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As Long as We Remember...

October 21, 2004

No Joy in Mudville as Bush Gains Momentum

Edward Lulie III

Recent broadcast news outlets and political pundits have avoided the question; if President Bush lost the last debate why then is it that Senator John Kerry is slipping in the polls?

Recently I was stunned by the sight of a polite and composed Joe Lockhart, on Tim Russert’s Meet the Press. Mr. Lockhart, speaking for the Kerry campaign, calmly voiced his confidence in eventual victory.

A calm Joe Lockhart who politely lets other people speak? What was this? How could it have happened?

As spokesman for the Clinton White House, Joe Lockhart had always been the point of the talking points spear – strident, assertive and combative.

Calm and quiet? Never!

Was this sudden personality shift the result of some helpful aide drugging his coffee in the green room? Where was the shouting? The outrage? What happened to retaking the White House from an illegitimate president? Could this poise and decorum be a true change of heart?

Or was it just a carefully preplanned and considered piece of stagecraft? Mr. Lockhart had been the drum major beating out the rhythm as the Kerry campaign chanted in unison – “Bush is evil. Bush will restart the draft. Bush will leave the elderly homeless and hungry. Bush will launch a military invasion of Bermuda…etc.”

The list of allegations as to what President Bush will do or has done seems endless. Where did a quiet voice suddenly come from? Was Hillary (Senator Clinton) pulling puppet strings to throw the election so she would have a clear field in 2008?

This was the first Sunday morning after the last debate. The heads were talking and the Kerry campaign was suddenly off message. Mr. Lockhart was quietly arguing that it would be close, that Senator Kerry had gained momentum and won the debates.

Missing was the anger, the talking over opposing voices and the insistence on shouting the last word. Would this new tactic be in anyway related to new polls that showed President Bush regaining a lead?

Could it actually be that Mr. Bush, despite pundits and polls to the contrary, had won the last debate? Wasn’t President Bush supposed to fall flat on domestic issues? Wasn’t the last debate the one where Senator Kerry was supposed to win with a knockout? Perhaps his failure to do that had been the victory that President Bush needed.

Now President Bush appears to be gaining traction. He framed Senator Kerry with his record – that he is the tax-n-spend dinosaur senator from Massachusetts. It is working.

Mr. Kerry’s favorable ratings have not risen to match Mr. Bush’s, and the President leads him in likeability as well. What would motivate Mr. Lockhart to be quiet and restrained? Could it be that Senator Kerry is now so far ahead in the internal polling that the election is already over and John Kerry has won?

Probably not! If that were the case you would be hearing about it from both Senator Kerry and Dan Rather on an hourly basis. Might it be that the polling data shows that the relentless attacks and aggressive campaign has been losing moderate voters to President Bush?

This last scenario seems the likeliest. New polling data shows that Mr. Bush has doubled his support among blacks from what it was back in 2000. He is leading with most Hispanic voters. Could Joe Lockhart’s new subdued tone be because he was trying not to offend moderates?

It might just be that the “liberal” tag is sticking. The reason the left doesn’t like being called “liberal” (especially if it is true) is that it costs them elections.

You might well recall how Bill Clinton won election twice; he ran as a moderate not a liberal. He knew well that “liberals” lost presidential elections and evaded that label with alacrity. But this time all the Clinton spin masters are encumbered with Senator Kerry’s history.

What can Joe Lockhart do? Is there something left in the closet of dirty tricks to use? Can the Democrats find enough new voters on the left to win a national election? Probably not! Thus they must find moderates – moderates like those that voted for Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.

They are not likely to find much common ground with the leftist zealots that have command of Senator Kerry’s campaign.

If there is now momentum for President Bush, you can safely bet that the major media doesn’t want to talk it. Talking about such things can seriously undermine a candidate’s support by weakening the resolve of marginal voters. Why bother voting for a loser?

Poll numbers will be reported, but any obvious trends favorable to President Bush will tend to be ignored. Expect more terse comments like “Dead Heat,” “margin of error” and “too close to call” until Election Day, even if President Bush gets a double-digit lead. If you start spotting gleeful Bush campaign spokesmen refusing to admit that success is near (smiling as they continue to claim that the race will go “down to the wire”), it is almost certainly because they do not want to risk that their own supporters might stay home, thinking that their votes are not needed.

Yet the major media cannot help themselves. If they sense an impending Bush victory is coming, they will immediately start in with stories focusing in on possible Bush “coat-tails.” The point of those stories will be an effort to warn the public of the disaster that will follow if Republicans gain more seats in the House and Senate. Their focus will fixate on each close Senate race. Can’t the Democrats find a way to regain power somewhere?

If Democrats find themselves trailing as Election Day nears, then expect the calm and composed Joe Lockhart to disappear. Instead you will find him and other Kerry spokesmen reverting to form – screaming in outrage and throwing mud. This may not be so much as a last effort to defeat President Bush as it will be an expression of the left’s despair, complete and utter rage over their loss of power.

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