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Kerry Still Ahead in Battleground States

I pointed out on April 22 that Kerry appeared to be ahead where it really counts--in the battleground states--despite Bush's small national lead. Here's confirmation of this pattern from a just-released Marist college poll: while Bush is ahead of Kerry by 3 points nationally among RVs (47-44), Kerry is head of Bush by the same exact margin (47-44) in the battleground states.

In addition, the poll asks the following slight variant on the traditional right direction/wrong track question: "In general, thinking about the way things are going in the country, do you feel things are going in the right direction or that things are going in the wrong direction?" The public as a whole gives a 46 right direction/50 wrong direction response. But in the battleground states the public gives a substantially more negative 40/55 response.

Another interesting finding from the poll is that Bush gets a relatively weak job rating of just 55 percent on handling the war on terrorism. And in a just-released Pew poll, Bush gets an identical 55 percent job rating on handling terrorist threats. I continue to believe that these declining job ratings in Bush's strongest area are of great political significance and provide Kerry with the opening he needs to make his case on national security issues.

Of course, he's still got to make it, starting with the mess in Iraq. Right now, according to the Pew poll, only 36 percent believe Bush has a clear plan for bringing the situation in Iraq to a successful conclusion, compared to 54 percent who think he doesn't. That's Kerry's cue to step up with just such a plan. I agree with what Josh Marshall had to say in his recent New York Times op-ed:

....running a campaign that focuses the voters' gaze solely on the president's manifest failures will probably run into resistance, especially with the voters he most needs to win over, those from the ambivalent middle. Mr. Kerry is far more likely to win if he has a plan to show how he and thus the American people can succeed rather than simply showing how President Bush and thus they have failed.

And it's going to call for more than a "secret plan to end the war", as Nixon was able to get away with. Sure hope they're working on this one down at Kerry campaign HQ.


i think you can argue that a Nixon-style non-plan could work, because if Kerry comes out with a plan, it opens up a new front for Bush to attack. Right now, Bush is stuck with vague character attacks that in my view are of limited effectiveness. Any new Kerry plan would have to be carefully contrived to minimize attacks from Bush - which might not dovetail with what's actually best for the U.S. and Iraq.

I think he should stay away from specifics for as long as possible, or until polling indicates that voters really want a contrast with Bush war policies. Voters need to "percieve" that Kerry has a plan. (Obviously, the Bush admin didn't have much of a plan - and they're the ones who started the war.) Kerry's already made a few safe moves, such as calling for greater UN input and internat'l participation.

The Marist Poll sends a chill down my spine. Again Ralph Nader is polling 5% in battleground states. That's enough to give many of those states to Bush. Someone needs to analyze whether the hurdles for Nader ballot placement in those states will be sufficient to negate those polls.

Kerry has other problems. As Marshall points out, America's difficulties in Iraq have the effect of rallying support to Bush.

For some, as those problems worsen, the right path is to leave Iraq. That's what Nader is saying. Nader stands to pick up strength as the situation worsens, as does Bush. Kerry is thereby caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

And, new poll out today in Pennsylvania showing Bush 42%, Kerry 42%, Nader 5%. At least it's an improvement over an other recent Penn. poll showing Bush ahead.


Um, isn't 46-50 right track/ wrong track, and even 40/55 in battleground states, worse for Kerry than WaPo figures of a couple weeks ago, which give 57% wrong track? Are these trend lines about the improving economy, rather than a rally effect? If so, it's hard to imagine what Kerry can do.

I think Kerry ought to stress one theme -- "At Times Like This, We Need A Vetern In The White House." Simple, catchy and absolutely irrefutable.


Kerry definitely needs a plan, instead of what he has on a website. I went to a town meeting where one of the speakers said that the candidates' plans for Iraq resemble lyrics from a John Lennon song.

pangolin, there's not much difference between 55 and 57 percent. So far, I've seen no evidence the wrong track numbers are improving. Also, I, too, glad to see that new PA poll. Any state where Kerry is tied or within a few points is his to win because the large majority of undecided voters go the challenger.

A central problem for Kerry is that he has essentiallly signed off on Bush's war in Iraq. His only quibbles are as to how it is being handled.

My concern is that this limited critique may not be enough, because it simply doesn't allow Kerry to draw a significant contrast on this central issue. Certainly, it doesn't attempt to take advantage of the growing opposition to the war, and it doesn't draw a real, substantive distinction as to how Kerry would go about handling the war on terror differently.

I suppose you can argue that the opponents of the war, who are growing in number, will have nowhere else to go but Kerry. But Kerry's sign-off on Iraq also removes the most likely main incentive for a voter to fire Bush. Isn't it possible that many of the new, less strident opponents of the war will just hold their nose and vote for continuity?

It's a difficult corner Kerry has painted himself into. Bob Graham's approach on the issues of war and terrorism would be far easier to make work in the general election.

(I know Graham just wasn't a good candidate, but if Kerry had Graham's position on Iraq and terror, our chances this fall would be much increased. Certainly Kerry's range of action and rhetoric would have been immeasurably increased. And, of course, if Kerry had adopted a Graham-like posture, I don't think it would have affected Kerry's cruise to the nomination. No one knew what he stood for anyway, other than being a tall,long-serving senator with a good Vietnam war record. No one even cared. Like Ruy, the Democrat electorate was just dirty-pants scared of Dean and relieved to be rid of him.)

And, certainly I like Paul C's slogan above; I just hope it is enough. While it is clearly true that Kerry has more war experience and indeed more foreign policy experience than Bush when you put their careers side by side, it is also true that Bush's three years of experience have come as commander in chief.


Today's WSJ has a column by John Harwood about Ret. General William Odom's view that we should get out of Iraq. He argues that we can't succeed in establishing a pro-US democracy in Iraq, not now and not in the future, so "stay the course" makes no sense. If we stay it only gets worse for us both in terms of casualties and isolation in the world. If we announce we are leaving in 6 months and mean it, there is a good chance the Europeans will come in. If not, so be it. The result will be an Islamic semi-democracy that is not friendly to us, but even if we could prevent that (which he doesn't think we could) the cost is too high.

Assuming events deteriorate as the General (a conservative, btw) predicts, Kerry needs to leave himself enough room to be able to propose just such a plan. That would be the best course, as well as the best way to distinguish himself from Bush. He just has to say that Bush broke it so bad that it can't really be retrieved. He can say he supported the war, gave Bush the benifit of the doubt, but no Bush plan has a chance of succeeding so we just need to let the Iraqis deal with it and perhaps offer to help fund them, with or without the Europeans and the UN.

I agreed w/ Josh Marshall 100%. Kerry can't rely on and/or wait for Bush to fail and Kerry can't just attack Bush's policies. Undecided voters are waiting I think for Kerry to offer concrete ideas/plans on how to turn the country around. Except for wingnuts, some moderate GOP and swing voters can be had if Kerry present good plans.

Lets face it, Kerry has a personality problem but it can be overcome if his plans/ideas are clear. On Iraq, Kerry and Bush are not that far apart. Kerry must present an exit plan. Getting more troops to Iraq won't work.

I think it is prudent for Kerry, electorally, to wait until after the June 30 handoff + some time to give anything other than abstract ideas on the situation in Iraq.
That still leaves plenty of time for people who have not already made up their minds to pay attention to the race. He should be hammering Bush on his waffling, his lack of planning, and his incompetence. Nothing hard from Kerry himself -- swing voters do not want to be told that their President is letting people die needlessly -- but he needs to present an optimistic "Americans can do better" tone in Iraq.

I agree with theCoach. We should promote him to theManager.

Oh, another thing Kery has to do is speak from the heart. I don't know if some of you have read Kerry's diaries written when he was in Nam. It is chilling and eloquent by a 20something guy no less in the heat of battles.

One more thing - and thanks, Ron - I would come out with outrage about Ahmed Chalabi. There are several different fronts and questions to raise with regard to Chalabi - and it all ties in to the President's many many faults. We were duped by this man - he gave us bad information on WMDs. The most outrageous thing, IMO, is that he has been allowed to have the Sadaam era secret police files (Is this really true?). I cannot imagine the US not claiming those, or giving them to the UN.
So, although it is not really a plan in Iraq, if I were Kerry, I would start asking questions about why this administration keeps relying on Chalabi. The electorate do not want to fault the President, but they would love to blame a weasel like Chalabi, and all of the stories lead back to Bush's monumental incompetence.

By addressing foreign policy issues besides Iraq, particularly al qaeda and the larger issue we face in combating radical Islamism, how he will seek to correct the failures in our intelligence process, North Korea, and perhaps some cross-national issues (such as the environment, hastening the development of alternative energy sources) Kerry can implicitly make the point that while the Bush Administration has suffered from a self-imposed myopia in foreign affairs, the Kerry Administration will not.

As others have pointed out, I am not sure what beyond what he has already said he specifically could propose re Iraq that will help him more than hurt him at this point. He could say, connecting this point to his remarks about fixing the intelligence mess, that a Kerry Administration is intent on making national security decisions grounded in fact and informed analysis rather than wishful thinking. It's a dangerous world and there is no room for winging it when the security of the United States and the lives and futures of so many here and around the world are on the line. Put another way, a President must begin with a determination to try to see and understand the world the way it is, not the way he or she might wish that it were now.

One would think that a president is in a better position to learn more and obtain diverse viewpoints on national security issues than a senator. But this can matter only when the President, in the course of making foreign policy decisions, is committed to piercing illusions rather than being held captive by them.

It would not be difficult to identify several specific examples of illusions held by this Administration that were and are avoidable (any view held by a person associated with the opposition party--such as former "Clintonite" Clarke--is necessarily wrong; anyone who (Chalabi) tells us what we want to hear about Iraq must be right and therefore no pressing need to seek other views, etc.) but that, when they formed the basis for particular decisions, have harmed the national interest.

Battlegrounds, Domestic and Foreign

In regard to the Kerry-Bush results in the battleground states (47-44), on the surface, this would seem like good news, but I am curious about how these polls compare with the results in the same states in 2k. Does anyone know if Kerry's polling results in the battleground states are ahead, even or behind Gore's 2k result?

One last point about the battleground poll-these results, at least on the surface, indicate that Bush does weaker in areas that he advertises and visits personally. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for him.

As for a Kerry Iraq strategy, in addition to the points he has been making, I think he should have two more specific proposals. First, he should state that he would reconstitute most of the old Iraqi Army. Second, he should put a time limit on the American occupation if things go well. Something like, "we expect Iraq to be peaceful, stable and democratic by the end of 2008 and we anticipate that all american troops will be out of Iraq by that time."

I think the first point is particularly key and here's why. The only (slim) chance of succeeding out there is if Iraqi's feel they "own" the government. Yet, this will NEVER happen if American troops are responsible for security. I think it is axiomatic that a government that is depended on a foreign power for its security, will never be considered any more then a figure head, lap dog (pick your metaphor) of the government that runs the army.

I understand that the administration is trying to build a new Iraqi army from scratch, but that will never work. What Fullujah showed is that the Iraqi Army will never fight their own citizens (the toughest test for any army) if it is doing so at the insistence and direction of the USA. So, know Iraqi Army will be created until their is a government that is legitimate in the eyes of its citizens. Yet, as I just said, such government will never be legitimate until it has its own army that will handle the security situation. The only way to get out of this "chicken and the egg" problem is to reconstitute the old Iraqi Army and put it under the command of the Iraqi government. Our army will then sort of "stick around" to make sure the Iraqi army behaves. Having an Iraqi army also goes a long way toward solving the "number of boots on the ground" problem.

Finally, I think we have to assure the Iraqi people that we are not there to stay. I think we should announce a date certain that we will leave so long as the security situation warrants it.

Well, thems my thoughts.


I'm not sure the right direction/wrong direction question is as solid an indicator as some folks suggest. There was a poll specifically on Iraq whose results were pretty surprising. This was during the height of Fallujah and the question was, is the level of force used in Iraq 1 too great 2 insufficient or 3 about right. The 2s and 3s were about even in the low 40s, 1s were UNDER 10%! I don't see any of the rising anti-war sentiment some above mention. Protest attendance is in steep decline from what I can see. And if it weren't, again as some said above, it's not a clear help to Kerry as he voted for the war. Nader will eat him alive in the pacifist vote if he is on the ballot. Kerry seems hopelessly conflicted at this point.

The following from the Washington Post disturbs me geatlhy:

"Some Democrats worry Kerry is falling into a trap of making the 2004 election all about national security -- past, present and future. In recent weeks, Kerry has been dragged into fights over his position on the Iraq war, his votes to cut or eliminate weapons programs and, most recently, whether he tossed away his Vietnam War medals during a war protest 33 years ago."

Those "Some Democrats" are the very ones who thought they could cede the battlefield to Bush two years and look what happened.

This Democrat is worries that Kerry is entering the battle reluctantly when he should be exploiting the advantage that the latest GOP attacks have opened for him.

He should couple his criticism of Bush/Cheney war records with a broadside against their reckless and fraudulent foreign and defense policies that have done nothing but sap international unity and US security.

He have done so a month ago

Come November, I don't want to sit back and ask myself the Saturday Night live question - "How in the hell did we lose to this guy?"
Destroy the War President - win the war.

Me too the war president and mix messages....

Saturday Night live

Do not be anxious over what the Cheney regime does to you. Be anxious about what you can do to them

In response to Andy Katz, Marist identifies 17 "Battleground" states in which the 2000 margin for Bush or Gore was 7 points or less. They exclude the 18th such state, Tennesseee. In the 17 (Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin), Gore beat Bush by four-tenths of one percent, 17,666,385 to 17,525,621. Gore won 96 electoral votes, to 84 for Bush.

Thanks Ron. To me, what your post demonstrates is that Kerry's showing in the battlegrounds is significant as he is out-polling Gore. If the 2.5% swing from Gore to Kerry that is apparent now is applied evenly to all battleground states on election day, Kerry would win as he would take Florida and New Hamshire.

Reuters bias

The headline of Caren Bohan's piece on Kerry (http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=615&e=4&u=/nm/20040428/pl_nm/campaign_kerry_dc) is inappropriate. In no part of his speech did Senator John Kerry echo President Bill Clinton's "I feel your pain" line, one still held up as a ridiculous sentiment. Yet, Bohan's headline: "Kerry Seeks to Show Workers He Feels Their Pain." What's wrong with "Kerry Addresses Supportive Rust Belt Audience"?

And this is reporting...the quoting only of sources that say negative things about Kerry's speaking style, as if his intelligence is a liability? Well, this is Amuricaka, so I supposte it is a liability.

E-mail Reuters' editors (http://www.reuters.com/-helpSection.jhtml;jsessionid=CIHQEXFPDA3T4CRBAEOCFFA?p=contactUs) and complain. Click on "Contact a Reuters Editor." Also, let the folks know at CampaignDesk.org.

Kerry's lead in battleground states suggests Bush has solidified his strength with the Christian right and as a result is in the process of losing the moderates. The only reason any moderates are hanging with him is because there is still an eroding consensus that he was right to go to Iraq.

Please pass on (if possible) to the the Kerry campaign a suggested tag line:

"I don't just want to make America safer -- I want to make it better."