Let's not get lathered up worrying about what Sen. John Kerry meant when he contrasted the value of book learning to the value of getting shot at in a foreign war. Instead let's assess the public reaction and its possible impact on Tuesday's elections.
Parsing Kerry's words is a waste of time. Did he mean a lack of education might make one, like George W. Bush, an ignorant warmonger? Or only that hard work and hitting the books will keep one far away from the violent desert sands of volatile Iraq? Most informed speculators have adopted the second interpretation. But who knows?
Kerry blundered badly, and that's the point. He canceled campaign appearances with Democratic candidate hopefuls. Even Sen. Hillary Clinton -- probably for her own opportunistic reasons -- called for Kerry to apologize to American troops. Finally he did.
By now, quick Internet distribution and TV broadcasts have made common currency of the photograph of U.S. troops forming a line in the sand (literally) and holding a banner that reads, "Halp Us Jon Carry We R Stuck (c and k printed backward) in Irak."
The soldiers' message was clear, and apparently so was John Kerry's. Yes, he might have simply left out words from his statement that would have made it clear he was talking only about the president. No matter. These troops and their families took Kerry's "joke" as a direct insult. Unfortunately for Kerry's Democratic Party, a fair number of otherwise unmotivated Republican voters, and some independent ones, likely took offense, too.
The pregnant question now is whether the Kerry goof will rescue an entire election for the GOP. Perhaps not. Still, it has unquestionably put the brakes on the alleged Republican freefall that pollsters and pundits have been declaring for weeks. At the least, the senator's remarks might reverse Democratic fortunes in scattered close races, especially in the South.
Look at the places President Bush has campaigned in the last week. One key congressional race is in Georgia's District 12. Our latest InsiderAdvantage survey showed former Republican Congressman Max Burns barely trailing incumbent Democrat John Barrow.
In the same state, Bush also stopped off to help former Congressman Mac Collins as he tries to unseat Democrat Jim Marshall.
As little as a month ago, neither of these Republicans was given a chance of winning. But both of these districts have strong military ties and big blocs of independent swing voters. Deft use of Kerry's remarks could be the fillip needed to energize disenchanted Republican or lethargic independent voters to weigh in for the pro-military Republicans.
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