ABC News' The Note: First Source for Political News

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19 days until the Republican convention 83 days until election day

NEWS SUMMARY Today, The Note gets all serious and macro.

It is our most fundamental job to regularly tell you three things:

1. where the presidential race stands

2. that where the race stands now is only a snapshot

3. that things can change

And/but the reality is — as amazing as this seems — this is now John Kerry's contest to lose.

Forget the hemorrhaging of manufacturing jobs (and Team Bush's inability — so far — to enunciate a second-term jobs/growth agenda or find a compelling Rubinesque spokesperson on the economy).

Forget the fact that that we still can't find a single American who voted for Al Gore in 2000 who is planning to vote for George Bush in 2004. (If you are that elusive figure, e-mail us and tell us who you are and why: politicalunit@abcnews.com.)

Forget the fact that California, New York, Illinois, and New Jersey (sorry, Matthew) aren't in play and never were.

Forget the latest polling out of Ohio (and perhaps Florida … .).

Forget the extraordinary anti-Bush energy that exists on the left and the "how-do-we-whip-our-folks-up?" dilemma that exists on the right.

Forget the various signs that the Democratic challenger is playing in battleground areas for the middle and the president seems geographically and issues-wise to be still shoring up the base.

Forget the persistence of the Democratic advantage on the congressional generic poll question.

Forget the current ad spending advantage the DNC/anti-Bush 527s have over BC04RNC — while John Kerry pinches pennies.

But remember the poisonous job approval, re-elect, and wrong track numbers that hang around the president's neck to this day and then consider the very smart, mustest-of-read essay by Charlie Cook, in which the Zen Master surveys the troubling (and consistently so … ) poll numbers of the incumbent and renders this spot on verdict: LINK

(Now is the time to subscribe to National Journal's outstanding Web site if you don't already, because you need to read the whole thing.)

"President Bush must have a change in the dynamics and the fundamentals of this race if he is to win a second term. The sluggishly recovering economy and renewed violence in Iraq don't seem likely to positively affect this race, but something needs to happen. It is extremely unlikely that President Bush will get much more than one-fourth of the undecided vote, and if that is the case, he will need to be walking into Election Day with a clear lead of perhaps three percentage points."

"This election is certainly not over, but for me, it will be a matter of watching for events or circumstances that will fundamentally change the existing equation — one that for now favors a challenger over an incumbent."

Now, the last thing we want is for Rush Limbaugh to quote from The Note for the third straight day LINK

(OK, we lied, that is the SECOND-to-last thing we want; the LAST thing we want is for Rush to quote from us again AND non-smug Wonkette to quote Rush quoting us … . LINK).

But this is the reality of the race right now, and it is best that everyone knows it. And, as we suggested, there is still plenty of time (and a convention and some debates and world events) for all this to change.

However, there are swirling developments that give one pause.

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