April 20, 2004

The race to the White House

MABB is a registered TM.

It is interesting to note that with all the seeming attacks against president Bush in the last few months, he still managed to pull ahead in the polls. Criticism about his war in Iraq by former counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke and Bob Woodward's new book, "Plan of Attack", coupled with criticism on his management style by Bush's former Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neal, has not affected his campaign. If anything, it appears to have strengthened his position in the race for re-election.

In the meantime, John Kerry has noticeably disappeared from the stage. He has struggled to get his "message across" and thus he is suffering in the polls. A recent report by the Washington Post, says that Bush is leading in the polls by about 5 percentage points. Moreover, Bush has successfully overcome a 12 point deficit from a couple of months ago.

So what is going on? Certainly, "the" issue being talked about currently is the War on Terrorism and the War in Iraq. While many ostensible attacks have been launched against president Bush, seriously questioning his judgment, ability, readiness, and awareness to govern, by former members of his administration and now a well known journalist famous for having been one of the people who helped brake out the Watergate affair, apparently, he did not feel many effects from such attacks. To the contrary, all these attempts seem to have helped him, if not gain, at least, maintain his high approval ratings and his appeal to voters. The questions raised by these attacks have failed to highlight Bush's mistakes, if any, and to take away precious support. Instead, him and his team, have vigorously and successfully, refuted every accusation thrown to them. In the process, affirming, in the public's eye, Bush's perceived strength over Kerry (for republicans a.k.a. "Hanoi John") to lead the nation in times of war.

The commission investigating the 9/11 attacks has provided for a much welcomed public forum, with a touch of drama, for the administration to make its case and defend itself from attacks. The members of the administration who appeared before the commission, especially, Condi Rice and Colin Powell, efficiently defended Bush's actions, taking care not to leave any potentially embarrassing issue lingering about.

The economy and jobs were potentially dangerous issues for the Bush campaign. However, recent reports on growth, low inflation, historically low interest rates and a surprising growth in the number of jobs created in 1Q 2004, have helped the administration's argument that the economy is starting to take off and Bush's tax cuts are working. As the economy gets better, prospects get better and people do not have the jobs issue in the back of their minds.

One other issue that has certainly helped the Bush campaign is the appearance of Ralph Nader. According to the Post's report, when the Nader factor is taken into account, he takes about 6 percentage points over all. The argument is the same. Nader, with his candidacy, takes away precious votes from the democrats. People who, would otherwise vote democrat, choose to vote for Nader, only to make a statement about the political system. In a race so closely divided, every vote counts and if Nader was not in the race, chances are, those votes would otherwise find their way to John Kerry.

Lastly, the absence of democrats ready to criticize the Bush administration is specially helpful for the Bush campaign. The strategy followed by all the primary democratic candidates during the primaries, was working. All of them concentrated their attacks on Bush. As a result, president Bush's initial lead had evaporated and had become a real problem for his campaign. This concerted effort did have a significant effect on the polls. However, all of the sudden all the attacks have stopped; John Kerry hardly gets any coverage in the news; and much worse, any prominent democrat (the likes of Al Gore, Bill Clinton and Howard Dean) has disappeared from the map without uttering a word against the Bush campaign. The only prominent democrat to be seen engaged in a one-to-one with his republican counterpart (Ed Gillespie) is DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe. It seems that either the democrats have thrown the towel or they are following a strategy designed to deliver a knock-out punch to Bush as the elections approach.

Whatever happens in the next months will certainly be interesting to watch. The campaigns are close to their highest points and the last cards are probably being prepared to be drawn at the appropriate time.