As the Democratic convention gets underway this week, the WSJ raises what may be a crucial issue for the Presidential challenger in the minds of the undecided voters: National Security.
Despite polling well otherwise, voters still give Kerry weak marks on the central issue of “Defense” and “Terrorism:”
“Voters remain wary of Mr. Kerry on national security, the issue looming over the contest as U.S. troops remain in Iraq, and post-Sept. 11 fears of new terrorist attacks at home haven’t faded. Just 36% of those surveyed rate Mr. Kerry highly on “being strong in protecting American interests overseas,” while 35% give him poor marks. By contrast, 62% rate him highly on “being smart and intelligent,” and 48% credit him with being “knowledgeable and experienced enough” for the presidency.”
During the primary, Kerry’s greatest perceived strength as a thrice decorated war hero was his perceived ability to withstand a concerted GOP attack on his National Security’s credentials. There is some irony here that this remains an issue. The flip side, however, is that a candidate with lesser strengths on the subject might not even be in the running at this late date.
For the incumbent, this is a mixed blessing: His record on Terror is front and center, and voters have a fairly clear idea of his positions. Indeed, its the Iraq invasion hangover — bad intelligence, poor post war planning, questionable judgement — that continues to weigh on his re-election chances.
For Kerry, the week offers a clear opportunity: If he can show Defense chops, build National Security street cred, and allay the fears of undecideds, he wins the Presidency. Allow the “wishy-washy” tag on Defense to stick, and risk losing.
It’s just that simple.
The Journal notes the risks and rewards he faces:
“John Kerry enters next week’s Democratic Convention in a better position than any presidential challenger in a generation — but still needing to show more strength on the national-security issues that underpin President Bush’s support.
A Close Race
A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows the Massachusetts senator in a virtual dead heat with Mr. Bush as Democrats gather here to nominate him as their presidential candidate in the Nov. 2 election. Not since Ronald Reagan’s 1980 bid to oust President Carter, according to Gallup, has a challenger approached his nominating convention even with or ahead of a White House incumbent.
Yet the poll also shows that voters remain wary of Mr. Kerry on national security, the issue looming over the contest as U.S. troops remain in Iraq, and post-Sept. 11 fears of new terrorist attacks at home haven’t faded. Just 36% of those surveyed rate Mr. Kerry highly on “being strong in protecting American interests overseas,” while 35% give him poor marks. By contrast, 62% rate him highly on “being smart and intelligent,” and 48% credit him with being “knowledgeable and experienced enough” for the presidency.
Thus, lifting Mr. Kerry’s standing on national security is crucial to his chances, according to Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted the Journal/NBC poll with the organization of his late Republican counterpart, Robert Teeter. “It’s a high hurdle, but it’s not a pole vault,” said Mr. Hart. . .
But the new poll suggests that the public itself shares some of the same conflicts about Iraq these days. The Republican Party’s advantage on handling Iraq has dwindled to eight percentage points from 27 points in January. A 47% plurality says removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq hasn’t been worth the financial and human costs. By 56%-40%, voters say Mr. Bush should have done more to make sure that prewar intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs was accurate.
Some other fascinating details emerge from the WSJ/NBC Poll:
After seeing his job-approval ratings erode since January, Mr. Bush has rebounded moderately:
• 48% now approve of his performance, while 46% disapprove; in June, a 49% plurality disapproved;
• 47% say Mr. Bush doesn’t deserve re-election, down from 50% last month.
The contours of national opinion are positive for the party out of power:
• By 48%-36%, voters say the country is on the wrong track;
• A robust 58% majority sees the U.S. economy heading for trouble rather than prosperity;
• Voters now say Democrats would do a better job on the economy by an 8% margin.
The intensity of support for the challenger has edged up to similar levels as the incumbent:
• 72% of those backing Mr. Kerry now say they “definitely” will vote for him, up from 64% in June.
Potential for growth:
• One-third (33%) of the electorate says it still knows little “about John Kerry and what he stands for;”
• one-fifth (20%) are neutral in their opinions about him;
• 42% of voters who are not now supporting Mr. Kerry say there’s some chance they will vote for him;
• 34% of non Bush supports say they might vote for him.
The horse race continues . . .
Kerry Faces National-Security Hurdle
Bush’s Challenger Fares Well in Poll, but Voters
Give Democrat Weak Marks on Central Issue
By John Harwood and David Rogers
The Wall Street Journal, July 23, 2004; Page A4
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