The Note

Everyone knows there is only one way to look at the 2004 presidential race: if a candidate can win 3 out of 4 of Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, and Ohio, they will win the election.

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But before we can even get to that simple calculus, there is an intermediate question: no Democrat is going to even have a chance to beat President Bush unless he or she can talk clearly to the American people about how a new national economic policy would be better than what four years of Bush-Cheney have produced.

In today's Washington Post , Dan Balz has crafted a front-pager that is quite possibly the most important story written to date about the 2004 presidential election. LINK

Balz's first three paragraphs lay things out cleanly; finish them, and then go read the whole piece:

"President Bush's economic record should present an attractive target for the Democratic presidential candidates. Instead, it has become another source of division, disagreement and, so far at least, a missed opportunity to change public opinion."

"Under Bush, the U.S. economy has lost about 3 million private-sector jobs. The unemployment rate has risen from 4.2 percent to 6.1 percent. The Dow Jones industrial average, despite a recent rebound, remains more than 1,100 points below the levels of January 2001. The president's tax cuts and spending increases have turned budget surpluses into record deficits that some experts say amount to a long-term fiscal crisis."

"In the face of those figures, Democrats appear stymied. The party's congressional wing, operating in the minority, has neither the votes nor the megaphone to carry an economic message, party strategists acknowledge. The party's presidential candidates speak with nine voices, and they have failed to make the economy a consistent and coherent focus of their messages. Polls show that the public neither blames Bush principally for the state of the economy nor recognizes a Democratic alternative."

Of course, every presidential cycle for the last five, The Note always makes certain to be the first to mention the prospect of an October Surprise that completely remakes the election playing field. (Check out what the Googling monkeys found by doing a simple "October Surprise" search: LINK)

So while Balz is probably spot on that only a Democrat who figures out how to talk about the economy has a chance to win, President Bush is a divisive enough figure in the 51-49 Nation to allow the opposition party to dream big dreams right up until election day, no matter how the polls look.

And right now, you would have to say that the most likely October Surprise would involve Iraq or terrorism, and a strong New York Times ' pairing implicitly floats a possibility.

Displaying perfect pitch and some great reporting, the New York Times David Sanger and Carl Hulse write about the political stakes on the WsMD issue, and/but they find things (still) leaning Republican: LINK

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