Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Undecideds Sticking With The "Devil" They Know

Well, here’s a story that ought to be causing Kerry strategists to start investing in Depends for the campaign’s stretch run:

Amy Locy's opinion of the president is not temperate.

’I just can't stand George Bush,’ said the deputy clerk of council of nearby Munroe Falls.

Locy is angry, in particular, about the President's handling of the war in Iraq.

’Coming into his presidency, he had an agenda that included Saddam Hussein,’ Locy said. ‘And 9/11 gave him the opportunity to slip [Hussein's] name in: 'Osama bin Laden,' 'Saddam Hussein,' it's all that same type of Taliban feeling. . . . If Osama bin Laden is responsible for 9/11, then take care of it. He is not in Iraq, so what are we doing there?’

Score one for Democratic nominee John F. Kerry?

Not quite. Locy, 39, is still undecided in the presidential race. Sure, Bush has given her plenty to vote against. But so far, Locy said, Kerry hasn't given her enough to vote for. He has come to the state 12 times since he locked up the nomination. His campaign, and his supporters, have flooded the local airwaves with advertisements. At last month's Democratic National Convention, Kerry got to introduce himself to the public directly. But for all of that, Locy still isn't sure about the senator from Massachusetts. ‘He hasn't done anything to even try to close the deal,’ she said. ‘He just keeps saying, “I'm not Bush and this is why,” and it's a valid point, but so many other valid points need to be made.’

That wariness about Kerry was expressed by all five members of a focus group conducted by the Globe over the weekend in the heart of this fierce battleground state, the second in a series of meetings that will follow the group through the election on Nov. 2. These five, recruited earlier this summer by the Center for Policy Studies at the University of Akron Law School, were considerably more ambivalent when they met for the first time in June.

During the latest two-hour discussion, however, these likely voters - three of whom now say they are leaning toward Bush [my emphasis] and two who are still undecided - described Kerry as ill-defined, overly reliant on his Vietnam service, and decidedly Northeastern [my emphasis again]. By contrast, four years in office have bought the President the benefit of the doubt among these voters. Bush has done the best he could with difficult circumstances, they said, and even Locy, so critical of him on Iraq, did not fault his handling of the economy.

These voters' sympathy for Bush - even in the face of mistakes they concede he has made - mirrors the view of voters across the Buckeye State.

I’d love to say that I hate to say I told you so, but I’m not John Kerry, and I don’t approve that message. This is exactly what I’ve been saying ever since the Boston Bacchanalia: that Kerry has no signature issues with which he’s identified, has actively eschewed sig issues in favor of running on what is proving to be a fictitious or at least highly “creative” biography that is now crumbling, with nothing underneath, such as likeability or personal warmth, to serve as a safety net.

Democrats convinced themselves that “anybody but Bush” was going to be enough. If this focus group is indicative of battleground states across the country, that will have been a fatal overdose of solipsistic overconfidence.