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October 9, 2004 PERMALINK
Chipping Away
(posted Oct. 9 7 PM ET)

The media appears to be treating Friday's debate as a draw, as the insta-polls showed a Kerry victory that was within the margin of error.

Similarly, discussions with debate-watchers on NBC and CNN, at least, seemed to follow that pattern: comments very spilt, but arguably a slight edge for Kerry.

But in two of the insta-polls, there's a notable trend: Kerry making ground with independents and undecideds.

The Gallup poll gave Kerry a 2-pt win (even though the sample leaned GOP by 6 pts).

But with independents, Kerry's lead was 16 pts.

Likewise, in the Democracy Corps poll, independents gave Kerry an 11 pt win, undecideds 9 pts, and swing state voters 5 pts.

Now, this does not translate into a massive shift in support for Kerry.

But the Democracy Corps poll does show a continued chipping away at those jaded undecideds, moving from a pre-debate tie to a post-debate 2 pt lead among debate-watchers.

(Gallup did not poll post-debate support.)

This puts Bush in a difficult spot.

Since he is under 50% in most polls, he needs to find a way to prevent undecideds from predominantly breaking to the challenger in the final days, as they typically do.

And we are seeing that traditional process beginning to kick in.

But he hasn't found a way to challenge Kerry without coming across as defensive.

Bush did manage to shelve the petulant facial expressions last night.

But the defensiveness underlying those expressions was as evident as ever.

His energy level was higher than the first debate, but that just made him jumpy and wired, even angry at times.

While Kerry was the epitome of poise.

Kerry, not the commander-in-chief, seemed in command of the room.

Furthermore, Bush, who supposedly knows how to connect with real Americans, could not find an opportunity to make a connection.

While Kerry, when responding to a questioner who clearly disagreed with him on embryonic stem cell research, gave the most heartfelt answer of the evening.

As he shared the story of an afflicted man who told him, "Don't take away my hope, because my hope is what keeps me going."

Bush hasn't found his groove, his persona, his face.

He still doesn't know how to present himself when his back is against the wall.

He is only functioning well when inside the presidential bubble, surrounded by die-hards.

That is making it hard for him to connect with the swing.

As Kerry is doing, little by little.

QUICK HITS

What Wasn't Asked Last Night

Howard Dean said in the primaries that we can't let the elections be decided on God, guns and gays.

And last night, there were no questions on religion, gun control or gay marriage.

Despite the GOP's hope that they could derail Kerry with divisive social issues, you could see last night those issues are not resonating.

Clearly, based on last night's questions, what's top of mind with voters in the heartland is foreign policy, fiscal policy, the economy, and health care.

Air America Post-Debate Analysis

Last night, LO Exec. Ed. Bill Scher participated in a post-debate panel discussion with Air America's Janeane Garofalo and Sam Seder, The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel and Katha Pollitt, and author Kevin Baker, aired live on Air America, broadcast live on Air America.

You can download the segment at Air America Place.

October 8, 2004 PERMALINK
Will Bush Pick The Right Face?
(posted Oct. 8 12:30 AM ET)

Going in to the last debate, more of the focus and the pressure was on Kerry.

While his expectations were low, he was the greater unknown, and so people wanted to learn more about him and see how he'd do.

For tonight's town-hall debate, more of the focus will be on Bush -- at least from the media, as they will be watching to see if he can keep his facial expressions in check.

This puts Bush in a similar position as Kerry was last week, in that his bar was clearly set, and therefore, easier to clear.

Last week, Kerry knew he would clear a bar by not coming across as a flip-flopper.

Today, Bush knows he would clear a bar by not coming across like a spoiled brat.

One would assume with so much on the line he would straighten up.

But until this year, he has never had to debate with a controversial record to defend, and he clearly doesn't care for it.

Even if he does put on a different face, it is still questionable if he will put on the right one.

If Wednesday's speech -- hyped as "major" by the Bushies -- is a preview of tonight's performance, the answer will be no.

As LO argued last week, Kerry's debate victory showed that the 2004 electorate is interested in substance, details, and most importantly, solutions.

Bush's speech was substance-free, nothing but a string of sarcastic attacks.

(Amazingly preceded by Bush's claim that he's "looking forward to coming down the stretch with a positive, strong message.")

Apparently, according to the NY Times, Bush's advisers think the mistake of the first debate was that he didn't hammer Kerry hard enough on flip-flops.

(Also, Bush appears to enjoy campaigning in snide fashion. As he said in 2000, "I like to needle.")

But the bigger problem (outside of mismanaging the expectations game) was that he had less to say than Kerry about how to get Iraq back on track, rebuild alliances and beef up homeland security.

The Bush strategy has always been two-prong: pump up the base, smear the hell out of Kerry. Swing be damned.

But Kerry began to subvert the smear campaign at the first debate by treating voters with respect and offering substance.

And among town hall participants, demand for substance will be higher, tolerance for cheap attacks will be lower.

Is Bush prepared to play on that kind of field?

Does a campaign that routinely seals its candidate off from the public even realize what field they are on?

Meanwhile, Kerry's expectations are inevitably higher than last time (a Gallup poll says that slightly more people think Kerry will win tonight, 48%-41%).

But that is not to say they are high.

The punditocracy still thinks of Kerry as an aloof patrician who lacks a common touch, while deeming Bush better at connecting with regular Americans.

If that's what you think, then the town hall is tailor-made for Bush and not Kerry.

Of course, the caricature isn't true: of Kerry or the public.

Kerry doesn't need fake folksiness to win tonight.

He needs to impress upon an anxious and concerned audience that he knows how he's going to get us out of our current mess.

As he did last week.

QUICK HIT

Undecideds In The House

Traditionally, the Commission on Presidential Debates has filled its town-hall debates with undecided voters, identified by Gallup.

But Bush's team pushed for a different deal: all "likely voters," half "soft" for Bush, half "soft" for Kerry. Kerry's camp relented.

Neither the sages at ABC's The Note, nor the Commission itself, seemed to understand why Bush cared.

Here's why.

Undecideds hate Bush.

According to Zogby, undecided voters give Bush a 69% negative rating, and only 13% believe he deserves re-election.

They may be wary of Kerry so far, but their opinions of him are not nearly as firm, so they are ripe to break his way.

In turn, Bush would rather have a crowd that was engineered to be half inclined to him.

However, the Commission pushed back.

It announced today that:

The town hall participants will be comprised of uncommitted voters, including uncommitted voters not described as "soft Bush" or "soft Kerry."

Sounds like a compromise: some undecideds, some leaners. Seemingly, there's no mandate what the proportions will be.

(UPDATE 9 AM ET -- Looks like the number of true undecideds in the crowd will be small. According to the W. Post, Gallup had a hard time finding many.)

October 7, 2004 PERMALINK
Ebbing and Waning
Not Grave and Gathering
(posted Oct. 7 1:30 AM ET)

We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories.

You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said, Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons.

They're illegal. They're against the United Nations resolutions, and we've so far discovered two.

And we'll find more weapons as time goes on.

But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we found them.
-- George W. Bush, 5/29/03

Of course, the big news out of yesterday's Iraq Survey Group report is not that there are no WMD in Iraq.

Most everybody already knew that, though this does definitively end all disputes on the subject.

The big news is that Iraq's WMD threat over the course of the last decade was "waning" and "ebbing", not "grave and gathering".

That unquestionably changes the equation regarding whether the war was worth it.

This is the kind of report we should have gotten before the war.

And could have, if the weapons inspectors were allowed to finish their jobs.

Now, like the earlier Kay report, this new ISG report tries to throw Bush a bone by stressing that Saddam still was interested in WMD and retained some intellectual capability.

And Bush certainly will try to use that as part of his defense.

(Though the conclusions about Saddam's intentions are "based more on inference than solid evidence" and his interest in obtaining WMD, or pretending to, was not about threatening the US but mainly to counter Iran.)

But the ground that Bush has to stand on has shrunk to almost nothing.

He will be more detached from reality than ever when he pushes that argument.

So coming into Friday's debate, Kerry now has the ammo to make a comprehensive case about Bush's credibility and judgment.

Kerry can now say with ease that:

1. Before Congress voted to authorize force, members did not know what the President knew, since intelligence was withheld when it didn't fit their ideological view (see Sunday NYT mega-story)

2. When weapons inspectors were sent in before the war, they were not allowed to finish the job, and so we didn't know then what yesterday's report finally told us about WMD.

3. Then, we rushed to war with poor planning and without enough troops to secure the country and win the peace, as former Viceroy Jerry Bremer admitted this week.

4. Finally, Bush told us and the world that we found WMD, when we didn't.

Bush's protestations that he wouldn't have done anything differently will only sound lamer and lamer.

However, before Kerry plans on ramming these points, he needs to think about what the town hall audience will ask and will want to hear.

These folks (it's unclear right now if they will be soft Bush/Kerry supporters, or true undecideds) will be tough nuts to crack (and will talk to the media afterwards).

And in all likelihood, they will more be interested in the "what now?" question than in"what happened?" or "whose fault?".

To bring up the above four points just to attack Bush and cast blame probably won't go over well.

But they can be used to establish that Bush has lost the credibility to bring other nations to the table and offer them incentives to share the costs and the benefits.

While Kerry would represent a fresh start with a clean slate.

QUICK HIT

Colorado Is In Play

Colorado wasn't expected to be a battleground state this year, and hasn't received much pundit attention despite several polls showing a tight race there.

But if you had any doubt that Colorado is in play, you can lose it.

Bush has tacked on two speeches in Colorado for Monday, and will spend the night there as well.

October 6, 2004 PERMALINK
Edwards By A Nose
But Will The Margin Grow?
(posted Oct. 6 4 AM ET)

The insta-poll roundup of last night's debate paints a clear picture:

Overall a draw, but an edge to Edwards with undecideds.

ABC's poll showed Cheney winning by 8 pts, but with a sample that leaned GOP by 7 pts.

Democracy Corps (which distributed some results by email only) had Cheney barely winning by 3 pts, but Edwards won undecideds by 18 pts and independents by 3 pts.

(Democracy Corps also found a huge gender gap: Men went to Cheney by 16 pts, women preferred Edwards by 9 pts.)

And CBS, which only sampled undecideds, had Edwards up by 13 pts.

Also, both the ABC and Democracy Corps polls showed Kerry picking up a couple of points of support following the debate.

So it would appear that Cheney's unflappable yet sour persona went over nicely with the base, but was bested by Edwards' energy and message with the swing.

But with perceptions not so firm and clear cut, there's still room for post-debate spin to affect the final outcome.

The Edwards camp found its opening to do that right away:

Cheney's dramatic statement that he never met Edwards (a pre-planned swipe which he forced into an answer about Israel-Palestine) was a complete lie.

The campaign quickly sent around evidence of two past meetings, and Elizabeth Edwards even confronted Cheney with it on stage after debate.

(Yes, she rocks.)

Another potential sleeper issue is Edwards' hammering of Cheney's past support, as Halliburton CEO, for lifting sanctions on Iran.

And Cheney's dishonest response.

After last week's debate, both ABC and LiberalOasis (while on Friday's The Majority Report) reported anecdotal evidence of voters shocked by Kerry's charge that we let Osama get away at Tora Bora.

Shocked at hearing of it for the first time (old news is not always uniformly known), shocked that Bush did not rebut it.

(It is no accident that Edwards raised the episode two more times yesterday, again with no rebuttal.)

It would not be surprising if voters were similarly shocked at hearing that CEO Cheney was so greedy that he would push for removing sanctions on a country that supports terrorism.

Cheney offered a rebuttal of sorts, trying to make it sound like he was simply pushing for stronger multilateral sanctions over unilateral ones:

At the time, I was talking specifically about this question of unilateral sanctions.

What happens when we impose unilateral sanctions is, unless there's a collective effort, then other people move in and take advantage of the situation and you don't have any impact...

But stronger sanctions are not what his argument was "at the time". This is:

We seem to be sanction-happy as a government.

The problem is that the good Lord didn't see fit to always put oil and gas resources where there are democratic governments.

So there's an opening here to expose this lie and create some 2nd-day news.

October 5, 2004 PERMALINK
The First VP Debate of Consequence
(posted Oct. 5 1 AM ET)

The W. Post, USA Today and the AP contend that today's VP debate has suddenly become significant because the polls tightened in recent days.

But that's wrong.

The significance is not sudden. This debate always had the potential to be the first VP debate of consequence.

Unlike with past veeps, debating Cheney is debating an integral part of the Administration -- a power center that is arguably equivalent to the president.

Furthermore Cheney, so fond of "undisclosed locations," has held himself up to even less scrutiny and accountability than Bush.

(Arguably, the whole point of having a powerful VP is because the office has no built-in accountability.)

This will be a rare opportunity to press him.

On the cozy WH relationship with scandal-ridden Halliburton, his role in "stovepiping" Iraq intelligence and subsequent hyping, his disingenuous ongoing campaign to link 9/11 and Saddam (including his blatant lie about the debunked Czech mtg), his preference for energy task force mtgs over terror task force mtgs.

At the same time, Cheney doesn't have as many openings against Edwards, beyond the obvious trial lawyer, class warfare and experience jabs (which Edwards is beyond ready for).

Nor will he be as interested in attacking Edwards as he will be in attacking Kerry, as Edwards is a typical #2 and not as relevant to voters' decisions.

That should give Edwards more room to work with, as he probably won't be on the defensive much.

This is not to say that debating Cheney will be easy. Far from it.

As we saw in 2000, Cheney's unique style -- commanding yet laconic, gaining respect because he's not interested in being loved -- makes him extremely hard to handle.

Cheney will be ready for every attack.

He will try to shrug each one off as bogus and hysterical, in an attempt to paint himself as more cool and knowledgeable than the less experienced Edwards.

He will not get rattled the way Bush did on Thursday.

Will that make Edwards hesitant to run right at him? We'll see.

(He has not telegraphed his strategy much at all.)

If he does, he has to make sure he and his team have thought 10 steps ahead, not just brought in a few silly one-liners in a la Lieberman.

And if he does, and he beats Cheney, that will make Edwards nothing less than a giant-slayer.

October 4, 2004 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted Oct. 4 1 AM ET)

The Bushies are quickly learning that 2004 isn't 2000.

Last time, they were able to reverse Gore's initial debate win by plucking an insignificant misstatement and relentlessly spinning it as massive proof of serial exaggeration.

This time, they're trying a similar trick, trying to refocus attention on Kerry's comments on pre-emptive strikes, by twisting the meaning of his "global test" words.

But on Sunday, they hit two major obstacles.

1. The media's addiction on polls to shape coverage, as the lone horse race poll over the weekend by Newsweek showed Bush losing his lead to Kerry.

(Since Sunday morn, a Gallup poll was released showing a dead heat.)

2. NY Times' Sunday mega-story on the Administration distortion of the Iraq intelligence, zeroing in on Condi Rice.

In fact, on CBS' Face The Nation, WH spokesman Dan Bartlett was so distracted with questions on those two items, he never got around to attacking Kerry's "global test" comment.

Futhermore, the Bushies arguably made a mistake by sending Condi to ABC's This Week and CNN's Late Edition to refute the NYT piece.

By doing so, they guaranteed they would make additional news on the subject, keeping the focus on their own lies.

And Condi's choice of words didn't help their cause either.

The main charge by NYT concerned the controversial aluminum tubes:

The tubes were "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs," Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, explained on CNN on Sept. 8, 2002. "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

But almost a year before, Ms. Rice's staff had been told that the government's foremost nuclear experts seriously doubted that the tubes were for nuclear weapons...

Rice had never previously admitted she was aware of such dissension at the time.

And she probably didn't want to admit anything Sunday. But she did.

On This Week, she served up this strange, pathetic comment:

At the time, I knew that there was a dispute. I actually didn't really know the nature of the dispute.

(You may have to read that one twice and scratch your head a few times to figure out what she was trying to say.)

Despite their struggles, both Condi (on This Week and CNN's Late Edition) and Bartlett (on Fox News Sunday) got a few shots in on the "global test" matter.

But their spin was undercut by two unlikely sources.

One was FNS host Chris Wallace, who said to Bartlett:

I have to say, I have reviewed the transcript, Dan.

And the fact is, in that answer, before he talked about the global test, he did say, "I will never cede authority to another country."

The other was a Minnesota caller to Late Edition, who posed this comment to guest Howard Dean:

I'd like to ask Howard Dean what his interpretation of the exact language that John Kerry used to describe the global test.

Because it seemed to me to be talking about [proving] to the world after he'd done it...

This caller got to the heart of the matter better than Kerry's surrogates.

Kerry clearly spoke of proving a case after a national security threat had been preemptively dealt with militarily, not before:

...And you can prove to the world that you did it [past tense] for legitimate reasons.

(Juan Cole echoes the point.)

In any event, since Bushies haven't been able to make the "global test" a dominant story line post-debate -- a la the James Lee Witt affair of 2000 -- it would seem unlikely to stall Kerry's momentum.

And by tomorrow, the nation will tune into the Cheney-Edwards debate, and we'll be moving on to the next story.

QUICK HIT

Great Moments In Talking Points

From Condi's apperance on This Week:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: What went wrong Thursday night?

CONDI RICE: Well, I think the president did what he always does.

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

AmericaBlog: "Drudge catches Bush cheating during the debate"

War And Piece: "The word on the Hill is that Tom DeLay is finished" (via Political Animal)

Oliver Willis: CameronGate

Talking Points Memo: "So the Fox presidential campaign reporter put together this Kerry-bashing parody with phony quotes intending to peg him as girlish fool and somehow it found its way on the Fox website as a news item"

DNC Video: Faces Of Frustration

Michael Berube: "But then came the discussion of North Korea, and holy Moloch in a chicken basket, it was like watching a real President debate a B-list actor."

Pandagon: "The way George debates -- rigid adherence to message, down-home charisma, a quick grin and general geniality -- was sadly unsuitable for the occasion."

The Left Coaster: "This was the debate (foreign policy) that Bush was supposed to win. How will Bush do when Kerry savages him over his domestic failings in the upcoming debates?"

John Kerry Rapid Response Ctr: Bush vs. Reality

Daily Kos: "Conservative bloggers say Bush sucked"

Oliver Willis' Rapid Reblogger will be using a team of bloggers to live fact-check tonight's debate

**************

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