. . . Tuesday September 7, 2004

Bypassing the Kerry Team

As more of the old Clinton crew moved into some of the top advisorial roles in the Kerry campaign, the former President took a half-hour out of his weekend prior to major surgery to offer the Senator some advice on how to get his campaign going.

The gist of the advice was that Kerry should stop focusing so much of his campaign on Vietnam, and instead focus on drawing contrasts between himself and W on issues like jobs and healthcare. There are those who still believe, however, that Bush is vulnerable on Iraq and that the Dems must decouple the war in Iraq and war on terror. Meanwhile, other advisors, former advisors, pundits, radio talkshow hosts, radio talkshow callers, columnists, bloggers, rabbis, shrinks, politicians, cab drivers, sitcom stars, and just about everyone else has also offered Kerry their advice on how to turn things around.

There is also a growing number of people who worry that this is all just a typical Democratic panic attack and that the candidate and the team are doing fine. I think this line of thinking ignores just how badly the Kerry campaign has been doing over the past four to six weeks and how little room for error there is in these evenly divided times.

Not to be left out, I’ll even offer my own advice: Think big. To me, the biggest strategic mistake from Team Kerry is that their candidate has been counterpunching. Whether it is a news item, a 527 attack ad, or a comment by the President, Kerry is ready with a comeback (which is a slight improvement over ignoring personal attacks).

We saw this tactic as recently as this morning when Kerry hit Bush on the newly released deficit projections. While it’s fine to work in the day’s news when it fits the overall message, I’d like to see Kerry focus his messaging on three or four key points with catchy taglines. Just keep hammering.

Yes, as nearly all the experts agree, this race must be turned into a referendum on the President. But Kerry must also offer a clear vision and enable undecided voters to really picture him in the Oval Office (and not simply Bush out of it).

But, here’s the rub. I’m not sure how much any of this advice helps, even when it comes from those who are really in the know (example: Clinton, me). Ultimately, it all comes down to the question of Kerry. Can he pull it off? Remember, we’re talking about the making of a president, not the making of a popstar. We can’t just come up with the right team to do the make-up, write the songs, shoot the video, mold the torso and teach him how to lip sync.

Last week, only moments after the RNC, Kerry prepared for a midnight response surrounded by 15,000 enthusiastic supporters in Ohio. It was a pretty bold move. And most importantly, it looks like it was a move that came from the gut that most matters; Kerry’s.

And if you’re a political junkie, it was one of those late evenings you eagerly await. I was amped. I downed a couple of Red Bulls, positioned my laptop, locked my cats in the other room and picked the cable news channel with the clearest signal.

John Edwards took to the stage and help to build the level of anticipation. He was a bit restrained as he always is when appearing on the same stage as Kerry, but he got the job done. Then came Kerry. And suddenly, a lot of the life was sucked out of the event. My Red Bull wore off, I closed my laptop and let the cats back out.

That’s a problem that can only be fixed from within. No one, not even Bill Clinton from his hospital room, can tell John Kerry how to sieze the moment. And time to sieze it is running out.

Concentration is important!