John Kerry might have finally gotten a clue. When a candidate wants to win a campaign, he should play to his strengths. Kerry’s only real and stable strength has been regular polling showing he cares about the middle class. How does he turn that into a strength? Go where Bush cannot go.
First, Kerry made bizarre comments that included saying how both Bush and Kerry were from a background of money and entitlement. While Kerry is a patrician snob, he can play the card because in Bush’s family there is are two Presidents, a deceased prominent Senator, a CIA Director, an ambassador, and a governor – and that is just from four people in three generations. However ordinary Bush may appear, people understand he is from a prominent family and is not the guy next door. American voters have a natural distain for nobility and entitlement.
Second, Bush does not drink. Joe Blow goes to a bar to watch the game and have a beer. Guess where Kerry has been. It is a subtle reminder of Bush’s past to see Kerry having a beer when, in four years, no one has seen Bush having a beer with the guys. In playing to Kerry’s strength, he also helps recover a weakness – responsibility. Playing the angle at the bar, Kerry shows he can drink with the middle class and reminds voters that Bush was an irresponsible person who, through his bad choices, now cannot go drink with the middle class.
This is a good step for Kerry. However bizarre his comments might have been, he gets the point home. The bad news for Kerry is that, in a more prominent way, he is playing to his weakness – Iraq, and his wife nullifies the “entitlement culture” argument against Bush. It’s a great thing to try taking down your opponent in the area of his biggest strength, but not when that strength is your greatest weakness.
Kerry might tear Bush down several notches on the Iraq poll question. Unfortunately, by tearing Bush down, Kerry is not offering an alternative most Americans find acceptable. Kerry has too much baggage on the issue to be credible and acceptable, which further hurts the “responsibility” question.
Bush has painted Kerry in a box. Kerry can talk about Iraq and tear down Bush, but Kerry has said so many things, his tearing down Bush on Iraq will not build himself up on Iraq and will not help voters view Kerry as more responsible. Kerry has not yet connected with voters. His best bet would be to continue playing the “cares about the middle class” angle and work Iraq into the argument.
Even then, it is probably too late. There are 48 hours until the debate everyone will watch.