Who’s in Attack Mode?


WASHINGTON, D.C.—Inevitably, Sunday’s terrorist warning will be viewed as yet another factor in the presidential race. It came at the end of a weekend in which George W. Bush and John Kerry went mano a mano across the Rust Belt, with the president winding up his stumping by returning to the White House in shirtsleeves to deal with the dirty business at hand. He was all authority while Kerry was equivocating on the TV shows over when he would get out of Iraq. Already his “I am John Kerry, and I am reporting for duty” line at last week’s convention has the feel of a Gilbert and Sullivan ditty—”I am the very model of a modern major general.”

As for Al Qaeda, who knows what the plotters and planners hiding in the northern territory of Pakistan want out of the election? A BBC analysis Monday suggests that they like Bush: “The prevailing wisdom is that Al Qaeda actually ‘likes’ George W. Bush in the sense that his muscular rhetoric is seen as playing up the very divisions that Al Qaeda wishes to emphasize.” The BBC adds, “The Bush administration’s fixation with Saddam Hussein and Iraq is widely seen as being a distraction from the real campaign against terrorism.”

If the New Dems, who appear to be running Kerry’s campaign, think they have transformed him into a Clinton centrist, they may not have taken into consideration the Republican Party’s probable sinewy strategy. The GOP might suddenly downplay its right-wing Christians and bring to center stage its own version of moderation: war heroes John McCain and Bob Dole, both of them tastefully reticent about their war experiences (certainly in comparison to Kerry); Rudy Giuliani, the hero of 9-11; and Arnold Schwarzenegger. And if he is a good boy, Colin Powell.

Too early to tell, but the road ahead may be rough for Kerry: A CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll indicates that Kerry made a good impression on voters at last week’s convention, but it didn’t give him much of a bump. Likely voters polled July 30–31 were 50 percent for Bush in a two-way race, with Kerry-Edwards pulling 46 percent. In a Newsweek poll, Kerry had a seven-point lead over Bush. Late Monday, a Washington Post poll put Kerry in the lead even in a three-way race, 50-44; Bush had led Kerry 48-46 before the convention.

“None of that means anything right now,” Kerry said Monday morning on CNN, adding, “All of these polls are so wacky because, frankly, they don’t know what the political dynamic is this year. That’s number one. Number two, don’t pay attention to polls. If I paid attention to polls, I would have stopped getting up in the morning last December.”