Why this is a tough campaign to read
John Harwood and Jacob Schlesinger have a nice summary in the Wall Street Journal of why it will be difficult to reach the undecideds during this election season. Here’s the gist: By spending some $2.3 million on television advertising over the last five months, John Kerry has fought George Bush to a near-draw in Seattle ...
John Harwood and Jacob Schlesinger have a nice summary in the Wall Street Journal of why it will be difficult to reach the undecideds during this election season. Here's the gist:
John Harwood and Jacob Schlesinger have a nice summary in the Wall Street Journal of why it will be difficult to reach the undecideds during this election season. Here’s the gist:
By spending some $2.3 million on television advertising over the last five months, John Kerry has fought George Bush to a near-draw in Seattle as he courts affluent suburbanites who share his social liberalism but lean toward Republicans on taxes and trade. At the same time, Mr. Kerry has aimed some $550,000 in advertising at Bluefield, W.Va., outgunning Mr. Bush by nearly $100,000. The target: blue-collar workers who favor economic populism but are culturally conservative. These disparate battlefields highlight Mr. Kerry’s strategic conundrum as he leaves his party’s nominating convention today. Among the small pool of swing voters in this fall’s election, there are two groups with diametrically opposed political views. Mr. Kerry’s plan for winning this seemingly deadlocked race turns on whether he can appeal to both sets simultaneously. It’s a tough job since most battleground states encompass both types of voter. If Mr. Kerry can’t attract enough people from each camp — and win states that fell beyond the Democrats’ grasp in 2000 — he can’t win the White House. The Kerry team is banking on fixing the dilemma by focusing on one concern that appears to be common to both groups: Iraq. The war that once loomed as a Republican trump card has become a critical element in Democrats’ attempt to piece together a 270-electoral-vote majority. The campaign hopes it will allow Mr. Kerry to scale the otherwise unbridgeable gap between the two sets of undecided voters. Because of discontent over the war, “we’re getting an open door from people who wouldn’t talk to us before,” says Ted Gudorf, a Kerry delegate at the Boston Democratic Convention and a mayor from the swing state of Ohio…. The tensions between two seemingly irreconcilable camps have already given Mr. Kerry heartburn. After a Senate career in which he consistently backed trade expansion deals, Mr. Kerry began criticizing those deals and “Benedict Arnold CEOs” who ship jobs overseas, as part of an effort to court the union voters that loom large in Democratic nomination fights. Eyeing the general election — and more affluent undecided voters — he recently started emphasizing business-friendly stances, such as opposition to runaway deficits. The Bush campaign has exploited Mr. Kerry’s balancing act to press its charge that the Massachusetts senator flip-flops depending on political circumstances. Mr. Kerry, who has blamed the Benedict Arnold line on “overzealous speechwriters,” says changing economic circumstances have steered him toward different positions on issues, such as trade, than he had advocated in the past. For their part, Kerry strategists hope that U.S. woes in Iraq will help their candidate appeal to a decisive bloc of undecided voters. They hope to make the Bush administration’s handling of Iraq a symbol of broader Democratic criticisms: “a harsh ideology, a rigidity, a disdain for any kind of dissenting point of view, dismissing any opposition whatsoever,” says John Sasso, a top Democratic National Committee official and Kerry confidant…. There are tentative signs the strategy might work. In a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll last month, Mr. Bush continued to enjoy a wide lead among veterans. But he and Mr. Kerry split the votes of active-duty soldiers and their immediate relatives — slightly more than 10% of the electorate — as well as the votes of immediate relatives of veterans. That’s one reason Kerry strategists see a chance to win Colorado, a Republican-leaning state Mr. Bush carried by eight percentage points in 2000. The Kerry campaign has run television ads in conservative Colorado Springs, home to both the Air Force Academy and the Fort Carson army base. Headway among military families would brighten Mr. Kerry’s prospects in states including Florida, Arizona, Virginia and Mr. Edwards’s native North Carolina. But while independents say they’re keen to listen to Democrats talk about national security, it’s not clear Mr. Kerry’s message has inspired them. Ken Hamel, a 47-year-old print-shop manager in North Dakota, says he’s paying closer attention than ever to the election because it will determine who leads the U.S.’s war on terrorism for the next four years. But “how do you judge anybody on that score?” he asks. “How do you fight terrorists who are willing to kill themselves?”
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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