Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Notes on Wisconsin

1. The Elephant in the Room. Nobody writes an election night story better than David Broder. His report on the Wisconsin results is typically excellent. But he doesn't address one issue -- the Drudge Report's sleazing of Senator Kerry -- that clearly had a huge impact on the race.

Go here to look at the pre-primary polling (Zogby -- ouch!). The Real Clear Politics average of all the data gave Kerry a 30% lead over Edwards. He won by 6%. I don't think Edwards "opposition" to NAFTA or the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's endorsement of Edwards moved the dial that much. The "game changing event" of the last six days was the Drudge Report. As far as I can tell, no analysis of the Wisconsin results points to the elephant in the room. Bad journalism.

2. Why rely on Drudge when Wonkette has better exit poll numbers? Ellisblog has learned its lesson. And it turns out that for all my excellent blather below, the mid-day exit numbers posted by Drudge were not inaccurate. He posted 42-31-15. Actual was: 40-34-18. Well with the margin of error. Apologies to Warren!

3. It's important to remember that Senator Kerry is viewed from within his campaign pretty much the same way he is viewed by Mickey Kaus and Ellisblog. They think he's a stiff! They were surprised that he won Iowa (they thought the Edwards surge would catch them there) and they were amazed that he won New Hampshire more or less without a fight. And they've been stunned that the others have basically let him keep on winning. What they dread most of all is negative momentum, because (let's face it) the candidate has no strong base of support within the party. They're only for him because he's winning. Once he starts losing, he's a loser.

So the Kerry campaign has to kill this Edwards thing now. That's why they stepped on Edwards's speech last night. That's why Ellisblog thinks they will go negative on Edwards quickly. Because no one in the Democratic Party harbors any deep affection for Senator Kerry, negative momentum can kill his candidacy. Given that reality, the way for Kerry to win (for sure) is to get ugly, fast.

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It would seem awfully foolish for Kerry to go negative. All he has to do is grind it out. Going negative would make him look scared, even more scared than he looked when "big-footing" Edwards' speech. And while it's unclear whether Edwards can take a punch, why take the chance? He could fire back hard, especially if he decides he won't be picked for veep anyway.

It's funny that the Washington Post mentioned the sources saying Kerry was annoyed by Edwards' mild barbs. I thought he was angry just watching on television. This doesn't bode well. And it also hurts Kerry to have to win Mondale-style, relying on the unions and the establishment and the diehard Democratic voters while ceding the independents to Edwards.

My only hope, as a Dem who much prefers Edwards but will vote for Kerry if I must, is that Kerry has done okay when he really has to. But I didn't like what I saw Tuesday. The Kerry people were pooh-poohing Wisconsin ("you can't cherry-pick states," etc...) and they won, for crying out loud. For a campaign that has gotten extremely lucky and is way out in front, they shouldn't be whining.

-- C. A.