John Kerry has not done such a good job. Never much absorbed in policy issues in the Senate, he has had a weak policy shop. His major domestic initiative, on health care, has features that helped in the Democratic primaries but will be problematic if he is elected. Bush has innovative positions on Social Security and health savings accounts, but it's not clear that he's given them enough emphasis to get them enacted.
But those are not the things that are likely to drive voters' decisions. This is an election about foreign policy and basic values. It would be easier for the winner to govern if he could win an unambiguous and uncontested majority. Can that happen?
There are two theories about how voters could break toward one candidate or the other candidate. One, held by Democrats, is that most voters have rejected Bush and are just waiting to make sure Kerry is an acceptable alternative, as voters decided to go with Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter in 1980. But Bush's job rating is higher than Carter's.
Another theory, held by some Democrats as well as Republicans, is that voters will decide not to switch presidents in time of war and will surge toward Bush. Possibly spurring such a reaction is the increasingly vitriolic tone of the Kerry campaign and the 527 organization ads against Bush.
The Kerry campaign deliberately tried to avoid that tone at its convention and sounded it again only in September, after Bush built up a post-convention lead. But there can be a backlash to vitriol, as Minnesota Democrats discovered after the bile unleashed at Paul Wellstone's funeral in 2002. Democrats, living in a cocoon where Bush hatred is universal and unexceptionable, failed to anticipate that. Have they made the same mistake again?