Boston, Mass.–When they gathered in Los Angeles in 2000, the Democrats were very pleased by what they saw (correctly) as Al Gore’s brilliant choice of Joe Lieberman. By the end of the convention, Gore had a healthy lead over Gov. George W. Bush–a larger lead than they expect to have over Bush at the end of this week.
Yet my impression is that the Democrats are in better spirits now than they were four years ago. In Los Angeles, Democrats had a sense that Gore was a weak candidate. The Boston Democrats do not think that John Kerry is a great candidate. But what they lack in enthusiasm for Kerry is made up for by enthusiasm against Bush. They think that Kerry is running a smart campaign. And even more, they think that they have the wind at their backs. Slate columnist Mickey Kaus is going to have to look very hard to find anything resembling Democratic “panic.” Any delegates who picked up Sunday’s daily convention edition of National Journal saw Charlie Cook’s column, which concludes that “unless something happens to change the dynamics and circumstances of this race, Bush will lose.” That’s one way to keep them reading all week.
A Democrat who is working at the convention explains his optimism thus: “I’d rather be in Kerry’s shoes than Bush’s because Bush has painted himself into a whole lot of different corners. He doesn’t have a lot of options for changing the nature of the race from here on out. I don’t understand objectively how he makes up any ground. If the [people who compare this race to 1980] are right, and it’s a referendum on Bush and Kerry just has to meet a threshold of credibility, then Bush is really in trouble. The [Republican] attempts to make this 1988 and raise doubts about Kerry are not working among independents.” He goes on to add that he thinks turnout will be high this year, which suggests that the polls to believe are the ones that look best for Kerry.
Kerry’s base is more solidly behind him than Bush’s right now, a fact that liberates the former but not the latter to pursue swing voters. Bush’s hope has to be that his base, if it gets a glimpse of Boston’s optimistic Democrats, will start to solidify too. Which will still leave him behind.