|10-17-2004, 12:40 AM||#1|
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Hot Springs, Ouachitah
Down and Dirty, Election too close to call.
I thought Bush won the last debate, I guess I was wrong. Nothing left but the River Card Nov.2. The Lawyers are allready lining up like Vultures on both sides.
Now it gets dirty
As the presidential contest grows tighter, it's also becoming uglier. Both George Bush and John Kerry are landing low blows as they search for the knockout punch - and with two weeks to go, it's too close to call
Paul Harris in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania
Sunday October 17, 2004
The hall was dark and so was Lynn Cheney's mood. The wife of America's Vice President pulled no punches in saying exactly what she thought of John Kerry.
There was a saying in her home state of Wyoming for people like Kerry, she told a crowd of Republicans in Pennsylvania who had just watched the third presidential debate in a dimly lit hotel ballroom. 'When you keep trying to make something look good and it is not so good, you call it putting lipstick on a pig,' she snarled to the crowd's raucous laughter.
Calling Kerry 'a pig' was extraordinary language, even by the standards of an American election campaign that has plumbed new depths of bitterness and divisiveness. No one in the hall batted an eyelid. And no Democrats complained. There is probably worse to come from both sides. With 16 days until voting, the rival campaigns are furiously on the attack. The mud is flying so thick and fast that it obscures the central fact of the campaign: it is neck and neck.
Kerry's performance in the three presidential debates has hauled him back into the race. A quick glance at the polls proves that. In the ABC tracking poll on 1 October, Bush was five points ahead of Kerry. By 12 October, both candidates were on 48 per cent. In the Washington Post tracking poll, the gap went from a five-point Bush lead to Kerry edging ahead 49 per cent to 48 per cent. Most polls now have Bush with a narrow lead but within the margin of error, in effect making the race a tie. At any rate, Kerry will be more than happy to enter the home straight tucked in just behind the leader.
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Few would have predicted such a recovery in September. Kerry had endured a series of devastating attacks on his Vietnam record that had left his campaign floundering. Now the debates have changed what looked like a comfortable Bush win back into a race to the finish. The fight will be a brutal slugging match between two campaigns that believe they can win if they make their opponent's faults the main issue.
It will be fought in an ever decreasing handful of swing states. So far, 10 states have received 75 per cent of all election advertising and that focus will likely tighten further on the 'Big Four' of Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It is here that the real electoral battle has begun and it is now a simple mass mobilisation to get out the vote. In most states new voter registration has ended. Swing voters, too, have dried up (one recent Time poll had the number of swing voters as low as 3 per cent). Each side must now turn out its troops. The arguments are over. The ground war has begun.
Deep in a forest park outside the small Pennsylvania town of Saxonburg, a local sports hero spoke to a crowd of 3,000 Republican supporters awaiting the arrival of Dick Cheney. Sid Bream, a legend at the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team, was stumping for Cheney and President George W Bush. But his sights were set on Kerry and his words were full of anger.
Kerry was a man, Bream said, who would take away America's cherished freedoms. 'The Democrats are the ones who want to burn the flag,' he said 'They want to push abortion, they want to push sex for teens.' His bloodcurdling language did not stop there. In the rural woods and farms of Pennsylvania, hunting is huge; most households own guns. 'We need to make sure that you tell your hunting buddies and let them know that I guarantee that John Kerry and John Edwards will be trying to take away your guns,' Bream declared.
There is no evidence for that. Kerry has spoken about his passion for hunting on several occasions. But this is no time to let facts get in the way of the 'red meat' of campaign rhetoric. Cheney is a master at this. When his battle bus arrived at Saxonburg it circled the crowd once and then Cheney stepped out to cheers of 'Four more years!' from the ecstatic crowd. He, too, pulled no punches as he launched into his favourite campaign theme of the war on terror. 'We face an enemy every bit as dedicated to destroying us as the Axis powers were during World War Two,' he said in his sardonic and brooding style.
But no one should doubt that the Democrats, too, are playing dirty. During last week's debate, Kerry specifically mentioned Cheney's lesbian daughter, Mary, during an answer about gay marriage. Edwards had also gone out of his way to bring her up when he debated with Cheney. Kerry's move outraged Republicans. 'What a cheap and tawdry political trick,' Lynn Cheney said. Kerry's campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill merely said Cheney's daughter was 'fair game'. Even some liberal gay activist groups were furious. But Democrat strategists believe the move could chip away at the Republicans' conservative base.
There have been other incidents. During protests by a union group outside Republican campaign headquarters, violent scuffles broke out as attempts were made to storm the offices. One campaign worker in Florida suffered a broken wrist. In Tennessee, a Republican campaign office had bullets fired into it.
Across the country, emotions are running high. At the Saxonburg rally, Eunice Hixon, a retired nurse, described a neighbour who had put up Kerry signs on her front lawn. She said: 'They are jerks. Democrats are just jerks.'
Thirty miles away in downtown Pittsburgh, Kerry supporter John Simpson was as emphatic as Hixon. 'I support Kerry because I think Bush is a moron,' he said.
After an election campaign that has lasted for over a year, it seems there is little debate left on the issues. That might be because the two sides have staked out different territory. Bush has outlined a conservative social agenda that could see an attack on the right to have an abortion. He wants to further modify taxes and amend the constitution to ban gay marriage. Kerry has taken a liberal stance on these issues, including a promise to remove Bush's tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans.
After the Saxonburg rally the crowd were greeted by a handful of Kerry supporters. One man wore a hood with wires on to imitate the victims of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Arguments broke out and abuse was shouted. One woman, driving an SUV, twice steered her car off the road, apparently aiming at the protesters. In 2004, American election rallies are not for the faint-hearted.
At the heart of the new fierceness to the race is Kerry's remarkable recovery. Conventional wisdom has put the surge down to his performance in the first debate, when he appeared calm while Bush made faces as he got visibly angrier at the senator's challenges on Iraq.
But the truth goes back further. It lies with Kerry's appointment of a slew of top former Bill Clinton aides, including Mike McCurry and Joe Lockhart, at the beginning of September. It also lies with a 90-minute phone call Kerry had with the former President as Clinton lay in a hospital bed after heart surgery. The advice was simple: it was time for gloves off. Since then, Kerry's campaign has gone on the attack, especially about Iraq. That allowed Kerry to take the fight to Bush in the first debate, scheduled to be on foreign policy, and blow him out of the water.
Kerry was also helped by his formidable debating skills and a hard-earned reputation throughout his long political career as a strong finisher. The Democrats went in to the first debate knowing it was their last best chance to shake the dynamics of the race. They took it. 'Three weeks ago it looked all over. Kerry has become more likeable again,' said Ken Warren, a political scientist at St Louis University.
The debate caught the Republicans off guard. Despite his common man reputation and manglings of the English language, Bush is a strong debater. But his skills were rusty. In four years as President, Bush has held only 15 solo press conferences, while Clinton by this time had held 42 and Bush's father 83. Kerry also played dirty, pressing Bush's psychological buttons by attacking him constantly on Iraq and comparing his record to that of his father.
The result was a disaster for Bush, causing even his wife Laura to scold him for 'not being yourself'. Top Republican strategists had seen the debates as a final hurdle on the road to victory. And they fell at it. 'They were just caught flat-footed by the first debate. They simply did not expect Bush to lose,' said David Lanoue, head of the political unit at the University of Alabama. Bush recovered in the final two match-ups but it was only enough to staunch the wound. In public, his aides had pushed out the line that it would always end with a close fight, while privately believing that their position after the New York convention was looking comfortable. In the end it was their spin, not their conviction, that was right.
No one needs to tell Pastor Jack Stepp about conviction. At a Republican debate-watch party in the Pittsburgh suburb of Coraopolis, he led the crowd in a prayer. Though he wore his clerical collar, he also had a Bush-Cheney sticker on his black shirt. He prayed for a Bush victory in the debate and asked God to give Bush the 'gift of compelling speech'. He ended with a nod to election day. 'I pray we may today see victory right through to November,' he intoned. 'Amen,' the crowd replied.
Both sides are pulling out all the stops. Cheney's visit to Saxonburg was the first by a Vice-President to the surrounding Butler County in 22 years, and so it gathered huge local press coverage. It is the same story all over the swing states. Bush recently visited Portsmouth, Ohio, making him the first President to do so since Herbert Hoover in 1932. Kerry went one better. He stopped at Newark, Ohio, the first drop-in by a presidential candidate since William Henry Harrison in 1840.
Never has such a small group of swing states assumed so much importance. Pennsylvania is near the top of the list. This week Bush will make three visits there, Kerry two. Each campaign spends about $2 million a week advertising on Pennsylvanians' televisions and radios. It is a Democrat bellwether state. If Kerry wins here, he will have secured his base. If Bush wins, then Kerry will be facing deep trouble across the swing states. At the moment, Kerry's national advance has been mirrored in Pennsylvania. Bush had led here but the latest poll has Kerry two points up.
The debates are over and both sides know that what will decide it now is organisation. It is getting voters to polling stations, making sure everyone who can cast a vote does so and that no one is left behind. Bush's political guru Karl Rove has created a vast pyramid structure that has its apex at campaign headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, and its base in every campaign office across the country. It is highly disciplined and has 1.2 million volunteers. It also has an intense battle plan for the final 72 hours of the campaign on which workers have been sworn to secrecy. 'I just can't talk about it,' said one Ohio Republican county chairwoman with a smile.
Rove's organisation was set up to counter the historical advantage the Democrats have on the ground. This time they are backed by new campaigning organisations, such as America Coming Together, which have registered hundreds of thousands of new voters and pounded the streets delivering an anti-Bush message. In Ohio alone, America Coming Together made 3.7 million visits to voters. In one week its volunteers knocked on one million doors across the country.
Both sides believe they can still win outright. Both are probably right. But with the election poised on a knife-edge, some are already looking ahead to a possible repeat of the fiasco of Florida in 2000. In fact in Florida alone, each side has prepared up to 2,000 lawyers to contest any problems in that state.
Elsewhere, ready-made lawsuits have been prepared in the event of any hint of irregularity at polls. The prospect of elections being decided in court and not at the ballot box is very real. Part of that is due to the existence of very few actual ballot boxes. Computerised voting has spread to most states and led to allegations that without a 'paper trail' to verify controversial results the election can be easily challenged by the losing side.
A host of other elements could swing a narrow election. There is the Nader factor. Third party left-wing candidate Ralph Nader, whom many Democrats blame for the loss in 2000, is on the ballot in 34 states and that figure may yet rise to 42. He is scoring between 1 and 3 per cent in most polls but that is more than the difference between Kerry and Bush in several swing states. There is also the prospect of a terrorist attack on or just before election day and what is seen as an inevitable raising of the terror alert system across the US in the coming days. Most experts believe that would swing a few percentage points to Bush.
Finally, and just beginning to emerge on the political radar screen, is the 'Colorado question'. American elections are decided by an electoral college of votes counted from each state and weighted for population size (hence California has 55 votes and Idaho four). It is a winner-takes-all system. But this year Colorado voters are being asked to choose to get rid of that and split the state's nine votes proportionally to reflect the two candidates' percentage of the ballot.
In a razor thin result, that could make all the difference nationally. It is quite possible that, this time, the lawyers will be heading for Denver, not Miami.
As a steady rain began to fall in the Saxonburg forest last week, Cheney ploughed on aggressively. At the end of his speech he said one of the few things that Democrats and Republicans agree on: 'The differences between the President and his opponent are as stark as they can possibly be. The consequences are enormous,' he said.
That is true. Ironically, the Iraq war - the dominant factor in American politics for almost two years - will probably play no further role in the debate. Most voters have made up their mind on the issue. You either trust Bush on the war or you hate him for it. 'We would not be in Iraq in the way we are unless George Bush put us there for a good reason,' said insurance worker Karen McKee with complete belief. She had brought her children to see Cheney at the Saxonburg rally. Pittsburgh banker Dave Sunderlin begged to differ. 'Bush lied, probably just for the oil,' he said bluntly. It is the clash of such opposing views in one state that makes Pennsylvania so important to both sides.
Which view will carry the day on 2 November is yet to be decided. Only the foolish would try to predict it. Taking a cigarette break outside his downtown Pittsburgh office, Sunderlin blew out a cloud of smoke and called it better than most pundits: 'If anyone says they know who is going to win then they are full of bull. No one knows. It is just too close.'
|10-17-2004, 12:44 AM||#2|
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Hot Springs, Ouachitah
I found this particuliarly amusing: