. . . Monday August 30, 2004

Is Kerry Pacing Himself?

The latest poll numbers from the Wash Post show that while the race is still a dead heat, President Bush has already erased most of Kerry’s post-convention bounce and increased his leads in the areas of security, leadership and the war on terror. He is weaker on topics such as the economy and Iraq.

Also, the Swift Boat ads (along with the prior strings of attacks) seem to have taken an indirect toll. Bush is viewed as more trustworthy and honest than Kerry by a 47-41% margin (that’s a 12 point swing since the Dem convention ended). A similar swing has emerged on the question of which candidate would make a better commander in chief.

How bad are these trends for Kerry, especially considering the GOP hasn’t even brought out the primetime speakers yet? Pretty bad. Not because of the overall splits which still depict an incredibly tight race. But because a significant number of Americans who are dissatisfied with the direction the country is headed still haven’t come over to Kerry and the Dems.

It will be interesting to see how the Republicans play to their strengths throughout much of this week as they portray their man as being tough on terror. Meanwhile, they will largely ignore their own cultural positions which turn the stomachs of so many voters.

By the end of the week, Team Kerry will be left with a pivotal question. Should they stay moderate and continue to highlight Kerry’s military record, or should Kerry hit the Republicans on the very topics they obviously want to avoid?

Several months ago, I sat among a group of Democratic insiders and funders in California and listened to Bob Shrum answer a series of questions. He talked a lot about the pace of the Kerry campaign and explained that Kerry would let Bush’s own record and struggles hurt him for awhile. Then, around the time of the convention, he would kick things up a few notches and make this a campaign about himself, not just his opponent.

The strategy made some sense to me at the time. But I really thought that Kerry would’ve picked up the pace a whole lot more in the last month or so.

Concentration is important!