BUSH V. KERRY
Bob Novak notes that there is some real concern among some Bush advisors about the dynamics of a Bush-Kerry matchup for the general election.
”I can see the pucker factor,” said one GOP operative, using the military slang term for an attack of gut-clenching fear. What he implies is that he and his colleagues are confronting the possibility of another Bush becoming a one-term president. Predictably, Republicans reacted to Kerry’s success by pasting the liberal label on him. Why, then, the pucker factor?
First, because Kerry is an elusive target. Dukakis’ old running mate showed in the hours after he was declared the New Hampshire winner that he is no Dukakis. Second, because Bush may be facing the bane of incumbents: lack of credibility. That caused Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson not to seek another term and helped defeat Jimmy Carter and the senior George Bush for re-election.
All four of those one-term presidents were plagued by primary election opposition in their own party, a burden George W. Bush does not bear. Nevertheless, Bush is reeling from a double blow to his credibility.
Failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a political accident waiting to happen, became the first punch last week when resigned weapons inspector David Kay testified to Congress. The follow-up blow was the White House revelation that the new Medicare plan will cost one-third more than the president predicted (just as conservatives warned).
Most worrisome to Republicans is Kerry’s war hero image while, in the words of one prominent Bush supporter, ”our guy was drinking beer in Alabama” (where actually he was working on a losing Senate Republican campaign in 1972).
It would be an interesting race. I still have a hard time seeing Kerry taking a single state in the South, which would make getting 270+ electoral votes difficult. But recent lapses have made the president more vulnerable than he seemed even a couple months ago.