Monday, September 13, 2004

Retrospective voting -- how the Democrats wanted it 

Charles Krauthammer says the Democrats got the election they wanted.
The Democrats chose a candidate known for political calculation, a talent for nuance and an unswerving dedication to swerving constantly to avoid political risk. In other words, they chose a cipher.

Not a bad strategy when the news for the Bush administration -- the Iraq insurgency, Abu Ghraib, the Sept. 11 hearings -- was awful. Pick a cipher and make this a referendum on the president. A plausible idea, but it did leave everything up to chance. Worse, it leaves everything up to the other side.
I can see why one might run such a campaign, if the economy was bad, the war going poorly, etc. But it wasn't. And when you run a campaign like this, you are left with this:
Democrats had hoped that their convention in Boston would introduce Kerry to voters and give them ample reasons to support him. But the survey suggests that those efforts did not succeed. A majority of those voting for Kerry -- 55 percent -- still say they are voting against Bush, not for Kerry. Barely four in 10 said their vote was more for Kerry than against Bush -- a percentage that has changed little since March.

"I'm more anti-Bush," said David Kolker, 37, of Creve Coeur, a suburb of St. Louis. "I really don't think Kerry has a chance -- he has not really taken a stance as far as defending himself against Bush."

In contrast, more than eight in 10 Bush voters say they are casting their vote for Bush and not mainly because of concerns over Kerry. And nine in 10 say they strongly support the president.
There has been throughout this campaign a fascination with the number for job approval. The number has moved to the 50% level in the last two weeks. And with it has come the bounce. Krauthammer tempers our enthusiasm.
Will the bounce last? Undoubtedly not. The Bush lead will narrow. But it will not be Kerry doing the narrowing. It will be the world. Bad news is always out there. In the middle of a middling economic recovery, there is always bad economic news to accompany the good news. And the fighting in Iraq will continue to haunt this presidency.

Bush will slide. Kerry will surely fight, but he will mostly flail. He has become a spectator. This election was and remains a referendum on Bush. That's how the Democrats wanted it.
And there's not much on the economic calendar between now and the debates. Either Kerry has to catch fire in the debates, or he has to hope the real world throws pot holes in front of Bush's drive to re-elections.