While former President Clinton hit a home run with his speech last night, the story just below the front page fold on The Washington Post this morning suggests Kerry is losing ground. The tenor of the article about The Post’s latest poll is that Kerry is so undefined that he risks losing the vote of even those who are unhappy with Bush.
Cheryl Utley, 43, of Lowell, Mich., would seem to be exactly the kind of voter Kerry is targeting this week. Utley, a restaurant worker, is an independent living in a battleground state. She is leaning toward Bush even though she has supported Democrats more often than she has Republicans. “I have more of a sense of where he stands on things than Kerry,” she said.
Utley wants Kerry and the Democratic Party to talk about domestic issues, specifically education and “what they plan on doing about health care for middle-income or lower-income people.”
“I have to face the fact that I will never be able to have health insurance, the way things are now. And these millionaires don’t seem to address that,” she said.
…”I would like him to come right out and explain that to people, what he really believes, in a way that everyone will understand him,” said Rose Spalding, 45, a Kerry supporter in Cumberland, Maine. “He needs to be really clear and concise about that and show he’s really different from Bush.”
…”You pretty much know what Bush’s philosophy is on everything he’s doing,” said Mike Miller, 57, of Russellville, Ark., who is “on the fence” but favoring Kerry. “I’d like to know about Kerry’s philosophy on the economy: how he’s going to get our national debt down. . . . Is the deficit even a concern of his?”
It goes on like this, with voters asking how Kerry will deal with the key problems.
But where does Bush stand? Do we know how he’ll cut the deficit? Assuming we know he’s not going to raise taxes, where will he cut spending? We know Kerry’s tax plans – more cuts for the middle class and repeal of tax cuts for the rich – so how are Kerry’s plans any less certain than Bush’s?
This poll may impact Kerry’s speech. Will Kerry talk policy on Thursday night or stick with the suggested formula of introducing his personal side? More important, will the media judge his speech based on whether he outlines his policies sufficiently to address the concerns of the voters interviewed for The Post story? If he comes across as warm and fuzzy, he risks further criticism about the lack of specifics.
Meanwhile, will the media demand the same specifics from Bush and then examine and critique them?
The article also serves the purpose of the GOP in its fourth paragraph.
The poll suggests that negative ads by the Bush-Cheney campaign that have been airing since early March, as well as attacks by Republican officials, have been increasingly successful in planting the image of Kerry as an unreliable leader who flip-flops on the issues — perceptions that Democrats will work hard to reverse at their convention.
The press, in covering the campaigns’ strategies instead of policy positions, repeat the Bush campaign’s positioning of Kerry ad nauseum. Thus, journalists are delivering in free media the flip-flop charge, playing directly into the GOP hands. What specific charge can you name that the media has delivered for the Democrats? That that would be hard to identify, speaks probably not as much to the bias of media but to the lack of discipline in the Kerry’s message machine.
On the Diana Rehm show just ended, Susan Page said what she is looking for in Kerry’s speech is what he would do in Iraq and in healthcare and demonstrate the strength and consistency of his views. Will Kerry take the bait?