Jewish World Review May 3, 2004 / 12 Iyar, 5764
Sept. 11 will act like a third convention for Republicans
Since 1960, each political party has realized an average bounce in the polls of 10 points after its party convention. Frequently, these gains cancel one another out, but sometimes one party gains more than the other and takes an augmented stature into the general election campaign.
In 1992, for example, the Republicans got almost no gain from their convention while the Democrats moved up 10 points, setting the stage for Bill Clinton's victory.
During the next election cycle, the GOP's gain was the expected 10 points, but Clinton moved up 17, giving him a lead he kept until the Chinese fundraising scandal knocked him back to the nine points by which he ultimately won. In 2000, Al Gore gained more than George W. Bush from his convention, amassing a lead that he then lost after falling short in the three debates.
This year, the Democratic convention in early August and the GOP answer at the end of the month may cancel one another out or leave one party or the other holding a key edge going into the final two months of the race. But this year, the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks will likely act as if it were a third party convention, giving the Republican ticket an extra boost it would not normally receive.
In a mirror image of the Madrid bombings, the anniversary of Sept. 11 should give President Bush high marks as the nation contemplates, in gratitude, the absence of any terrorist attack during the preceding three years (knock on wood).
Even if there is another incident, the very focus on terrorism will stand Bush in good stead.
The experiences over the past two months have demonstrated the underlying truth of the observation that this is not an election between two parties, two men or even two ideologies. It is a contest between two issues. If the topic du jour is terrorism or Iraq or Afghanistan or any other variant of the threat from rogue nations or al Qaeda, then Bush benefits.
Overwhelming majorities of the electorate give him as much as a 2-1 advantage over Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in handling this range of issues. Events such as the Richard Clarke testimony at the Sept. 11 hearings or the Bob Woodward book may give Kerry a momentary bounce, but it soon fades amid the deeper reality that any coverage of terrorism works to Bush's advantage.
On the other hand, if the focus is on any other issues the economy, Social Security, Medicare, prescription drugs for the elderly, the cost of medicine or the environment Kerry will benefit. The flip side of the damage the Clarke testimony did to Bush in the short term is that good economic news helps Bush and hurts Kerry at the moment it comes out. But the broader fact that the coverage was about the economy, not about terror, helps the Democrat.
Iraq and taxes pose special questions. High casualties in Iraq made early April a disaster for the president. But as soon as the killings abated, Bush bounced back, recovering the ground he lost and even adding to his gains. Why? Because the subject matter favored Bush and the absence of coffins let Bush's negative ads against Kerry cut more deeply into his image.
Taxes are the flip side of Iraq. While accusations that Kerry will raise taxes help the GOP, the subject itself aids Kerry. Asked in the Fox News poll of April 2004 if their taxes are too high, only 50 percent answered yes while 44 percent said they were about right and 6 percent were masochists who complained that they were too low.
So the Sept. 11 anniversary will help Bush enormously even if there are new incidents. No matter how good or bad the actual news is (within limits), the subject matter remains the key. If it is about terrorism, it helps Bush. Anything else benefits Kerry.
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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, Off with Their Heads: Traitors, Crooks & Obstructionists in American Politics, Media & Business" Comment by clicking here.
© 2004, Dick Morris