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March 30, 2004
Kerry Continues to Slide: Poll

After a week in which former national security and counterterrorism apparatchik Richard Clarke helped the Democrats beat up on George Bush by claiming he was uninterested in terrorism prior to 9/11, a new poll by CNN/Gallup/USA Today shows that someone's being hurt by it -- but it's not George Bush:

Among likely voters surveyed, 51 percent said they would choose Bush for president, while 47 percent said they would vote for Kerry, within the margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. (Full story)

Three weeks ago, as Kerry was cinching the Democratic nomination with a string of primary victories, he led the president by 8 points in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup among likely voters, 52 percent to 44 percent.

While that's technically within the outer reaches of the margin of error, it is the first time that Bush has polled over 50% since John Kerry won the March 2nd Super Tuesday; in fact, looking at the breakdown of the poll, it's been almost three months since Bush did this well -- and that was when the presumptive Democratic nominee was Howard Dean, who always matched up poorly against Bush. Kerry has lost 16 points against Bush since February 16th, when he led in a head-to-head poll 55-43. As Hugh Hewitt notes, that's 16 points in 40 days, an absolute free-fall during a period when the Democratic nominee should be sucking up all the political oxygen, not just sucking in general.

When you dissect the numbers even further, the news looks more grim for Kerry. Among likely voters, Kerry's firm support has dropped from 45% to 40% since March 7th, with an identical 7% leaning Kerry. Bush's firm support has gone up from 38% to 44%, with 7% leaning his way, up from 6%. Not only has Bush firmed up his base, he's attracting more independents. Why?

CNN's analysis figures that the Bush campaign's depiction of Kerry as a tax-and-spend liberal -- a quite accurate depiction -- has outweighed the damage that Clarke's book and 9/11 Commission appearance has done. CNN doesn't mention the damage Kerry's done to his own campaign, including the now-famous dodge, "I voted for the $87 billion -- before I voted against it." John Kerry's unfavorable numbers went up 10 points in the last 40 day. Bush's approval rating rose to 53%, up four points and the highest since mid-January.

Here's the key statistic in the polling, and why the Clarke broadside has missed its target -- in fact, why it hit Kerry instead. Near the bottom of USA Today's breakdown of the numbers is this question: If a situation arose that required the president to make a decision about sending U.S. troops to war, who would you trust more to make that decision: John Kerry, or George W. Bush?

Kerry Bush
Mar 26-28 41 52
Jan 29-Feb 1 50 45

That's sixteen points, same as the shift over the last 40 days. All Clarke and the 9/11 Commission has done is to remind people how clueless US policy on terrorism had been for a decade prior to 9/11, despite provocation after provocation. It's also reminded people that Bush, unlike his predecessor's team (which includes Clarke), responded forcefully when attacked and has actually made a dent in terrorism. Also -- and this is another critical point -- the Democrats that noisily climbed aboard the Clarke bandwagon wound up endorsing pre-emption, especially Bob Kerrey, who wondered aloud why we didn't attack Afghanistan after the embassy bombings in Africa in 1998 or the USS Cole in 2000. Pre-emption had been Bush's policy alone, and now the Democrats have endorsed it, making themselves look silly and opportunistic after spending months denouncing it.

Instead of being wounded by the debate over the past week, Bush has been lifted as the electorate has been reminded that a war is still on -- and the Democrats have no strategy to fight it. They change positions to match the prevailing wind, and in that strategy John Kerry is the perfect standardbearer for the party.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 30, 2004 5:47 AM

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Richard Clarke's attempt to destroy Bush's terrorism record has had no effect- Bush leads Kerry 53% to 29% in Pew Poll when it comes to who could handle terrorism better. [Read More]

Tracked on March 30, 2004 11:31 AM

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