Kerry Conceding Battlegrounds, Bush Gaining Among Women

Size of Battleground May Be Smaller Than Expected (Dan Balz, WaPo)

President Bush’s post-convention bounce in state and national polls has left Democratic challenger John F. Kerry with a smaller battlefield upon which to contest the presidential election and a potentially more difficult route to an electoral college victory than his advisers envisioned a few months ago. The Kerry campaign and Democratic Party officials face difficult choices in the coming days involving the allocation of millions of dollars of television ads and the concentration of campaign workers as they decide whether to concede some states to Bush that they earlier hoped to turn into battlegrounds. Bush may have to do the same but on a more limited scale.

The presidential race looks closer in many battleground states than some national polls suggest, a morale boost for Democrats after Kerry’s worst month of the general election. But as the number of truly competitive states has shrunk, Kerry is faced with the reality that he must pick off one of two big battlegrounds Bush won four years ago — Florida or Ohio — or capture virtually every other state still available. To do that, he must hold onto several states Al Gore won in 2000 that are now highly competitive.

The Massachusetts senator spent much of the summer trying to expand the number of battleground states with television advertising and campaign trips to places such as Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana and Virginia. But in the past week, Kerry dramatically scaled back the number of states in which he is running ads. Democratic strategists privately acknowledge that only a significant change in the overall race will put some of the states Kerry sought to make competitive back into play. Democratic hopes for victory in Missouri have diminished sharply, as well. Tad Devine, a senior Kerry-Edwards strategist, said the shift in advertising dollars marked a decision to ensure that Kerry can campaign fully in all of the truly competitive states in the final weeks. “We did not want to be in the situation that the Democratic nominee was in four years ago of having to choose between Ohio and Florida,” he said. “That choice will not have to be made this time. We have the resources to compete in those states and many, many more.” Matthew Dowd, chief strategist for the Bush-Cheney campaign, called the shift by Kerry an acknowledgement that the Democratic ticket’s earlier goal of expanding the electoral map had failed. “They’ve basically decided they’re competing in 14 states and sort of ceded, for all intents and purposes, states they were in at the beginning of the year and spent a lot of money in,” he said.

Michael Barone, writing in US News summarizes the recent shifts in the polls:

What a difference a couple of weeks make. Polling during and just after the Republican National Convention, Time and Newsweek have George W. Bush ahead of John Kerry 52 to 41 percent. Post-convention polls show Bush ahead 52 to 45 percent (CNN/ USA Today /Gallup), 49 to 42 percent (CBS), 47 to 43 percent (Fox News), and 52 to 43 percent (ABC/ Washington Post ). Post-convention polls in battleground states show similar results. Gallup shows Bush up 14 points in Missouri and 9 in Ohio, states he carried by 2 and 4 points, respectively, in 2000, and up 1 in Pennsylvania, which he lost by more than 4 points. Kerry is off the air in the battleground states of Missouri, Arizona, Arkansas, and Louisiana. It’s too soon to say that this is the last sharp shift in the two candidates’ standings. But it is a bigger shift than we have seen since John Kerry clinched the Democratic nomination on March 2.

He observes that the Kerry team thinks the reason for these trends is a political miscalculation in handling the Swift Boat ads. Barone contends that, “The Democrats’ real problem” is much more complicated:

The problem for Kerry is that when he tries to change the subject, he seems to change his position. This is partly out of the typical politician’s temperament: “Some of my friends are for the bill, and some of my friends are against the bill, and I’m always with my friends.” But it also arises because the Democratic constituency that Kerry must rally to vote on Election Day and before (voting starts in Iowa September 23) is deeply split on issues like Iraq. Many think we should leave now. Others think we should persevere. Kerry is with his friends.

More striking is the finding of Republican pollsters Lance Tarrance and Leslie Sanchez of a trend within the trend:

President Bush’s post-convention “bounce” shows that he has managed to invigorate many of his supporters. According to Gallup surveys, among likely voters, Mr. Bush increased his slight lead over Mr. Kerry (50 percent to 47 percent) in the days following the Democratic convention to a more comfortable margin (52 percent to 45 percent) just after the Republican convention. Other surveys also show that Mr. Bush’s lead has widened.

What accounts for this change in Mr. Bush’s fortunes? According to our research, the answer is simple: women. The same series of Gallup polls among likely voters showed women favoring Mr. Kerry by five points (51 percent to 46 percent) immediately following the Democratic convention. After the Republican convention, however, the Bush-Cheney ticket closed to a virtual tie among women (49 percent for Mr. Kerry to 48 percent for Mr. Bush). At the same time, according to the Gallup numbers, Mr. Bush’s huge lead among men (57 percent to 42 percent) remained stable.

Mr. Bush’s growing strength among women is the result not just of his emphasis on issues they care about. Instead, his boost stems from his skill at articulating the issues in a way that appeals to women – especially in his acceptance speech 10 days ago. Some commentators criticized parts of Mr. Bush’s speech for resembling a State of the Union address, complete with a laundry list of domestic agenda items. His references to schools, children’s health care and mothers who work outside the home were seen as a transparent effort to win favor with women. Other critics portrayed the convention mostly as a testosterone-fueled rally at which Republicans stressed Mr. Bush’s toughness and strength in the war on terrorism. Our analysis of the speech differs. For the first time, the president was able to broaden his appeal to women not just by discussing social issues. He also found a way to talk about terrorism and the war in Iraq in a way that resonates with women.

I was one of the commenters that thought the first part of the Bush speech resembled a State of the Union address. It would be amusing indeed if that’s what turns the election.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Attila Girl says:

    Do you remember the part at the end when he talked about soldiers who had been maimed, and families of soldiers who had died? His eyes filled with tears, and I really didn’t think it was because of his acting skills–I think the emotion was genuine. But it makes a difference to women to see that he takes the high cost of war seriously.

    Call it acting, or call it better control of his emotions and facial expressions–the timing of the tears and the fact that he’s now mastered that smirk (it only shows up when it’s appropriate) are really important.