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Monday, November 24, 2003

Kerry in Trouble

For fun, let's pretend that what Drudge reports is true:

On the eve of a Tom-Brokaw moderated Democratic Presidential Debate, Senior Kerry advisers recklessly strategized over refreshments at the Hotel Fort Des Moines -- believing they were out of earshot to anyone who would care!

But as the caucus nears even stripped Iowa cornstalks have ears...

The campaign advisers spoke frankly at the hotel's bar on Sunday night about the state of the White House race and their frustrations of living in the shadow of Howard Dean.

All of Dean's money is coming from Republicans, one member of Kerry's kitchen cabinet told the group. Another adviser asked if that had been researched. No one had an answer.

The staff said Kerry should -- and will -- use a motorcycle for campaigning more often...

The advisers discussed how Kerry should stop trying to defend his Iraq vote and develop how Kerry's the real anti-war protester, not Dean.

The staffers talked about doing an ad where they would contrast Kerry's anti-war activism with Dean as a draft-dodging ski bum. The ad would feature vault clips of Kerry speaking at anti-war rallies and testifying on Capitol Hill vs. Dean statements on how he could have served in the military, but decided not to.

The Kerry staffers talked about the possibility of doing a documentary on the campaign, like the one Spike Jonze did with Gore. One frustrated operative said it would help with Kerry's "aloof" image problem.

The advisers carelessly talked about how thick Kerry's accent used to be.

Kerry did the thick accent when cameras were around to sound like JFK, laughed one senior staffer.

Back in the real world, you probably know by now that both the Boston Globe (27-24) and Boston Herald (33-24) reported over the weekend that their polling shows Kerry trailing Dean in advance of the March 2 Democratic primary. I've written for a while here that people just like Dean better, and the follow-up interviews in the Globe back me up:

Those who favor Dean, in follow-up interviews after the poll, said that Kerry's lack of a clear message and his general demeanor have hurt him. They seemed drawn to Dean's aggressive style.

Dan Patenaude, 47, of East Falmouth, said he has always supported Kerry in previous elections. But at this stage, Dean strikes him as the candidate with the most forthright manner -- a key quality when he considers presidential candidates, Patenaude said.

"It's more his manner than his positions," Patenaude, a guidance counselor at Mashpee High School, said of Dean. "He presents himself very well, and he looks like a man of integrity. He's not afraid to state what he feels."

Kathy Kacavich of Natick, who runs a day-care center out of her house, said Dean's message is the only one that's broken through to her in this early stage. She said she isn't familiar with most of the issues, but said something about Kerry rubs her the wrong way.

"Maybe it's his face, he just looks like an old teacher," said Kacavich, 47. "So far, I haven't listened to anybody else yet, but what Dean has to say is alright."

Those surveyed criticized Kerry's seeming equivocation about the war. He had voted for the congressional resolution authorizing Bush to use force against Iraq, though has since criticized the president for how he has handled the war, and voted against the administration's request for $87 billion for reconstruction.

Cornelius Hastie, a 72-year-old registered Democrat, said he sees Dean as in the mold of US Senator Edward M. Kennedy more than Kennedy's Bay State Senate colleague.

Hastie said he admired Dean's willingness to stake out positions clearly in his opposition to the war in Iraq.

"He's got unequivocal opposition to American aggression, to an unprovoked war," said Hastie, a retired Episcopal priest who lives in Jamaica Plain. "John Kerry is not Teddy Kennedy. He doesn't take a strong, principled stand. Consistently, Teddy Kennedy takes principled stands, and Howard Dean does the same."

But Kerry's style also seems to stir resentment among voters, even those Democrats who should agree with his positions. Joseph Kalesnik, a 62-year-old Democrat, said he has never felt fully comfortable with Kerry's manner, and said he was concerned by the turmoil inside his campaign as well. Dean, he said, strikes him as forthright, "half-arrogant and half-cocky," but in a positive way that suggests he'd be a strong candidate to take on Bush.

"Dean has come out and said some things, and he hasn't backed away from them," said Kalesnik, a retired postal supervisor who lives in Westfield. "Kerry always gives you this thing where he talks over you. There's something about him that says, when you sit in the car, you sit in the back, and he's up front."

The composition of the Dean and Kerry support is also interesting, as noted in the Globe:

While Kerry runs ahead of Dean among registered Democrats -- 28 percent to 22 percent -- the senator trails by a wide margin -- 36 percent to 14 percent -- among independents, according to the Globe/WBZ polls.

This can largely be explained by the fact that Kerry has had most state Democratic officials lining up behind him. Not doing so would be perceived as a major insult. If Dean wins New Hampshire big and looks like the nominee before March 2, however, I'll be interested to see how vocal those supporters of Kerry are in this area. I suspect their backing of the junior senator may turn out to be rather shallow.