Campaign tipping points

By Ellen Ratner

I write this column from Boston, home of the Democratic National Convention 2004. It’s the third week of July and the presidential race is in a statistical dead heat. Even the most seasoned political pundits here admit they have no idea who will be the next resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Numbers can change dramatically between now and November, but for now, undecided voters are not budging. Many of them I have interviewed say they are not happy with Bush, but not particularly excited about Kerry either.

Even people who can normally be counted on to vote Democrat are undecided. One union member I interviewed said he voted for Bush because he hated the Clintons. His worst nightmare was the possibility of 24 years of the Clinton dynasty – eight years of Bill, eight years of Al and eight years of Hillary).

I practically had to be revived by smelling salts after his comment, but I wanted to hear why a man who worked for an airline that was attacked on Sept. 11, denied government loan guarantees twice, has taken an effective pay cut in excess of 40 percent in wages and work-rule concessions, lost health benefits, and may lose his retirement, could still even consider voting for George W. Bush twice. He said, “I’m not happy with Bush, but I’m not convinced Kerry is any better. I may just skip the presidential vote altogether.” This man cannot bring himself to vote for Kerry and he is not mad enough to vote against President Bush. Unfortunately, he’s not alone.

Some Democrats optimistically predicted that the addition of John Edwards would make people vote for Kerry. I’m not willing to completely rule out this as a future possibility given John E’s ability to energize everyone he comes in contact with, including John Kerry. Unfortunately, so far he has not been able to energize the numbers.

Republicans, on the other hand, fantasized that Cheney’s weekly conflicts of interest (Halliburton-Iraq, Halliburton-Iraq, Halliburton-Iraq) would cause President Bush to pick a moderate Republican hero like Rudy Giuliani or John McCain to be his running mate and this would tip the moderate fence-sitters. So far, Cheney’s heart is ticking just fine and there is very little chance that Bush will risk disenfranchising the so-called “base” in the fourth quarter of this race.

John Kerry needs one of two things to happen to win. Either he must do something to make people vote for him – like decisively win the presidential debates – or something must happen to make people vote against Bush (like more bad news in Iraq, more conflicts of interest, more Michael Moores, or all combined).

Security is the wildcard. My guess is that sometime between now and the first Tuesday in November, there will be an event or events that will conclusively lead the undecided voters to the conclusion that they are either safer with President Bush as the commander in chief, or less safe. Until that time, skepticism runs high. A recent national poll reveals that over a third of the voters believe both Bush and Kerry will say anything to get elected (35 percent Bush and 38 percent Kerry).

If someone told me in January of 2001 that I would be sitting in Boston in July of 2004 wondering if I would be following President Bush around for another four years, I would have recommended a drug-rehabilitation program for them. I did not have high hopes for W’s presidency. I was right. Over 900 men and women have lost their lives in a war that this self-proclaimed wartime president misled us into.

The same commander in chief now jokes about the fact that we have not found “Weapons of Mass Destruction” in Iraq (he narrated a videotape of himself searching the Oval office for WMD at a spring dinner; saying “no weapons there” as he looked under his desk). He has added hundreds of billions of dollars to our national debt, yet Iraq, health care and education are still a mess. Corporate profits have dwarfed real wages for working Americans. Consumer debt is the highest in our history. The concept of retiring with a company pension is non-existent, and our reputation for human rights and dignity has given way to brutality. I could go on.

Yes, I am clearly a card-carrying member of the “Anybody But Bush” crowd. The truth is I hit my personal tipping point on the day the Supreme Court decided that George W. Bush would be my president.