Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Autumn in an Election Year

This is my very favorite part of the election cycle. The days leading up to the national debates are wonderful, aren't they? Gives everyone a chance to wind down a bit. Except, of course, for the candidates.

This is the part I love. I get to relax at home every night, while some poor slob of a staffer is standing at a podium, trying hard as can be to make their boss look intelligent. This can be a trick if your candidate has no discernible position on any given issue yet. It can also be a trick if your candidate uses enough down-home Texas metaphors to fill a George Will column without having said anything substantive.

I suspect that handlers on both sides have specific goals to accomplish before Thursday night. Here's what I imagine is happening:

Bush Campaign

Mr. President is currently in relatively good shape in the polls, and quite a large chunk of the voting public is still scratching its head trying to figure out what Kerry really stands for. This is bad for the President. He's likely to get over-confident and start referring to Kerry as "that varmint," rather than "my esteemed opponent." The staffers know that Kerry will harp about Bush's handling of the war, and so far Bush has done a credible job of defending himself in his stump speeches. The problem is: Kerry is former Yale debater. This means that, no matter what his own position may be on a given issue, he has the ability in a one-on-one exchange to make his opponent look as though he has the credibility of a Congressional pay raise.

Strategy: Bush needs to tone-down the Texas Good-Ole-Boy tenor, and tune up the Senior Statesman approach. "Been there, done that," but with panache.

Kerry Campaign

Kerry presents just as much head-shaking among his staffers as among the public. We still don't know where he really stands on Iraq, and whether he has any kind of cogent plan for handling the war on terror assuming he takes the oath on January 21. The same is true of most of his domestic agenda, although raising taxes is a given. I'm sure that's sitting well with everyone earning over $200,000 a year right now, and certainly makes those of us earning less feel very smug and comfortable that we'll be safe for the next four years (note: heavy sarcasm here). No, the Kerry staff need to get their candidate to pick one position and stick with it throughout the entire debate process. Otherwise, the PJ Junta will be all over them like stink on a Kerry speech. Can you say "Rathergate?" I thought you could.

Strategy: Kerry needs to keep harping on Bush's handling of Iraq no matter what the question is. "How will you make health care more affordable for lower income families?" "This president has had no plan for peace in Iraq, and that directly affects the price of health care in this country today!"

Good answer.

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