Bush bounce is a’building

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 2, 2004

Commentary by Dick Morris

After one of the weakest convention performances in memory, John Kerry has had the worst post-convention period since Walter Mondale found himself defending Geraldine Ferraro’s husband’s business accounting in 1984.

Even before the gavel pounds opening the 2004 Republican Convention, the Kerry bounce is over and President Bush enters the first day of his conclave with a lead in most national polls. (He’s four ahead in the L.A. Times poll and three up in Rasmussen’s daily tracking survey.)

What did Kerry do wrong?

He stressed war in his convention speech, erasing the domestic-policy focus imparted by Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. He became one of the only presidential candidates since Barry Goldwater to lose points during his acceptance speech.

He made so much fuss over Vietnam that he legitimized the attacks on his war record. What would have been dismissed as right-wing hysteria became mainstream politics because Kerry made his Swift-boat record admissible and relevant to his credibility.

He did not have any bold new programs to unveil after his convention was over. He had no post-convention game plan.

He forgot that he had served in the Senate and spent all of 22 seconds elucidating his accomplishments in 20 years in that august body.

What has Bush done right?

He seems to be pacifying Iraq. Combat deaths in July were a third of the April total and 50 percent lower than in May.

The success of the U.S.-U.K.-Pakistani military operations in unearthing al Qaeda plans demonstrated his skill as a wartime leader and his success in protecting us.

He stayed away from the Swift-boat fight and let Kerry and the vets duke it out.

So where is all this heading? If Bush uses his convention skillfully to highlight his homeland-security record and uses Sen. Zell Miller, his keynoter, to attack Kerry’s Senate record, he should emerge in great shape.

After four days of Republican rhetoric, it is not fanciful to hope that Bush ends up with an 8- to 10-point margin over Kerry – 52-53 percent for Bush vs. 43-44 percent for Kerry.

After the convention? Expect the lead to shrink a bit in the early days of September, but to grow to robust proportions again when the “third convention” is held – the anniversary of 9/11.

Spurred by the emotion and patriotism that will surround this grim annual event, Bush will probably take a good size lead into the debates that begin in mid-September and run until early October.

How will Bush do in the debates? My bet is: quite well. Will Kerry be able to close in October? My bet is: yes, but not all the way. But that uncertainty is what makes politics fun, especially this year.

Dick Morris was an adviser to Bill Clinton for 20 years. Contact him via e-mail at dmredding@aol.com.