Saturday, May 29, 2004

Looks Like A Winner

John Kerry seems to be hitting his stride, according to Tim Grieve at Salon.com (subscription/Day Pass).

Kerry will run a campaign that positions him strongly as a military man, hoping to attract Republicans fed up with Bush’s misadventures. That means that one of the swift-boat veterans who served with Kerry in Vietnam travels with him now from state to state. It means veterans frequently get a special seating area near the front of the stage. It means that events often begin with the Pledge of Allegiance. And it means that American flags dot Kerry’s necktie, hover over him when he speaks and will soon grace his plane when he flies.

For liberal Democrats, it all takes a little getting used to. Conditioned over the last four years to associate the flag with Bush-Cheney bumper stickers on SUVs and the Pledge with the folks who shout out the “under God” clause, Democrats at Kerry events — even those who support his approach to Iraq — may find themselves in an uncomfortable embrace with the trappings of patriotism.

As a veteran who fought in Vietnam and then against it, Kerry gives them cover. In Seattle Thursday, Kerry reminded the veterans and graduate students invited to hear his national security speech that “patriotism doesn’t belong to one party or one president.” Thursday night in Green Bay, Wis., he told a crowd of Democratic partisans that the flag is a “symbol of our strength, and our strength comes from our ability to speak out and make America stronger.”

While Kerry could probably be stronger if he weren’t constrained by his own record — and the lack of easy answers — on Iraq, as he traveled through the Northwest and back again this week, it was hard not to feel the momentum building behind him anyway. Although some polls still show Kerry and Bush running neck-and-neck, the latest CBS poll shows Kerry leading by 8 points. Perhaps more encouraging for Kerry is a new poll showing rising favorable impressions among voters where it matters, in 20 key battleground states. And on Friday, his increasingly confident campaign announced that Kerry would even challenge the president in Republican-leaning Virginia, a state where Bush beat Gore in 2000 by a solid 8 points.

I will be right up there admitting that I fretted about the slow start and low profile Kerry maintained from the time he took his week-long vacation in March. But given the briar patch the Bush campaign has run into over the last six weeks, perhaps the best thing we could have hoped for was that Kerry wouldn’t try to match every move. It’s an old martial arts technique – let your opponent make all the big moves. You just keep out of the way, and when he finally is exhausted, you close in and make one swift and deft blow that ends it all. Or so they tell me.