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Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Nick of Time

Ron Brownstein analyzes the new LA Times poll as saying that Kerry has been "nicked" by the swiftboat controversy and now leads Kerry 49-46:

But with the controversy attracting intense media attention, especially on talk radio and cable television, the ads have achieved extraordinary visibility among voters. Forty-eight percent of those polled said they had seen the ad accusing Kerry of lying to win his medals; an additional 20 percent said they had heard about it. Similarly, 44 percent said they had seen the ad criticizing Kerry's Senate testimony; another 17 percent said they had heard about it.

At the same time, just 18 percent of those surveyed said they "believe that Kerry misrepresented his war record and does not deserve his war medals," while 58 percent said Kerry "fought honorably and does deserve" the medals.

Attitudes on that question divided sharply along party lines. As many Republicans said they believed Kerry was lying as believe he fought honorably. By nearly 10-1, Democrats said Kerry served honorably.Independents sided with Kerry in the dispute by more than 5-1.

When voters were asked whether Kerry's protest against the war when he returned from Vietnam would influence their vote, 20 percent said it made them more likely to support him, while 26 percent said it reduced the chance they would back him and 52 percent said it made no difference.But if Kerry showed relatively few bruises on these questions directly measuring reactions to the veterans' charges against him, indirect measures suggested he has suffered more damage.

Asked how Kerry's overall military experience would affect their vote, just 23 percent said it made them more likely to vote for him, while 21 percent said it made them less likely; the remaining 53 percent said it would make no difference. That has to be a disappointment for the Kerry camp after a Democratic convention last month that placed Kerry's Vietnam service at the top of the marquee.

I'm not sure how those figures add up to the fact that Kerry's slight slippage is attributable to the Swiftboat liars, but I'll take Brownstein's word for it.

Where he's definitely wrong, I think, is in thinking that Kerry's camp is disappointed that voters feel his Vietnam service makes no difference after he placed it at the top of the convention marquee. I don't think they ever expected it to be a decisive factor in the election. I'm quite sure that it was calculated to inoculate him as much as possible against this swiftboat attack. Imagine if the swiftees had come out with this and the public hadn't been given the full star spangled banner routine with the stolid shipmates and Cleland and Rassman standing up there with him and proclaiming him a hero. If people didn't have that clearly in their minds, the swiftboat smear would have taken hold much better than it has.

If this is all the damage two full weeks of smearing has done, then I'd say they've been as successful at fending it off as you could hope for in this closely divided electorate. Smears can be deadly. Nicks heal quickly.

Frankly, I think the $70 million spent convincing the public that Kerry is a flip-flopping frenchman is what's really sunk into the subconscious of the electorate. In every one of these polls (and every political conversation I have) this comes up. "He's all over the place"--- "he doesn't stand for anything." I think it's become a pretty solid perception and it would be helpful to counter it more effectively.

They have half heartedly come out with the "stubborn" line, but I don't think that's the right word. There is a positive spin to stubborn -- "dogged determination" or "resolute" --- that makes it a bad attack line. I think better phrase is "refuses to admit his mistakes," or "the buck stops nowhere." Play the footage from the press conference showing him unable to think of any errors he might have made. The neanderthals will go nuts,of course, and say it's dirty politics to show the man speaking his own words, but when people see him bobble that question they see a very weak man who cannot admit that presidents sometimes need to change course. According to that poll, most people believe that a course change is required, even many of those who want to vote for him.