The Note

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NEWS SUMMARY

Pretty much every day, somewhere in America, someone is doing a poll or a focus group that finds its way into the brains of the Bush campaign and/or the Kerry campaign.

With negative ads flowing on both sides — the new Bush one today goes at Kerry with humor on the gas tax — the Clarke/Rice stuff, gas prices, gay marriage, jobs, and other election-effecting stuff in the news each day, the campaigns and interest groups want to know as much as possible about what is working and what is not.

No sane and practical campaign practitioner flies blind without what we call in the polite company of Karl Rove and Stan Greenberg "research" or "data" — the newer the better.

But the White House is also sitting on months and months of research about what will make the American people view John Kerry as unacceptable on national security and taxes, unlikeable, and a cross between Mike Dukakis, Ted Kennedy, Al Gore, and Thurston Howell the 3rd (when he was grouchy and out of touch).

The Kerry campaign, with less money for research, focuses more on the daily headlines and trying to stress the economy and health care, while chipping away at national security.

So for the Rs, the formula is simple:

Positive ads (to boost the POTUS favs back up) + negative ads (to define Kerry) + f ree media from the negative ads (to increase the bang for the buck and bracket Kerry's free media message, as with today's gas tax ad) + presidential and vice presidential speeches and trips to swing states (like today's economic message in Wisconsin by Mr. Bush) + a crafty congressional agenda (except for that pesky highway bill … .) + a foreign-trips-Olympics-9/11-anniversary-debates strategy like you wouldn't believe = 270 electoral votes or more

And for the Ds, things are a little more complicated and less linear:

Exploit negative headlines + wait for bad job numbers + watch as the allied groups magically help where needed + find a message that convinces Americans that their doubts about Bush exceed their questions about Kerry + hope the candidate improves and that the American people by November feel about him more like Bob Kerrey does than certain other Senators we know do + hope the candidate becomes something other than just "not Bush" = 270 or more electoral votes

For the past week, the dominant streams out of the politico-media miasma have consisted of, on the one hand, Bush television ads defining Bush and Kerry on BC04 terms, and, on the other hand, the Clarke/Rice coverage, doing, apparently, at least some damage to the president in (all together now) his Area of Greatest Strength.

The media's equation:

Genuine attempts at balance and objectivity minus (real and/or perceived) natural affinity for Kerry and Democrats divided by (the desire to filter free media through horse race lens + neenering about perennial debate over issues/strategy/horserace coverage + Gore-esque/Klein-esque critical coverage of Sen. Kerry as a person) = more Annenberg/Columbia Journalism Review symposiums about the decline in campaign coverage and more Note ledes.

We have no clue whether the new Gallup poll's numbers are rock solid; we do know that everyone in politics and political media has been using them like the Rosetta Stone for the last 16 hours and will continue to do so until some other numbers take their place.

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