How Kerry lost his bounce

By Dick Morris

As usual, the polls don’t all agree, but the consensus seems to be shaping up that John Kerry either had no bounce at all from his convention or a very slight upward tick of only one to four points. It was one of the least successful conventions in recent history.

What happened?

Going in to the convention, Kerry had a critical policy choice to make: Use the four nights of his conclave to stress the domestic issues on which he has significant leads in the polls (health care, drug prices, wages, Social Security, Medicare, environment, the deficit and education), or try to strengthen his posture on the war-related issues on which Bush has an edge – terror, defense, homeland security and Iraq.

In the first three nights, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards made the right decision and focused on the domestic concerns. As one listened to their speeches, the issues that predate 9-11 got larger and terror got smaller as a key issue for November.

They said, in essence, that terror is something you read about in the papers or see on television. But drug prices, health insurance, wage levels and schools are the reality you see every day in your own life. As with State of the Union messages, terror and foreign policy had a place in these speeches, but not overshadowing the rest.

Then came the uniforms. Old ones to be sure, but Kerry chose to showcase his Vietnam record to the virtual exclusion of anything else on the convention’s final night. His old shipmates, Max Cleland and his salute on taking the podium all served to remind voters that we are, indeed, at war and that Kerry is running for the post of wartime – not peacetime – president.

In that one night, Kerry gave all of the gains of the previous three days back to the Republicans. (Rasmussen’s daily tracking poll actually has Kerry dropping two points in the aftermath of his Thursday speech).

Kerry compounded the problem by venturing no information about his public career in the Senate for the past two decades. He did nothing to refute three months of negative ads labeling him as an ultra-liberal, big spender. He did not tell us what the Kerry Bill was or the Kerry Amendment or the Kerry hearings. As far as we know, there wasn’t any.

Voters don’t want a lieutenant for president. They want a commander in chief. After all, why did Cleland lose despite his heroism? Why did draft dodger Clinton beat war hero Bob Kerrey in 1992 primaries? Why didn’t Bob Dole win in 1996?

Voters want a president with brains, not just guts, and all they saw was a warrior telling his old tales on Thursday night. And it wasn’t enough.