Kerry over the weekend, told the Democratic presidential nominee that he must sharpen his criticism of President Bush's record and offer voters a more compelling case in his own behalf if he hopes to win the election in November. . . .

"Kerry spoke with Clinton, who is at a New York hospital awaiting heart surgery, on Friday and Saturday. Clinton added his voice to that of other Democrats who were urging Kerry to change his message and strategy in response to gains Bush made during August and at his party's New York convention last week.

"Clinton, according to those familiar with the conversation, urged Kerry to draw a sharper contrast with Bush and to explain to voters the effect of going to war in Iraq on domestic policies."

Newsday | http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/nation/ny-uskerr053957081sep05,0,2880282.story?coll=ny-nationalnews-headlines likens Kerry to the man he once served as lieutenant governor:

"It is the cardinal rule of modern American politics, and one John Kerry should know well, because he served with its namesake in Massachusetts -- don't pull a Dukakis. Let no political charge sit unanswered, lest it take root.

"Michael Dukakis was slow to respond to Republican attacks in 1988 and got crushed by George Bush the father. Some Democrats fret John Kerry now has made the same mistake against Bush the son -- letting attacks on his Vietnam record and fitness to serve go unanswered too long -- and fear that Kerry is slipping badly in the face of new polls showing a Bush lead.

" 'Time is running out . . . to turn this around,' said Tony Coelho, a former manager for Al Gore's campaign, who believes Kerry didn't respond forcefully enough. 'It's not hard, and he did not do a good job on that.'

"After a month of withering attacks, Kerry now finds himself on the defensive and scrambling to gain the initiative heading into the fall campaign, still battling the Republican charges while trying to wrest the debate onto his terms, with an ever-dwindling number of days to do it."

Things boiled over when Kerry lost his temper, says Newsweek | http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5916073/site/newsweek/ :

"John Kerry wanted to hit back. It had been a miserable August as he took incoming fire about his military service from a gang of hostile Vietnam vets. But no, campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill and other staffers argued, the Swift Boat ads would blow over. Finally, Kerry had had enough. For three or four days, as he campaigned across the country, Kerry ripped into Cahill, furious that the mostly baseless attacks on his valor were driving his numbers down. 'He was very angry,' one old friend says. 'The calculation had been made that this wasn't going to hurt him.' Kerry's solution was to reach for an old ally. 'Get Vallely,' he screamed.

"Thomas Vallely is the leader of the pack of vets that Kerry calls his dog-hunters, a group that has beaten back the attacks on his Vietnam record since his first Senate race 20 years ago . . . .

"The return of the old warriors marked a turning point in the Swift Boat controversy, and a rare moment when Kerry stamped his authority on a drifting campaign."

There could be an even more problematic reason for Kerry's difficulties, says the Philadelphia Inquirer | http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/nation/9597802.htm :

"Forget the economy. It might just be the personality, stupid.

"Swing voters don't like Sen. John Kerry much, one recent poll suggests, and that's just the latest survey pointing to a stubborn 'personality gap' the Democratic challenger suffers in his race against President Bush. Some political analysts think simple likability is Kerry's greatest challenge as the presidential campaign enters its two-month stretch run.

"This phenomenon persists even though virtually every poll shows that a solid majority disapproves of Bush's handling of the Iraq war and the economy. Most voters also believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.

"But they don't much like John Kerry. . . .

"Consider:

"A recent Zogby/Williams Identity Poll found that 57.3 percent of undecided or persuadable voters would rather have a beer with Bush than Kerry (the President doesn't drink alcohol). The same survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points, found that 67 percent of undecided voters liked Bush -- and 52 percent disliked Kerry, while nearly a third admitted they didn't know enough about him to say."

Roger Simon | http://www.rogersimon.com/archive/006920.html#006920 is test-driving his How Kerry Lost piece:

"If John Kerry loses his presidential bid, analysts will point to the Democratic Convention as the time and place that he began losing it.

"Kerry made his convention - - just as he has made his campaign - - about Vietnam, a divisive, controversial war that most Americans would just as soon forget.

"From high-profile appearances and endorsements by his fellow swift boat veterans to the salute he gave at the beginning of his acceptance speech, the convention seemed to be about events that happened more than three decades ago and not events that are happening now.

"Nor did Kerry use his acceptance speech to clear the air about a fundamental problem that his campaign faces and that his opponents beat him over the head with on a daily basis: Kerry's seemingly conflicting votes over the Iraq war.

"By comparison, the Republican convention was anchored in the present with one clear and simple message: Vote for George W. Bush - - or die."

That has the virtue of simplicity.

"Every speaker that I can recall (with the exception of Laura Bush) gave the same speech and that speech told the same story: We live in times of grave peril and only George W. Bush can safeguard the homeland from it. Turning this nation over to a vacillating and naive challenger, speaker after speaker said, would be tantamount to national suicide."

What gets lost about the Vietnam controversy, says Time's Joe Klein | http://www.time.com/time/election2004/columnist/klein/article/0,18471,689402,00.html, is that Kerry was right:

"Now that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth have turned out to be anything but -- the only 'lies' they've turned up are a mistaken date or a mild Kerry exaggeration about operating in Cambodia and a Purple Heart received for a minor wound -- we are told their real gripe is that Kerry protested the war after he came home and sullied their service by testifying to atrocities committed by American troops in Vietnam.

"These are heartfelt gripes, perhaps, but wrong on the merits. Kerry's protest was not only honorable, it was accurate. The war in Vietnam was an unnecessary disaster, entered into under false pretenses -- the fabricated Gulf of Tonkin incident -- and fought because of a mistaken intellectual theory: that the Vietnamese national liberation movement was part of an international communist conspiracy to overwhelm Asia. (The subsequent war between Vietnam and China put a crimp in that one.) And, yes, there were atrocities aplenty. I spent three years in the 1980s writing about a platoon of former Marines, men I consider heroes, and several unburdened themselves of awful memories before we were done: tossing a Vietnamese prisoner out of a helicopter, shooting an obviously innocent woman civilian in the back, collecting the ears of enemy dead. It was a meaningless, despicable war, and insane brutality was not an uncommon reaction.

"But we're not really talking about Vietnam here, are we? We are talking about the politics of misdirection, about keeping John Kerry on the defensive by raising spurious questions about his 'character.' "

Maybe the swift boat thing is old news.

The Pittsburgh Tribune Review | http://pittsburghlive.com/x/tribune-review/election/s_247030.html (owned by Democrat-bashing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, whose reporter was the object of Teresa Heinz Kerry's "shove it") is pushing a new flap:

"A Washington, D.C., public interest group has released FBI documents it says indicates Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry accepted laundered contributions from the Chinese government during his 1996 Senate re-election campaign.

"The organization Judicial Watch also contends that in exchange for the donations, Kerry might have arranged meetings between federal government officials and Chinese aerospace executives.

" 'These disturbing FBI documents raise further questions about Sen. Kerry's involvement in what looks like a quid pro quo -- cash for meetings -- with the communist Chinese,' Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement."

Buzz Machine guy Jeff Jarvis | http://www.buzzmachine.com/archives/2004_09_06.html#007916 faults Instapundit for linking to the story (although Insta says he doesn't put much stock in the charges):

"I still say that Scaife is a fringe-dweller and conspiracy-addict and troublemaker who delights in trying to destroy politicians he hates. Citing his enterprises is like citing, well, Michael Moore's or Al Franken's."