Bush Leads Kerry in L.A. Times Poll
Bush Edges Ahead of Kerry for the 1st Time (Ronald Brownstein, LAT)
President Bush heads into next week’s Republican National Convention with voters moving slightly in his direction since July amid signs that Sen. John F. Kerry has been nicked by attacks on his service in Vietnam, a Times poll has found. For the first time this year in a Times survey, Bush led Kerry in the presidential race, drawing 49% among registered voters, compared with 46% for the Democrat. In a Times poll just before the Democratic convention last month, Kerry held a 2-percentage-point advantage over Bush. That small shift from July was within the poll’s margin of error. But it fit with other findings in the Times poll showing the electorate edging toward Bush over the past month on a broad range of measures, from support for his handling of Iraq to confidence in his leadership and honesty.
Although a solid majority of Americans say they believe Kerry served honorably in Vietnam, the poll showed that the attacks on the senator from a group of Vietnam veterans criticizing his performance in combat and his antiwar protests at home have left some marks: Kerry suffered small but consistent erosion compared with July on questions relating to his Vietnam experience, his honesty and his fitness to serve as commander in chief.
With independent voters splitting evenly in the survey between the two men, one key to Bush’s tentative new advantage was his greater success at consolidating his base. While 3% of voters who called themselves Republicans said they would vote for Kerry, Bush drew 15% of all Democrats, and 20% of Democrats who consider themselves moderate or conservative, the poll found.
For all the promising signs for Bush, the poll found the president still threatened by a current of uneasiness about the nation’s direction. In the survey, a slight majority of voters said they believed the country was on the wrong track. A majority also said the country was not better off because of his policies and needed to set a new course. And 45% said they believed his policies had hurt rather than helped the economy.
Those results suggested that a substantial part of the electorate remained open to change. But amid the firefight over Kerry’s Vietnam service and uncertainty about his policy plans, the Democrat still has not built a constituency for his candidacy as large as the audience for change in general, the poll suggested. Nearly 1 in 5 voters who say the country needs to change policy direction is not supporting Kerry, according to the poll.
Interesting. Kerry has had a couple of bad weeks and, presumably, Bush will gain further momentum from the convention. Still, absent major new developments, the effects of the Swift Boat controversy should diminish over time. Bush is going to refocus the race and give voters a reason to give him a second term; the convention speech is his next best opportunity.