While most of the political class is focused on what is usually the key question in presidential races such as this one – will the country vote up or down on the incumbent – the campaign marketers seem to have reversed that trend.
John Kerry, having seen some upside to his bio-ads, has been pushing positive messages and biographic pieces. Most recently these ads have focused on Kerry’s strength (he hunts, he fathers, he fights) in an effort to pick up some of the slack left by the President’s recent testosterone leak when it comes to his war on terror approval ratings.
Bush, on the other hand, has aimed his ads at disparaging Kerry himself, and at times, directly targeting Kerry’s ads. This counterpunch strategy seems much more suited to a challenger and in the post-Reagan funeral weeks, I would’ve expected a very different strategy.
Here’s the part that makes this advertising flip flop even more intriguing. When Kerry really has his coming out party, the message will be all about unity and optimism. The President has already been hurt by events and negative media. There is no good reason to pile on. We could see a campaign in which, even in the final months, there is an optimistic challenger talking about himself and a pessimistic incumbent essentially raising the status of his opponent with every negative ad.
Maybe the Bush team has a plan to shift this trend midstream after the conventions. But right now it just seems weird. If they believe things are going well and the right choices have been made (and they often seem to) then why not sell that message?
Kerry’s challenge. Take the high road and stay there. If the hardcore partisans are sick of the constant attacks, think of how irritated the swing voters must be by now, knee deep in an unprecedented flood of targeted campaign spending. A lot of which has been way off target.