What a difference a couple of weeks make. Polling during and just after the Republican National Convention, Time and Newsweek have George W. Bush ahead of John Kerry 52 percent to 41 percent. Post-convention polls show Bush ahead 52 percent to 45 percent (CNN/USA Today/Gallup), 49 percent to 42 percent (CBS), 47 to 43 percent (Fox News), and 52 to 43 percent (ABC/Washington Post).
Post-convention polls in battleground states show similar results. Gallup shows Bush up 14 points in Missouri and 9 in Ohio, states he carried by 2 and 4 points, respectively, in 2000, and up 1 in Pennsylvania, which he lost by more than 4 points. Kerry is off the air in the battleground states of Missouri, Arizona, Arkansas and Louisiana. It's too soon to say that this is the last sharp shift in the two candidates' standings. But it is a bigger shift than we have seen since John Kerry clinched the Democratic nomination on March 2.
The reaction of the Bush campaign is that people are finally listening to the president make his case -- and watching John Kerry flounder in the month after his convention. The Bush plan is to keep on keeping on, and hope the unprecedented Republican turnout effort matches the turnout drives run by unions and Democratic 527 organizations. The reaction of the Kerry campaign is that its candidate was hurt by his failure to respond aggressively enough to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads and that he needs to fight back harder. Democrats like Susan Estrich, Michael Dukakis' campaign manager in 1988, see a replay of that year and call for attacks on George W. Bush's attendance record in the Texas National Guard -- helpfully provided by sympathetic Old Media last week.
But this misdiagnoses Kerry's problem. Dukakis was hurt because it was pointed out that for 11 years he supported weekend furloughs for prisoners sentenced to life without parole -- a policy for which there is no rational argument. Kerry was hurt because at least some of the SBVT charges proved true. On Aug. 11, his spokesman admitted that he was not on an illegal mission in Cambodia at Christmastime 1968 -- the memory of which, he said on the Senate floor in 1986, was "seared -- seared -- in me." His campaign left uncorroborated his frequent claims to have been on secret missions to Cambodia at other times. He has not authorized release of his military records. As this is written, Kerry has not taken questions from the press since Aug. 1. Sometimes there is no good defense, and the only thing you can do is try to change the subject.