Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Coffee's For Closers

You know what it takes to win a presidential election? Absent my visual aid, I will be forced to use words. It takes a sustained effort over the duration of almost two years by a competent and able campaign, with no relenting until election day. Of course, avoiding catastrophic mistakes is a must, and a bit of serendipity regarding the unfolding of current events never hurt anyone. Throw in a bit of gravitas and charm, and victory is yours.

Using the polls-over-substance paradigm to cover such intricate and nuanced a process as a political campaign, the media is a flutter with the latest snap shot from the horse race. The polls that have come out post-convention have shown that candidate Bush has received a pretty sizable convention bounce, vaulting him to the lead in most polls of a nationwide focus, with the biggest lead being 11 points but the most recent polls indicating around 7 points.

While these numbers are not great for Kerry, it is important to remember that it is only early September and the real heart of the campaigning will occur between now and November, including and especially the debates. It is also worth noting that some polls, like the poll of registered voters by CNN/Gallup, show Bush only slightly ahead of Kerry, 49%-48%. Most significant, though, is the fact that these are national polls, and in our somewhat quirky democracy, the Electoral College determines the presidency, not the overall majority of the people. The
picture in the Electoral College remains fuzzy at best with Bush showing a slight lead, but with a subtle shift in any one swing state tilting the margin of victory Kerry's way. This leaves open the devilishly intriguing possibility that this time around, Bush might win the popular vote, but lose the presidency.

With this in mind I urge the Democrats to relax. Don't panic. Back on May 12th,
I counseled the same sober and measured response to poll numbers that were somewhat lackluster. Back then Kerry and Bush were locked in a dead heat, and many Democrats sounded the alarm over a perceived squandered opportunity to make up ground in light of Abu Ghraib and the downward turn of events in Iraq.

It's now four months later, and guess what - they're still neck and neck in the overall sense. Fear and panic make you do rash things, which rarely turn out for the best, especially in a political context. Kerry and the Democrats need to stay on message, fine tune the machine, and get out and attack according to plan, not based on some over-reaction to polls. Desperation is so unattractive.

I have faith that Kerry/Edwards will accomplish just this. Remember, John Kerry is a closer. He has trailed in almost everyone of his Senate races, but has always managed to finish strong and win re-election. It seems to be his style to get a sense of the terrain before launching the final push. Aiding a potential late push by Kerry is the fact that current events seem to contain the prospect for inroads for Kerry's camp, barring an October surprise like a terrorist attack or the apprehension of Osama Bin Laden.

Most notably, the economy continues to limp along, with the mediocre job numbers in August, that didn't even keep pace with new job seekers, being touted by the Bush team as signs of a robust recovery. Do you think that will resonate in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan?

Iraq also continues to remain a hotbed of continuing violence and instability, with the latest wave of attacks claiming the lives of seven Marines. The
death toll for U.S. military personnel now stands at 1001, with the number and variety of confrontations with U.S. troops intensifying, not abating, post-transfer of "sovereignty" (note: although the official number is 1001, according to Global Security, the actual number could be closer to 1,050 when those that are "Reported Killed but Unidentified Pending Notification of Next of Kin" are included in the tally). Clearly, the Bush campaign remains vulnerable on these most pertinent of issues, which is probably why they seem intent on making the campaign all about John Kerry and fear, and where the two concepts can be connected.

John Kerry's success or failure rests in his ability to return the focus of the electorate to the actual issues, rather than meaningless and scurrilous character attacks or irresponsible fear mongering, but there is also something else working in favor. I predict that this election will see the highest turnout in terms of overall numbers, and percentage of eligible voters, in the past 30 years, and possibly beyond. There will be a historic turnout, and history has shown that the more people vote, the better the prospects of the Democratic candidate. In addition, there are many would be voters who will be drawn to the polls for the first time in their lives by the polarizing candidacy of Bush. Many of these voters are from demographic groups with a historical record of apathy, so they are largely unrepresented in polling data, which could skew the numbers toward Bush despite the eventual election day outcome.

With this possibility looming on the horizon, it is no surprise that these polls will be used as a weapon to sow feelings of futility amongst potential voters. So don't let a few bad polls discourage you, or keep you home on election day indulging fatalist fancies. Grab a cup of coffee, buck up, and close.

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