Saturday, March 27, 2004

Pondering on a November with contemplations most queasy,

Bush taking a hit from Clarke controversy (MSNBC):

Richard Clarke’s charge that George W. Bush largely ignored the Al Qaeda threat before the September 11 attacks has dealt a sharp blow to the president’s ratings on a crucial issue. According to the latest NEWSWEEK poll, the percentage of voters who say they approve of the way the president has handled terrorism and homeland security has slid to 57 percent, down from a high of 70 percent two months ago. The survey was conducted after Clarke, a former counterterrorism chief in both the Bush and Clinton administrations, testified to the 9/11 commission on Wednesday. Still, the president’s overall approval rating remains steady at 49 percent and Bush remains neck and neck with presumptive Democratic Party nominee Senator John Kerry

Max Speaks has an interesting comment, while Dan Drezner blogs the issue to death, then Joe Katzman provides a critical viewpoint on Clarke, so Talking Points Memo blasts the Bush Administration contradictions along with Brad Delong, and Stirling Newberry does a round up on right wing blog responses .

Bob Graham has stood up for Clarke's previous testimony. IMO there are minor inconsistencies in Clarke's accounts from venue to venue. However, the inconsistencies are small compared to the inconsistencies of the Bush Admin. If we were to impute a proportional amount of bad faith to Bush officials as they do to Clarke's missteps, we'd being having impeachment hearings already.

Clarke's accounting has had a strong impact, dropping Bush in the polls noticeably. It is a body blow however, and not a death blow. Even though Bush and Kerry are still close, we saw how that turned out in 2000. The electoral math and the organizational and money aspects of the campaigning dynamics still heavily favor Bush.

If Clarke hadn't come out when he did, Kerry would be slipping badly. He may resume doing that in a few weeks. The smear campaign seems to have been working against Clarke, reducing his credibility as an honest broker and credible witness. This character assassination cum damage control has been moderately successful as a WH line of attack.

There's no doubt that Bush's positive momentum is halted however. The matter of the fact is, that this Administration has demonstrated tremendous staying power despite massive unpopularity of various issues and the criticisms of many former insiders. This is not to say that the gaffes or missteps like the joke in poor taste about missing WMD have not gone unnoticed, but the impact has not been a KO.

Joe Wilson is going to trot out his book in a few months, but barring amazing revelations in the Plame case I don't think it'll have as much affect as the Clarke evidence and testimony.

In about two weeks, this too will have passed from the news cycle and Bush and co. will regroup. Come end of April, Bush and co. will again clearly have the upper hand over Kerry unless he learns to campaign better than he has so far.

I've heard many Democrats say that it will be the issues that bring down Bush, like many others citing that it is the "incumbent's to lose". Swopa argues along those lines on Needlenose blog. I'm not so sure. Kerry should have gotten more traction out of Clarke. That he hasn't is a reflection of his not so great message machine and credibility with the electorate.

This election will probably be atypical. In a heightened security alert environment, the usual rule about the strength of the incumbent being the primary factor doesn't seem to be holding true. Bush must be stumbling AND Kerry seen as strong I believe before a Democratic victory can be grasped in November.

Democrats here should remember that. You've still got a ways to go, and Kerry is still behind.

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