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September 1, 2004
Ron Fournier: Democrats In Disarray

Ron Fournier, AP's premier political analyst, catches a whiff of desperation at Campaign Kerry as his numbers continue to erode and the Republicans stage a better convention than they had considered possible. Fournier reports that John Kerry has been bombarded with criticism and advice, much of it contradictory and all of it pointing to rising panic within the Democratic Party:

Anxiously watching President Bush's convention, Democratic leaders are urging John Kerry to step up his attack on the Republican incumbent before eroding approval ratings become a serious political problem.

The candidate and his beleaguered staff are being flooded with advice, much of it contradictory. Some party officials want Kerry to criticize the president for sitting out the Vietnam War in the Texas Air National Guard. Others say that would draw unwanted attention to accusations about Kerry's combat experience.

Democrats have seen Bush erase the gains that their nominee made at his convention a month ago in Boston, pulling into a tie in national polls that also show Kerry's personal image deteriorating.

Fournier writes, in CYA fashion, that the polling erosion that most national polls now reflect for Kerry (especially on national security and character) may just be a "nudge of the pendulum," but the Democrats have not reacted as though they believe it. Yesterday, they announced that they're pulling Joe Lockhart out of mothballs in order to head their "Rapid Response Team," an indirect indictment of Stephanie Cutter's poor ad-libbing during the campaign's deer-in-the-headlights initial response to the Swiftvet campaign.

In order to reverse himself, Kerry is being alternately advised to attack George Bush's own Viet Nam record and to skip Viet Nam altogether and focus on current issues instead, especially the economy and Iraq, where Democrats consider Bush especially vulnerable. Fournier provides some examples of the dissonance over strategy:

"Bush and his surrogates have been vicious and unforgiving" with the Swift boat claims, said Frank Schreck, a top party fund-raiser from Nevada, "and they have scored a lot of political points."

Schreck wants Kerry to bluntly compare war records with the president. "Why not stand up there and say, `He chose to have his father get him out of harm's way while I volunteered to risk my life?'" The Bush campaign vigorously denies the president used his family's political influence to avoid Vietnam. ...

Outside the campaign, some Democrats want Kerry to put the intrigue to rest and shift his focus to the economy and Iraq, issues causing problems for Bush.

"My sense is the Swift boat stuff has been a major distraction, to say the least, for the campaign, and they need to get back to hammering him (Bush) every day on the economy and health care and the management of the war," Carrick said.

Of course, Kerry may be the one candidate who can do both at the same time, given his record for consistency. However, it ignores the fact that Kerry has been doing both now, for months, both personally and through official Democratic surrogates such as Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe did the round of radio interviews yesterday at the RNC as a sort of Johnny TANGleseed, trying his best to use the National Guard story that got such wide publicity back in February. Kerry himself back in April got shots in at Bush's service. Later on he claimed to have not spent "one dime" in attacking Bush at all, but he had a page on his website detailing a number of scurrilous "questions" regarding Bush's service.

Unfortunately, the Democrats have already fired all of their ammunition on this battleground. The memes that McAuliffe pushed and Schreck wants to resurrect have already been dissected ad nauseum by the mainstream media and have been revealed as unfounded. All that McAuliffe and the Democrats do by returning to this strategy is to (a) remind everyone that they made the quality of Viet Nam service an issue first, and (b) look absolutely desperate to change the subject.

The Kerry campaign has been exposed as an empty-suit charade that the Democrats thought would be good enough to dislodge George Bush. Why? Because everyone they know hates Bush. Like Pauline Kael, they assumed that meant everyone, period. And like Pauline Kael, they're discovering that they have a curiously limited experience with the American people.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 1, 2004 7:29 AM

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