The Face of the Campaign to Come

With the conventions over, Bush and Kerry have crystallized their campaign themes.

Bush will define himself as commander in chief, while Republicans try to mobilize a vast ground campaign to get out their own votes. Kerry will sharpen his defense to blunt GOP attacks on his leadership capacity, coupling this with an assault on what the GOP convention revealed is Bush's soft underbelly: the economy and domestic policy.

The fight will be taken to the wavering states that neither side can afford to lose -- places like Florida, Ohio, Oregon and New Mexico -- and where, despite months of campaigning, tens of millions of dollars of advertising and two conventions, both sides remain statistically neck and neck. Few states are more pivotal than Pennsylvania.

Good move by Kerry in picking former Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart as his chief spokesman.

The GOP convention showed, Lockhart said, that Bush has no new ideas on domestic policy and "doesn't seem to get that millions of Americans are struggling out there, or even to be open to changing any of the policies he's pursued over the years." Indeed, any tour of Madison Square Garden frequently revealed that the economy is not the GOP's strong suit. Speakers largely glossed over it, though delegates from Midwestern manufacturing states readily admitted that jobs are a big issue there, and GOP operatives confirmed that their own polling showed as much.

Bush's speech showed his weakness on economic issues:

Bush attempted to address this in his acceptance speech, outlining a laundry list of rehashed domestic proposals aimed at fostering an "ownership society" -- from health savings accounts to partially privatized Social Security, an issue he campaigned on in 2000. His boldest initiative, tax reform, was not an initiative at all, but a call for a bipartisan commission to study how to simplify a tax code that Bush's own big tax measures -- stuffed with credits for all manner of activities -- has only made more complicated.

Karl Rove, Bush's strategist, has this plan:

The Republican strategy all along, crafted by White House political czar Karl Rove, has been to get out the GOP vote for what he calls a "mobilization election." Rove eyes not only the 4 million evangelical Christians who stayed home in 2000 and favor Bush's proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, anti-abortion stance and other social issues, but millions of other conservatives who like tax cuts and a muscular national security posture.

What do the numbers show:

Democrats appear to have the upper hand on many demographics. Bush has not made big gains among the Latino population. Neither has he won over seniors, benefactors of his huge Medicare prescription drug benefit who also face a 17 percent increase in Medicare premiums for doctor visits next year. On the other hand, Bush is making inroads in the Jewish vote by his strong stand on Israel.

Bush's post-convention bounce is mostly on the terror issue:

The breakdowns illuminate the two campaign strategies. On Bush's handling of the war on terror, an overwhelming 60 percent approve, while 37 percent do not. But on the economy the numbers reverse, with 45 percent approving and 52 percent disapproving.

Bottom line: It's still a horse-race. The election is still Bush's to lose.

Update: Steve Soto of Left Coaster also writes on why the race is now Bush's to lose.

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