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COLUMN

Where’s Kerry’s Campaign?

Chen Zhao

Will there be four more years of George W. Bush, or will he be the one-termer as Democrats have labeled him? Sadly, it is starting to seem more and more likely that Bush may be coming back for that second term. That is, unless the Democrats start acting like they really want to win this election.

The latest polls coming out last week show Bush pulling ahead of John Kerry. Bush seems to have about a five to six percentage point lead on Kerry, as opposed to the almost even matchup that the polls showed weeks ago. This despite Bush being dealt a lot of blows in the last few weeks, such as the Sept. 11 commission testimony from Richard Clarke, Condoleezza Rice being forced to back down and testify, an ever increasing number of U.S. casualties in Iraq and escalating violence in places like Fallujah, and a cringe-inducing press conference he gave on U.S. policy in Iraq two weeks ago in which he was an embarrassment for the entire country. The common joke is that the only poll that matters is the one on election day, but Bush moving ahead after all these events that should have set him back shows something is very wrong.

Many have bemoaned that it is because Bush is unbeatable. He got us through Sept. 11, he led us to victory is Iraq, the economy is coming back -- slowly and with very little job creation, but coming back nonetheless -- and people just like him too much to kick him out of office this year. I, on the other hand, think Bush is very beatable this year, but the problem lies with the anti-Bush crowd. We are not fighting nearly as hard as we can and should.

John Kerry worked hard through the primaries and fought tooth and nail until his victory was secured. Now that he is the presumed nominee, he seems to have taken a vacation. He is not getting nearly as much press time as a presidential candidate should be getting. Less press coverage could be better since obsessive coverage by the media often means that there is a scandal somewhere, but he should be using the newspapers and news channels as free advertising to get his message out.

Kerry has been working hard in one area, fundraising. In the last quarter, he raised a record $50 million, much of it coming from online donations, and his fund raising team has been very successful in getting Democrats to rally behind and support him with money. He could very well be sitting back, building up a war chest, and planning a full-on attack around July. He probably figures that few people, outside of obsessive political junkies whose lives revolve around op/ed pages, are actually paying that much attention at this stage of the game.

However, these last few weeks have afforded Kerry many opportunities to really attack Bush and show the country how he could have done better. Instead of making the most of it, Kerry let the opportunities pass him by and he let Bush move up in the polls. Even if it is too early for the polls to matter, Kerry should not be letting Bush get ahead of him. It is extremely unwise to let voters continuously see polls showing Bush as the preferred candidate. Letting things slip now is going to make catching up very hard to do later on in the race. Many people close to Kerry have said that he does best when his back is against the wall, such as in Iowa. I hope it doesn’t actually get to that point. Fight back now before the hill gets too steep.

The Kerry campaign and anti-Bush groups have made slinging mud at Bush their first line of offense, but often it seems that it constitutes their entire plan. It seems that the Kerry camp has contented itself with pointing out everything that Bush has done wrong and telling the voters why Bush should not be re-elected. That’s great, but many out there are asking, “Why should Kerry be elected?” Those involved in the campaign right now tend to be those most passionate about beating Bush no matter what, and a bubble has formed where those Americans who only somewhat dislike Bush have been forgotten. The problem is that many out there may not approve of Bush, but also do not like Kerry and when questioned about why one should vote for Kerry, many Kerry supporters’ only answer is that Kerry is not Bush.

If this continues, then Ralph Nader is going to have a much larger effect on this race than he should -- current polls already show him with about six percent of the vote, the same six percent that Kerry lags Bush by -- and all those swing voters will probably swing toward the Bush camp.

Kerry needs to get out and tell people that Bush has screwed up and then tell them exactly what he would do if he were in the same situation. He needs to convince voters that he does have a plan because if elected, he is going to inherit a whole slew of messy situations -- Iraq, Afghanistan, U.N. relations, North Korea, and more. And he needs to start doing this now so that people don’t just see Kerry as the alternative to Bush, but as a presidential candidate who can articulate his own ideas, convictions, and a clear vision for this country.