Politics & Policy

Kerry in The Dole-Drums

Bad sign for Democrats.

NBC News and the Wall Street Journal publish a poll produced by the well-respected team of Bob Teeter (Republican) and Peter Hart (Democrat).

#ad#It’s May of a presidential election year.

The unemployment rate is 5.6 percent to 5.7 percent, and the economy appeared to be improving.

The challenger is a sitting member of the U.S. Senate, and his public statements and votes over a long career are being used against him.

The line in the press is that the challenger just doesn’t connect with voters. He needs to shake things up. Reintroduce himself…

After weathering a storm of negative television advertising, the challenger’s image is less than sterling. His opponent has already gone a long way in defining him. The challenger has a positive image from almost 40 percent of the voters and a negative image from almost 40 percent of the voters, a fact that makes it very difficult for him to win.

Quiz question #1. What year is being described here?

Is it May 1996? Or, is it May 2004?

If you said “both,” you’d be right.

Bob Dole’s public image at this point in time in 1996 was 39-percent positive and 38-percent negative. Kerry’s public image, in the just-released NBC/Wall Street Journal survey conducted by Hart/Teeter is an eerily similar 38-percent positive to 38-percent negative. That’s right, Kerry is living the Dole nightmare.

As Yogi Bera would say, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

I have already written about the Democracy Corps survey that showed Kerry with a colder image (40 percent) than a warmer image (37 percent). This new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey definitely shows that the Bush team’s advertising offensive against Kerry has worked.

Taking a play from the Clinton ‘96 playbook, the Bush campaign went on the offensive against the challenger and defined him before he could define himself.

Just how bad has Kerry been shredded by the Bush campaign? A quick review of the NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey shows that Kerry’s image dropped from 43-percent positive to 30-percent negative in March 2004 to 38-percent positive to 38-percent negative currently. In other words, the Bush campaign, despite all the cheerleading for Kerry in the press, was able to reduce Kerry’s favorables by five points and increase Kerry’s negatives by eight points.

As I have pointed out before, this is awful news for John Kerry. You can’t beat something with nothing, and John Kerry is fast becoming nothing.

In addition, this survey shows that Kerry has almost no intensity to his favorables. In plain English this means that even the people that say they like him, don’t like him all that much. As an example of this, consider that 38 percent of American voters report having a positive image of John Kerry. When this group is broken down between those who have a “very positive” and a “somewhat positive” impression of Kerry, only 12 percent say they have a “very positive” image of him. The rest, 26 percent, have a somewhat positive image of Kerry. As a means of comparison, George W. Bush has 30 percent that love him (very positive) and 30 percent that hate him (very negative).

What makes matters worse for Kerry is that the Bush team has yet to drive the ideological contrast, or even introduce Kerry’s position on the death penalty. In fact, the Bush team has yet to blow up Kerry’s contention in advertising that his vote for the historic Clinton tax increases was a job creation measure.

Kerry’s only hope is that voters turn on Bush and use him as a vessel for their frustration. This could happen. The right direction–wrong track numbers in this survey are problematic, the economy continues to be a problem area in the polling, Iraq is a wildcard, and Bush faces a heavily polarized electorate.

But, the Bush team knows this. And the data clearly suggests that the best insurance policy against a Kerry presidency is giving the voters more information about John Kerry.

This election cycle is shaping up to be the most negative in our nation’s recent history.

The Kerry campaign is stuck with a poor candidate. It can’t sell its own product, so it has to destroy the competing product.

The Bush campaign is stuck with economic anxiety and any number of future adversities at home and abroad that are largely out of its control. It can’t control these wildcards. But it can control what it does to John Kerry.

Quiz question #2.

On May 6, U.S. News’s “Washington Whispers” reported that strategists for the president believe the race will be “defined” this spring. They believe an “early strike” will “lock in” their advantage. Sources at the challenger’s campaign “scoff” at the “pre-emptive strike strategy.”

Was this written on May 6, 1996, or May 6, 2004?

The answer is May 6, 1996, but it may as well be 2004.

Robert Moran is a vice president at Republican polling firm Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates. He is an NRO contributor.

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