Eye on the Conventions as the Heat Rises

The political summer of a presidential election year has some predictability, but events in Iraq and Afghanistan can and probably will determine the course of events in the campaigns of Pres. George Bush and Sen. John Kerry.

Some prognostications:

In Iraq, April was a painful month for the United States armed forces in Iraq while June appears to be more relatively peaceful. However, dozens of Iraqi civilians have not been spared thus far this month and more will be killed as insurgents seek to destabilize the fledging interim government.

The president’s spin control team is cheering the handover of sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government and the unanimous vote in the Security Council supporting the transfer. However, the Bush/Cheney team hopes the public won’t notice a State Department report that falsely claimed international terrorist incidents are down when, in fact, violent actions have increased.

The 9-11 Commission’s finding of no credible link between Saddam Hussein and the attack on the World Trade Center further complicates the president’s position.

The baseline question is: will the president’s poll numbers go up, stabilize, or continue to erode?

By July 15, Kerry will announce his vice presidential choice.

During the July 26-29 Democratic National Convention in Boston, will Kerry take the reins of his party and articulate memorable themes for his campaign and present an optimistic future for the U.S.? How high of a bump in the polls will he get following the convention?

Keep in mind that until September 2, when Bush officially becomes the GOP nominee, the president has no legal limits on the amount of money he can spend on attack advertisements because that money has been privately raised. In contrast, Kerry will be on a budget from July 29 on, because he will then be publicly financed as an official nominee. Bush will switch to public financing after his convention, but overall his campaign will buy more ads because his campaign war chest will spend the ad money over a shorter period of time than Kerry has to buy them. (These limitations, however, do not pertain to spending on either candidate’s behalf done independently of the official campaigns, which is shaping up to be a huge factor this year.)

As for Bush, will he too get a big jump in the polls after September 2? That is certainly what most candidates, incumbents included, get from their conventions. But it is also possible that Republican dissatisfaction with his leadership, thoughtful and well-organized protests in New York City, and ongoing criticism from troops forced into extended tours of duty could turn the GOP convention into a political debacle just days before the third anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

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