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Old 09-12-2004, 09:42 AM   Topic Starter
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Kerry Didn't Respond To Swift Boat Vets Because...Focus Groups Told Him Not To

What a fantastic leader for America he would be! Also seems to be in total denial about Bush's jump in the polls and seems to think that - contrary to other press reports - that he handled the swift boat vets "just fine".

No questions about the contradictions in his Vietnam resume unfortunately...

From Time Magazine:

Sometimes a politician has to put his head down and just say it ain't so. That's how it went with Senator John Kerry last week. While the rest of the political world obsessed about the dive his campaign has taken in the past month, the growing doubts inside his party about his performance on the stump and a campaign clock that seems to be ticking faster now that Labor Day has come and gone, the Democratic nominee tried to present a picture of unworried resolve when he sat down in his campaign plane for a half-hour interview with TIME last Friday afternoon.

The table in front of him clear except for a half-eaten piece of blackberry pie, the well-worn home plate from Iowa's Field of Dreams baseball diamond in the aisle next to his seat, Kerry talked about the race, his opponent, his record and his plans—but not about his doubts, if he has any. "I think we are doing extraordinarily well," he told TIME. "I think this is a close race, and it's going to be a close race. I feel very confident in where we are and confident about the direction of this race."

But with only seven weeks until the election, the vector of Kerry's campaign is, if anything, entirely uphill. A new TIME survey of 857 likely voters reveals that President Bush has retained the solid 11-point lead he earned during the New York City convention earlier this month. Kerry's support has eroded across almost every demographic group but most notably among women. In a departure from recent patterns, among registered voters, women now favor Bush over Kerry by 45% to 44%, and men are breaking for the President by a lopsided 56% to 34%.

And for Kerry, that's not the worst of it. The landscape of the race has changed, and the new ground tends to favor Republicans. Terrorism has replaced the economy as the most important issue in the race, and on those topics and nearly every other issue, voters give higher marks to Bush than to Kerry—sometimes by dramatic 20-point margins.

Bush's job-approval rating has returned to a safe cruising altitude of 56%, close to where Bill Clinton stood at this point in 1996, while Kerry's unfavorable ratings have mushroomed from 29% a month ago to 42% today. That's dangerous territory for any politician, but if Kerry is worried about those numbers, he tried hard not to show it. Asked about Bush's recent surge, Kerry said, "I don't know what you are talking about in terms of the Bush bounce."

Instead, Kerry insisted, the race is just getting under way, and voters are "beginning to listen, and listen carefully" to the debate.

"When we get into those cold days of October and people's juices begin to flow and they measure us one to one, who's going to be stronger for America, I'm confident that my record of fighting for this country since I was a young man is going to eclipse the choices that have been disastrous that have been made by George Bush," Kerry said.

In fact, many voters have been listening closely for months, and that partly explains why Kerry has slipped in the polls. Democrats and Republicans agree that the Kerry campaign focused its convention so tightly on the theme of the candidate's military service—chiefly to blunt the public's doubts about his qualifications to be Commander in Chief—that it came out of Boston without a clearly defined domestic agenda for the nation. Kerry hardly lacks a platform at home; his health-care and fiscal policies are far more detailed, if less numerous, than Bush's. But the campaign didn't pivot from the past to the future after Boston and then hammer home Kerry's ideas. That left Bush a huge opening—and he reached for it in New York City. "They made a big bet on his Vietnam service," said Mark Penn, Bill Clinton's longtime pollster. "It was a good backdrop, but it was just that. He didn't really have an agenda coupled with that service."

More damaging was Kerry's nonresponse to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who over the summer accused Kerry of misrepresenting his military record in a series of television ads. The Swifties' initial charges were reckless and unfair, but the Kerry camp's political instincts were almost worse. The campaign did ... nothing.

Incredibly, it felt the need to conduct focus groups to decide whether to respond to the veterans and, more incredibly, concluded that the public would be turned off if it did. So Kerry tried to ignore the whole thing, making two costly errors at once: he allowed a political attack to go unanswered, and he signaled to Americans that he wouldn't lift a finger to defend himself. In an election year that at bottom is about who can best defend the homeland, Kerry's refusal to strike back hard and fast when his own hide was on the line was a startling misreading of what voters are looking for in a leader after 9/11. Realizing the gravity of their error, Kerry's aides eventually leaked word that the candidate was unhappy with his campaign's handling of the Swifties. In public, though, Kerry sees no misstep. "I think we did absolutely fine," he told TIME.

But nothing has dragged down Kerry like his kaleidoscopic positions on the war in Iraq, which have long been difficult to follow, are based in arcane, tactical considerations about Senate voting procedures and are subject to endless refinement. Almost everyone knows that Kerry voted for the war in 2002 and then against the $87 billion in reconstruction funds last fall when his campaign began to lose ground to antiwar candidate Howard Dean. That bit of political expediency would have been survivable had Kerry not turned up, exhausted, in Huntington, W.Va., a few months later confessing that "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it."

Karl Rove called that comment the most damaging 11 seconds in American politics—and the Bush campaign made the remark the center of a multimillion-dollar ad blitz in the months that followed. But in trying to clarify things since, Kerry has often made things murkier and has added footnotes to his position that have boomeranged on him later.

For example, in July Kerry delivered a popular line at the convention about how the U.S. "never goes to war because we want to; we only go to war because we have to." When Bush's advisers heard that, they saw an opening. In August Bush all but dared Kerry to say whether, knowing then what he knows now, he would have given the President the "authority" to go into Iraq, as he did in late 2002. It was a taunt Kerry should have ignored, for any response held some dangers. But perhaps because of the confusion raised by his March comment in Huntington, Kerry took the dare and stuck by his initial vote for the war, arguing once more that the problem was not his vote but the way Bush had misused his authority once Congress granted it to him.

It sounded consistent, but Bush now had what he wanted and could afford to wait for the right moment to play the card. When Kerry sharpened his rhetoric on the war once more and began just last week to call it "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time," Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney jumped on him, reminding voters that even Kerry had said he would vote for the war all over again if he had the chance. The point was no longer whether the war was right or wrong; it was whether you could take anything Kerry ever said to the bank. In the course of about a month, Bush had found a way to level the playing field on the one issue on which he was most vulnerable.

And Kerry helped him at every step.

Perhaps what's most frustrating for Kerry's supporters is that his position is not that complicated—and is intellectually defensible.

He voted for the war to strengthen Bush's diplomatic leverage with allies and against the reconstruction money as a vote of no confidence on the handling of the aftermath, and he insists he would have conducted both the diplomacy before the invasion and the cleanup afterward very differently. As he explained it to TIME, "The contrast could not be clearer. They spent a lot of money trying to confuse people, but I have been consistent. I would not have taken the country into war the way he did. I would not have put young Americans in harm's way without a plan to win the peace. I would not have interrupted as abruptly the effort to build alliances with other countries. I would not have turned my back on the international community. And Americans are paying a $200 billion cost today because this President rushed to war."

A top kerry aide predicted that by "turning Iraq into a domestic issue," the nominee would soon turn the race around. But it is far from certain that this latest tack will hold for very long because other advisers believe Kerry must get away from the Iraq tar baby once and for all. All that suggests a deeper problem in the campaign: Kerryland appears to be arranged not for speed but for consultation.

The Kerry campaign at times resembles a floating five-ring circus of longtime Democratic operatives who have all sorts of views, allegiances and ambitions. That worked fine when it was up against Howard Dean's homespun Vermont militia. Against Bush-Cheney '04, a disciplined hierarchy run by Karl Rove and manned by fervent Bush loyalists who take no prisoners, it could be a recipe for a landslide. Second-guessing is taboo under Rove, chiefly because Bush trusts him completely. But it's more like a privilege of membership at Kerry HQ, with the candidate himself often joining the debate.

"Their candidate knows what he thinks," said a Democratic Party elder. "Ours feels no compunction to talk about all sides of an issue."

Hoping to halt that habit, John Sasso, a hard-nosed party veteran, has taken up residence on Kerry's campaign plane. Sasso's job is to help target Kerry's wandering message and keep him from going wobbly.

Sasso, who oversaw the beginning and the end of Michael Dukakis' ill-fated 1988 campaign, was sent aloft, as one ally put it, because the campaign lacked a Kerry peer who could tell the candidate when and where to get back in line. Although his odds are longer now, Kerry has plenty of time to turn it around, and he can take some small courage from the fact that a man named Al Gore was ahead four years ago next month by 11 points and still lost. And as a campaigner, Kerry has a habit of looking into the abyss before he turns things around.

But he's not in Massachusetts anymore, and as it looks elsewhere, his operation is quietly cutting its losses. A $50 million television advertising campaign, begun earlier this month and once envisioned for 20 states, is playing in only 10. Dropped for now from the ad buy are such states as Colorado, Arkansas, North Carolina, Virginia and Missouri, all once thought to be competitive for Kerry but now widely regarded as out of reach. Kerry senior strategist Tad Devine disputed the Electoral College triage in a chat with TIME, noting that Kerry had been in North Carolina and Louisiana as recently as last week.

Republicans dismissed those visits as track covering. One claimed that perhaps no more than six or seven states were up for grabs now—a third of the number in early August and a reversal of fortune from just a few weeks ago.


http://www.time.com/time/magazine/pr...695823,00.html
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