Thursday, September 30, 2004

Debate 1 Preview - confirmation from LA

During lunch today, I was reading through the latest LA Times poll, and I caught some signs about how hard it will be for John Kerry to get the results he wants.

Besides the fact that President Bush is leading Senator Kerry in every believable poll, I found some very interesting statements out of LA's answer to Pravda.

It's right there in the third paragraph:

"Terrorism and the War are definitely playing more of a role in the electorate's decision to vote for a candidate. They see problems with Bush, but don't see Kerry, so far, as the solution."

If the LA Times is willing to admit that, Kerry is in bad shape. The Bush supporters will stick with him pretty much no matter what, and this statement says that even if Bush is not perfect tonight, they won't switch over to Kerry, unless and until he can come up with some indication that he is up to the job. Kerry got the nomination from the Democrats by not being Bush, but the voters are making clear that he has to do a lot better than that, if he wants to win the Oval Office.

In the same paragraph, the LA Times says that voters "believe that Iraq has a better chance of becoming a stable and secure nation under the policies of the current administration than with the policies of Kerry". That can't be what John and mini-John were hoping to face at this point in the race. It means that even if Bush is unable to convince doubters that the War is right, Kerry will still lose, unless he can convince the average voter that he has a sound, effective, and original plan for the wars in Iraq and on Terrorism. Sounding like Bush won't do it; vague statements about working with allies, or gaining respect from France won't do it.

I have written that John Kerry has already lost the first debate, and this is an indicator that confirms the original diagnosis. At this time, I would like to lay out how the scoring will work in this debate. Forget how they did it in school, I'm talking how a candidate scores at the podium.

1. Appearance counts.

Kerry has one advantage here - he's taller than Bush. Unfortunately, for John, that's it. Bush is more athletic, more rugged-looking, has a better smile, and unless Dubya wears enough makeup to look like Ronald McDonald, Kerry's strange orange hue is going to hurt him, even if only a little. Kerry needs to look Presidential, which would mean a dark suit, and a confident but serious attitude. The trouble is, when John tries to look serious, he looks constipated, and he's some kind of actor if he can manage to look confident tonight.

2. Don't sweat it.

Kerry's team wanted to set the hall thermostat at 68 degrees. They wanted this, because he remembered how Kerry looked at the Fleet Center in Boston; sweaty and weak. Sweat is poison to a politician, because it makes you look worried, insecure, and unattractive. Especially if you're sweating, but your opponent is not sweating. Bear in mind that President Bush is accustomed to clearing brush in 100-degree heat, and you can guess how this is a potential disadvantage for Kerry. It remains to be seen whether Kerry will be sweaty tonight, but it's a bigger problem for him than for the President.

3. Is that your FINAL answer?

Love him or hate him, pretty much everybody knows what President Bush's position and policies are, for Iraq and for the War on Terrorism. Meanwhile, Kerry continues to swerve between opposing opinions. If Kerry stakes a clear position, then he has to answer for why he took the other side before. And if he won't state his position clearly, that's a non-starter. Judging from the past week, it looks like Kerry is 'anti-War' again, which will be popular with Liberals and the French, but will probably cost him with Moderates.

4. Image.

At various points in this campaign, Kerry has talked about 'taking the gloves off'. That is usually an admission that his previous tactics have not worked, and a signal to the '527's the Democrats have set up, to launch a barrage of attacks on the President. While it's true that negative campaigning does work, a candidate has to be very careful in how he conducts himself. Besides the personal popularity President Bush enjoys, the biggest single reason that John Kerry can't gain traction with the swing voters, is that he just doesn't act like a leader. If this were a dude ranch, Kerry would be the rich wanna be, who wants his picture taken on the horse. Bush would be the genuine cowboy who does the job for real.

5. Skin - How Thin?

Earlier in this campaign, enemies of the President compared him to Hitler in ads, they falsely claimed he was a draft dodger, they insulted his family and his friends, and they have forged documents to try to smear him. Bush has reacted to all of this calmly and without pettiness; he's solid. In comparison, John Kerry has reacted badly every time he doesn't get his way, from swearing at a Secret Service man he tripped over, to insulting National Guardsmen in general out of pique, to trying to ban a book which criticized him, to using profanity when discussing the President's policies in a magazine interview. In an interview earlier this week, Kerry became testy less than 2 minutes into the interview.

Kerry will certainly try to get under Bush's skin during the debate. Doubtless, Dubya will have a comment or two to test Kerry's blood pressure. I expect that between the two, the President's hide will prove to be tougher.

Tomorrow, I'll grade their results.

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