It was for many members of the American public the anyone but Bush era. Democrats will recall what they were looking for in a candidate and why they pushed Kerry over the top even at a moment when it looked like the straight-talking Dean or the fresh, talented Edwards might still have a shot.
The truth is that more Democrats agreed with more of Dean’s positions than any of the other candidates. That’s why his rep has remained intact and he still has a major voice in the Party. Everyone at the convention in Boston wanted a Dean handshake. And the other truth is that the political junkies among the Dems couldn’t get enough of the late night C-Span repeats of Edwards stump speeches from earlier in the day. For several weeks, we couldn’t turn the channel. Dems sat on their couches holding a lighter in their outstretched hand as they chanted, “Yeah, two Americas, dude. Two Americas.”
But in the end, the Party happily abandoned Dean’s fire and Edwards’ charm. Why?
Kerry had a national reputation. Kerry had military experience. Kerry had gravitas. All these played a role. But there was really only one reason that mattered to anyone in the Democratic Party in those days of small town bus rides and gymnasium stump speeches.
Kerry could win.
That was, beneath all of the placards and beyond all of the campaign promises and jabs, the core of it.
So here we are. Months later. Things on the ground (Iraq, jobs, the economy, gas prices, bad weather in swing states) couldn’t be going that much worse for the President. Even though he leads in most polls, those same polls indicate that people from both parties are desperate for a change of direction.
So why hasn’t Kerry surged? Maybe he has been too slow to counter the attacks of the Bush team. Maybe he hasn’t been aggressive enough in identifiying the key differences between himself and his opponent. Maybe a lack of charisma has been his undoing (it may not matter who you want to have a beer with, but it sure matters whose speeches and comments get face time on the tube).
All of these may be factors, but the major element missing from the Kerry campaign is the one core element that launched it.
His ultimate challenge on Thursday night (I think the other debates may be too late to stem the momentum if it’s not changed now) is to convince viewers (and unfortunate as it is, commentators) of one thing:
That he can win.