Political Pundits on How to Win the White House

By March, with the nomination in hand but many scars to show for it, Kerry felt he had earned a vacation. The candidate and his wife decamped for a skiing holiday in Idaho. Drudge was still hovering: "Spring Break: Kerry Retreats to His Sun Valley Mansion for 5-Day Luxury Unwind." As Republicans delighted in emphasizing, the Kerrys between them owned ?ve properties. Drudge highlighted the fruits of some excellent Republican research on Kerry's Idaho home, including reference to the size, value, and taxes on the "compound," and the detail that the "mansion's 'Great Room' is a 500 year old barn" imported from England and reconstructed on site. Several newspapers began reporting on the other lavish Kerry-Heinz homes as well.

If retreating to Sun Valley was a dubious choice, it was aggravated in the coming days. The athletic candidate was snowboarding when he collided with a Secret Service agent detailed to him and took a spill on the snow. A reporter and cameraman were there for the encounter. "I don't fall down," Kerry snapped defensively, when the reporter asked him what happened, and he called the agent a "son of a bitch."

Kerry had been in the Senate for twenty years and in public life for more than thirty, but he appeared not to appreciate the reality of a presidential candidate's life. While the New York Times put the snowboarding morsel far down in its story about how the weary candidate needed a rest, Drudge trumpeted it on his site, and added, based on his own quasi-reporting, that Kerry and the agent had clashed before. The Boston Globe picked up the baton and noted, "Republican operatives even circulated to reporters and party members news of Kerry's jab at his Secret Service escort," and quoted one GOP strategist as pronouncing the incident "perfect material showing that Kerry will say anything, and can't control what he says." Republican of?ceholders fanned the ?ames. Weeks later, Republican congressman Jack Kingston of Georgia went to the House ?oor to give a speech about Kerry's ?ve residences, listing the locations and prices of them all. "I will ask you, Mr. Speaker, how many guys do you know over 60 years old who know how to snowboard?" Kingston said. "I guess he bought ?ve ski resorts to learn how. He wanted to ?aunt it a little bit. But, to me, if you have a guy that age and he knows how to snowboard, he has not only too much money, but he has too much time on his hands as well."

As Kingston's remarks demonstrated, there were so many cartoon image themes available in the Republican toy chest that sometimes it was dif?cult for Kerry's opposition to choose which characteristic to mock. In the GOP conception, Kerry alternatively wore sandals (hippie), French loafers (mon dieu!), or ?ip-?ops (enough said). And a negative Kerry theme, once ?oated, never really evaporated.

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