The Note

If, for the purposes of this exercise, you remove the 17 battleground states and add up the electoral votes from the states considered safe for each party, Republicans have a 190 to 168 advantage over the Democrats and begin the battle for the battlegrounds only 80 electoral votes shy of the promised land.

Sen. Kerry is still operating in a political environment where he has yet to be battle tested as a presidential candidate beyond the friendly confines of a nomination fight. (Yes, Professor Brinkley, we realize he was quite tested in the Mekong Delta, but we're talking about running for president here.)

Kerry still has a great distance to travel before he passes the "sit and have a beer/hang" test that the American people and the press will undoubtedly continue to administer.

And although the Kerry camp is quite confident in their ability to raise and spend $80 million by the time the convention rolls around, the president's $200 (approximately) million war chest will likely allow voters to come in contact with the Bush-Cheney message of "steady leadership" more often than with John Kerry's call for change.

The concept of inertia is instructive here too. To use Bill Clinton's job interview metaphor, it is far easier for a voter to come to the conclusion that the president's contract should be renewed than it is to decide to both fire the president and hire Sen. Kerry.

As history demonstrates (and as you no doubt saw on The Note segment of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos") the power of incumbency is impressive.

Twenty-eight presidents have run for reelection with the trappings of the office surrounding them. By a ratio of nearly 2-to-1, the American people have given those presidents the opportunity to continue their service (18 to 10).

There is no doubt that the country is closely divided and the President's trajectory is of great concern to his supporters and seen as a great opportunity for his detractors, but it is important to take a step back and remember just how tough a climb John Kerry has ahead of him.

And while the President should continue to be held accountable for what HE says, it's time to start holding John Kerry plenty accountable also.

President Bush visits Pennsylvania today. He hosts the prime minister of the Netherlands and speaks about health care tomorrow; celebrates St. Patrick's Day at the White House on Wednesday; speaks to troops at Ft. Campbell, Ky., on Thursday; speaks about the Iraqi war and visits wounded soldiers in Walter Reed on Friday; and holds his first campaign rally on Saturday in Florida.

Sen. Kerry is in Washington, D.C. today — meeting separately with Philadelphia's mayor, Gerald McEntee, and Al Sharpton. He visits West Virginia tomorrow and returns on Washington, D.C. on Wednesday before a vacation at a location still officially TBD.

Rev. Al Sharpton is in Washington, D.C. today to meet with Kerry.

Rep. Kucinich campaigns in Illinois today. He will be in New York on Saturday.

Ralph Nader is in Washington, D.C. today.

Tomorrow, Illinois holds its Senate primary; State Sen. Barack Obama is the leading candidate for Democrats. Businessman Jack Ryan leads the Republican race. Many voters are undecided.LINK

Kerry is expected to clinch the nomination; and "Staffers," a documentary about life on the campaign trail featuring members of the Kerry campaign, airs on the Discovery Times Channel.

Wednesday is St. Patrick's Day. Get those reservations for lunch early!

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