It’s tempting for conservatives to believe several major polls showing President George W. Bush four to six points ahead of Kerry right now. Tempting, but probably a mistake.
A new tracking poll released by John Zogby on Thursday–and taken in the wake of the president’s disappointing performance in the first debate–finds a statistical dead heat, with Bush at 46 percent, Senator Kerry at 44 percent, and 8 percent undecided.
There is some good news for the president. Zogby says “Kerry’s edge on the economy is gone. Among those who cite the economy as the top issue, the candidates are in a dead heat–Bush holding a slight edge,” (46 percent to 44 percent). And this: Bush “also leads among those who cite the War on Terror as the top issue” (68 percent to 26 percent).”
But by far the most interesting–and disturbing–finding in his poll is that “among undecided voters, only 15% feel the President deserves to be re-elected, while 39% say it is time for someone new.”
What if the undecideds break 2-to-1 against the president less than 30 days from now? We could be looking at a Kerry landslide.
Before you dismiss the possibility out of hand, remember that Zogby’s not always right, but his track record is impressive. Mary Matalin, former senior adviser to the president and vice president, once called him the “prince of pollsters.” USA Today dubbed him the country’s “most accurate pollster,” as has Dick Morris, Bill O’Reilly, and the Washington Times.
“In 1996, John Zogby came within one-tenth of 1 percent of the presidential result–the best performance turned in by any of the pollsters,” Godfrey Sperling of the Christian Science Monitor noted in 2000. “This year Mr. Zogby was the first pollster I heard being cited on TV as finding that Gore was pulling out slightly, by 2 percent, ahead of Mr. Bush. But when I talked to Zogby a few days ago, he was elated with how close he had come this year to predicting the final outcome–and rightly so.”
If he’s right today, it means Republicans could be in for a horrific surprise on November 2. The winning card for the president is to persuade the American people to make this election solely a referendum on who can keep this country safer and win the war on terror. That means branding Kerry as a man with a dangerous, antiquated “September 10 mindset,” as I argued in a National Review Online piece last Friday. Though Bush only touched on this theme in the first debate, his speech in Pennsylvania Wednesday drove the point home repeatedly.
“My opponent’s endless back-and-forth on Iraq is part of a larger misunderstanding. In the war on terror, Senator Kerry is proposing policies and doctrines that would weaken America and make the world more dangerous. Senator Kerry approaches the world with a September the 10th mindset. He declared in his convention speech that ‘any attack will be met with a swift and certain response.’”
“That was the mind-set of the 1990s, while al Qaeda was planning the attacks on America. After September 11, our object in the War on Terror is not to wait for the next attack and respond, but to prevent attacks by taking the fight to the enemy.”
Then he linked Kerry’s dangerous mindset on national security with his outdated tax-and-spend domestic thinking: “My opponent offers an agenda that is stuck in the thinking and the policies of the past [by offering] a record and an agenda of more taxes and more spending, and more litigation, and more government control over your life.”
It was a great speech, and an impressive recalibration of the White House message. But the president can’t let up. The Zogby polls show Bush is in the fight of his life, as is the country. Neither can afford to lose.