Obviously, the Bush campaign wants to "massage expectations" so that when Kerry does open up a huge lead it won't seem like a big deal. And if the lead turns out to be smaller than 15 points, the pundits will be able to proclaim the convention a dud. It's spin, but that doesn't mean it's not true.
I really don't think it matters. You can waste a lot of time trying to find an expert who thinks vice presidents matter very much. At the end of the day, it's the guys at the top of the ticket who matter. And that's the interesting part. Even before Kerry picked Edwards, everyone in Washington was comparing Kerry to Bob Dole. The UPI asked last April, "Is Kerry turning into Bob Dole?" Earlier this spring the buyer's remorse over Kerry was getting intense. Slate.com columnist Mickey Kaus launched a "Dem Panic Watch." The Associated Press reported, "Democratic leaders fear he's getting 'Gored.' " The New York Observer declared, "The Trouble Is, So Far Kerry Stinks on TV." Newsweek reported that Democrats see a "listless and message-less mishmash" in the Kerry campaign, while Time said Kerry had "something of a gift for the toxic sound bite." The Village Voice simply declared, "John Kerry Must Go."
Similar panic gripped the GOP about Bob Dole eight years ago. Then, for a fleeting moment after the Kemp/convention bounce, Republicans were giddy. Even California was "in play" for Republicans! But Kemp merely had a placebo effect. Clinton glided to victory, to the metaphysical consternation of the Clinton haters.
Of course, the parallels aren't identical. Edwards is a better politician than Kemp was, and he's from a more useful region. The times are different. And Republicans liked Bob Dole personally, while I don't know any Democrats who really like Kerry personally. Bob Dole got the nomination because it was "his turn." Kerry got the nomination because at the last minute Howard Dean imploded, and Democrats settled on Kerry because they thought he was the most electable. Neither were smart ways to pick a candidate. The jubilation over Edwards is, I believe, a sign that the Democrats are in denial about how bad a candidate Kerry is. Time will tell if I'm right.