From the (APSA) Convention
I am up at the Am Pol Sci Assoc meetings, home of the combover and the sack-assed K-mart suit, in Chicago. Pity me!
Bush's speech was about what an incumbent should do. He was ill-served by his speech writers, because the thing was long and had random micro-initiatives (what happened to Mars?). And if a guy is a bad speaker (Bush is not gifted, to say the least) then why not make the thing short and thematic? It's like the old Groucho Marx joke: we were relieved, on finding that the food was bad, because at least the portions were small.
The reason that this was all okay is that the Republicans are pursuing a fundamentally different strategy from the Democrats, and at this point the race is once again Bush's to lose. A month ago, Kerry had the upper hand, and he has let the advantage slip away.
Kerry strategy: appeal to the center, to the swing voters, and win a majority of the usual voters. Make the appeal broad. Run like an incumbent, take no risks, and make the other guy beat you with policy proposals or negative ads. (This would require quick and decisive reactions to negative ads, which is where Kerry has failed).
Bush strategy: recognize that turnout is 55-60% in Prez elections. Go deep, not broad. Make sure all the disaffected people on the right (pro-life, religious, very patriotic, veterans who feel the left disrespects them, libertarians who like Arnold Sch'ger) actually are contacted and turn out.
Bush / Rove are winning because:
1. Their convention was diffuse, giggly, manic, scriptedly unscripted (okay, Bush twins, go up there and make mild sex jokes!) and with plenty of overtly patriotic tartare de beouf.
2. Kerry failed to respond to the Swifties. In fact, he teed them up by emphasizing this Viet Nam record, and ignoring the 30 years since. His "midnight madness" gig was too little, too late.
3. Kerry is conducting an old-fashioned race, appealing to swing voters. But there aren't enough of those.
4. Bush is going after a much bigger group, the people who don't vote but who have latent (poorly informed, manipulable) beliefs that favor a particular view of the Republicans. If the Bush can sustain that view of the Republicans (handsome, confident entrepreneur Arnold, patriotic Zell, maternal and sweet Laura), then he can win by a lot.