John Kerry is going to win.
Repeat after me: John Kerry is going to win.
Normally I’m not one for mantras and affirmations, but to beat George W. Bush we all better start saying — out loud, to our neighbors, on the train, at the water cooler, anywhere a swing voter might be in earshot — that our guy (and, like it or not, he’s our guy) is going to be the next president. So one more time: John Kerry is going to win.
How can he win? Looking at the record of the dangerous, disingenuous Bush administration, the question should be how could Kerry possibly lose? Yet all the hangdog Democrats and their pathologically pessimistic fellow-travelers ignore the encouraging evidence and just assume that one way or another — by hook, crook or October Surprise — the omnipotent Karl Rove will spank us again. The Republicans aren’t afflicted with this “genetic predisposition to panic,” as Ken Auletta calls it, and maybe that’s why they roll over us every time.
For a change, let’s try to accentuate the positive. Sure, Kerry can be ponderous, pandering and mealy-mouthed. But in the three debates he looked more competent, confident and presidential than his opponent. Bush appeared intermittently incoherent and desperate, code-talking about “activist judges” and the Dred Scott decision in a bizarre shout-out to anti-choice zealots. At other times, Bush seemed to be channeling the ghost of Lee Atwater, with all the snide comments about Ted Kennedy and efforts to tag Kerry as a scary liberal. That’s so 1988. What’s next — Willie Horton in a swift boat?
While most of the national polls rate the race a dead heat, the trends favor Kerry. He trounces Bush on a wide range of domestic issues, according to the latest Gallup survey, which shows voters overwhelmingly prefer Kerry when it comes to the environment, healthcare, Social Security and education. Polls still show Bush maintaining a sizable advantage on the war on terror in spite of the tragedy in Iraq. But fewer Americans than ever believe the war was worth it, and the president’s overall approval rating is sinking lower every day.
More bad news for Bush is what poll-watchers call the 50 percent rule. “The percentage of the vote an incumbent president receives in surveys is an extraordinarily accurate predictor of the percentage he will receive on Election Day,” Guy Molyneux recently explained in The American Prospect. “An incumbent who fails to poll above 50 percent is in grave jeopardy of losing his job.” Bush’s average support in trial heats since the first debate is 47 percent.
The upside for Kerry is that the polls are almost certainly overestimating Bush’s popularity by surveying older, whiter, Republican-leaning voters. One key demographic that’s definitely being ignored is young people, millions of whom aren’t polled because they only have cell phones. Young voters — whose turnout could be the highest since 1992 — favored Kerry by as many as 25 points in recent Zogby polls.
Of course, no group of voters will be more important to Kerry’s victory, especially in the battlegrounds, than African-Americans. While Kerry has been criticized for not doing enough to reach out to black voters, beating Bush may be motivation enough in places like Florida’s Duval Country — where 27,000 ballots, mostly from black neighborhoods, were tossed out in 2000.
A percentage point or two in places like Duval — where black voter registrations are up more than 150 percent — could tip the entire state.
One thing Kerry won’t have to worry about in Florida this year is the Nader factor. Ralph may be on the ballot again this year, but almost everyone who endorsed him in 2000 — the Greens, Barbara Ehrenreich, Michael Moore — has disowned him. The only person I’ve met who’s even considering a vote for Nader is a born-again Christian Republican who can’t stomach the war. The Libertarian candidate will get more votes.
County election boards in swing states — and many others — are adding staff, working overtime and reporting a rush in new voter registrations. Florida has at least a million new registered voters, the vast majority of whom are Democrats or independents. Registrations in Ohio’s Democratic strongholds are up 250 percent, according to the New York Times. Philadelphia reported the greatest surge in voter registrations in two decades.
These figures are a direct result of the college kids, union workers, corporate lawyers and housewives — many of whom had never worked on a national political campaign before — getting on buses every weekend to go knock on doors in swing states. Hardened organizers and armchair activists alike are giving up their nights and taking time off from their day jobs to defeat George Bush. The pollsters all missed the same type of below-the-radar activity by the right in elections like 1980 and 1994. But this time the passion and energy is on our side.
I can’t promise this will be one of those watershed elections, but it could be. John Kerry is going to win. And that’s when the real work starts.