The Washington Post’s Evelyn Nieves analyzes John Kerry’s poor polling in New Jersey, a traditional Democratic bastion of support that Al Gore carried by sixteen points in 2000. Recent polls indicate Kerry’s support drifting downwards, to the point where the Quinnipiac poll of 5/10-16 shows Bush within the margin of error in a three-way race. Democratic activists proclaim their confidence in the safety of New Jersey, but as Nieves reports, privately they express concern over the lack of momentum in the Kerry campaign:
Democratic Party officials here and nationally dismissed the poll as a fluke. They pointed to the fundraising records that Kerry is breaking, to the polls that keep looking better for him as they get worse for Bush, and to the attention that Kerry will receive when the news focuses more on the campaign. One poll in New Jersey, they added, will not stand up when the state’s residents actually start paying attention to the race. …
But privately, party Democrats acknowledged that if Kerry has some work to do in capturing the hearts, if not minds, of the base, then he must really hustle to win over the crucial swing voters who will probably decide the election.
One humorous defense of Kerry’s position in the Garden State asserted that New Jersey voters weren’t energized because they get their TV from New York. If that truly impacted the race, though, one would expect the polling to demonstrate a heavy bias towards Kerry. After all, New York has been fairly reliably Democratic in presidential races. Gore won New York by 25 points in 2000, and Kerry leads there by 19 points now, according to polling in April. Perhaps one could surmise that absent the influence of the New York media, Bush could be leading in New Jersey.
Nieves’ article quickly descends into the traditional and completely unrevealing man-on-the-street interviews, where the most colorful quotes make it into the story. Nieves did perform a quick poll at a gym where, she notes, Democrats supported Kerry, Republicans supported Bush, and the five independents broke 3-2 for the incumbent. It’s only revealing in one way — none of the Democrats who spoke for Kerry did so because of any special passion for the Massachussetts Senator:
Eugene Bradley does not swing. At 50, Bradley, an operations manager for Synagro, a waste management company, has been devoted to the Democratic Party for as long as he has voted. … He would like to like Kerry. He would like to sing his praises. He would like to feel — something — about him. “I am not that up on him,” Bradley said. “I don’t feel a connection with him. He’s basically another politician. In my heart of hearts, I think they could have dug up somebody better.” …
George Coates, on the other hand, is torn. “I think Kerry licks his finger and sticks it in the air to see which way the wind is blowing,” said Coates, 65, a retired stockbroker from Clifton. He added that although he voted for Bush in 2000, “he’s someone who wore out his welcome for me faster than Clinton did. I can’t stand listening to him. I can’t stand watching him.”
Does that mean he has decided on Kerry? “No,” he said, with a shudder. “I don’t like Kerry, either.”
Most pundits expect the election to be a referendum on Bush, most likely focused on our performance in Iraq. What people did not expect is that the Democratic nominee would be such a non-entity in the equation. Democrats seem to embrace the Bush-referendum equation, resulting in the moribund Kerry campaign, as Kerry does best when he keeps his mouth shut. Either Kerry needs to find a way to inspire people with his leadership — something he’s managed to completely avoid during his nineteen years in the Senate — or hope that Bush self-destructs between now and November. If neither of those conditions come to pass, Kerry will be in real trouble this fall.