Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Work hard, fight back and...

Sheesh. To hear some people talk, you'd think John Kerry had ordered Swiss cheese on a steak sandwich, or slipped behind Al Sharpton in the polls...

Of course, those of us that have been with the campaign for a year or so well remember the foreboding that accompanied both of those events, and many more that have occured over the months. While there seems to be a sense that Kerry just strolled into the nomination, there was, in fact, a long and hard battle that preceded the Iowa Surprise (and yes, it was a surprise - a shock, even). For months, every news item was a political obituary, every MeetUp brought forth a chorus of "Why doesn't the campaign (you fill in the blank). From the February '03 DNC meeting, where Howard Dean stole the show while Kerry was fighting cancer, to the eve of the Iowa caucus, we were a small but hardy band, often shaken in our confidence, but with a candidate who made suffering the disparagement of our odds somehow worthwhile.

And now it's all coming around again, from some of out longtime compatriots and many of our new found friends. Kos worries that the Kerry campaign will "...let the Bush campaign regain its composure." The Left Coaster demands that it's time to "Get a running mate, get the Tier Two operation with a political killer and surrogates going now..." Atrios warns that "...if the Dems can't get their media operation in place they're going to have big troubles." Everyone everywhere seems to be watching the early national polls, judging November prospects on the basis of March numbers that are swinging within the MOE.

Now, those are all valid concerns, to one degree or another. The campaign does need to be aggressive. Attacks require response, and Bushco's got to be held to account for their own liabilities. It's always better to be ahead than behind, even when the date is early and the margin statistically irrelevant. There's every reason, though, based on his political history and on the incredible come from behind effort waged in the primary contest, to believe that John Kerry is a candidate equal to the task, and that he has assembled a team capable of managing the effort.

Let's take a look at a few key concerns:

1. Fighting back - Basically, I agree with The Gadflyer's Sean Aday. While the handwringers were fretting about Kerry's crooked liars 'gaffe', Aday reminded us that "... he had a biker's brawling attitude. Because what's been lost in the press coverage are the sentences before he uttered the words "crooked" and "liars." Told by the workers to "tell it like it is" and "keep smiling," Kerry responded, "We're going to keep pounding, let me tell you. We're just beginning to fight here."

In fact, I think Kerry relishes the fight. No one likes dirty politics, but some people thrive on hard politics, and John Kerry seems to be one of those people. For all the talk about his 'patrician' or 'Senatorial' style, time and time again he's come out and given as good as he's taken, and a little more. Enough more to be where he is right now, which is where at least nine other Democrats wanted to be, some of them considerably lest than genteel.

It would be a mistake to underestimate the lengths Bushco is willing to go to in this campaign, or the skill they will apply to the task. It would be a mistake, too, to overestimate them. As Ann Lewis, a pretty tough operative in her own right, put it "...repeat after me: These guys are not so smart. We can do this. Bring It On."

2. The polls: Stephanie Cutter speaks sooth. "What is surprising is that after $28 million in negative, misleading ads (by Bush), that the race is neck-and-neck." And that was $28 million that the Bush campaign had no intention of dropping this early against a candidate who has demostrated his own ability to raise money at a million dollar a day pace. In fact, the only real message from the polls is that this race is even at the starting gate, and thanks to the early nomination decision by Democrats, the starting gate has been pulled back far enough to insure that the Kerry campaign will have time to refuel before the final lap. As Terry Lierman, a Montgomery County Democrat and Kerry fundraiser, told the Washington Post, ""I have no doubt in my mind John Kerry can raise between $80 million and $100 million. In my career I have never seen people join together this fast and furious." Over time, that will make a big difference in the national polling, and there is, in fact, plenty of time.

More importantly, the campaign is doing well in several battleground states, well enough that the tracking being done at Running The Numbers, which is based on relatively conservative assumptions, show that in an election held today, Kerry would have an electoral college margin of 307 to 231. In other words, in the metrics that really count, as opposed to the metrics that make headlines, this thing is going just fine, so far.

3. The pace: We made an early decision. We are facing a long campaign. As tempting as it is to think that we need to be balls to the wall all day every day, we're nominating a human being, not a super hero. Kerry needed his vacation this month, and he'll probably need another one along the way. He can afford it, and we all have to keep a grip. It's going to be awhile before there's enough money in the coffers to match Bush ad for ad in major markets, but the money is coming. Polls will ebb and flow, negatives will rise and fall, apprehension will set in and elation will suddenly appear. It's just going to be a very long, hard slog to victory.

Don't get too hung up in the day to day spin. Remember, if you're reading this, or any political blog, at this stage, you're a hack or a geek, not an ordinary citizen at all. They'll be along to play with us in a few months, and then this will get really fun, because, as David Wade said on behalf of the campaign, "All we have to do in this race is tell the truth, while the Republicans have to cover up their falsehoods. When we get back out there, the real question will be, what are George Bush and Karl Rove going to do when we hold them accountable for what they've done in the last four years?"

What are they going to do? Why, they're going to lose, of course.

So work hard, fight back, and Don't Panic!


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