It's finally here, and every political reporter on the planet is trying to figure out what role the Democratic National Convention will play in the results of the election. I think Chris Suellentrop's theory is a reasonable one:
Even a casual viewer of Hardball knows that the first rule of an election that involves a sitting president is that it's a referendum on the incumbent. This election, however, has turned out to be the opposite. It's a referendum on the challenger. Kerry probably isn't responsible for this turn of events, but he's benefiting from it: The referendum on the incumbent is over. President Bush already lost it. This presidential campaign isn't about whether the current president deserves a second term. It's about whether the challenger is a worthy replacement.He has a point. In many elections, the public decides the incumbent is OK and never really looks at the challenger. Ask Bob Dole about his experience in 1996 against Bill Clinton, or Walter Mondale about his 1984 thrashing by Ronald Reagan. This time out, all the attention is on Kerry and what he might do as president. The public is willing to boot Bush, but Kerry needs to sell himself as an acceptable alternative.
For that reason, I think this will be an important week. Kerry has a chance this Thursday to pass muster with the American people; if he manages to do that, and to define himself in a way that helps buffer him against the inevitable Republican flak he'll take until November, there's not much Bush can do at this point, short of hauling Bin Laden out of the Oval Office in chains, to win.
Which brings me to one last point. This weekend the AP decided to try its hand at math and arrived at the conclusion that Bush is leading in the Electoral College. This made for a good story about the uphill battle Kerry faces and the harsh demographic reality that the states Gore won in 2000 are worth seven fewer EVs today than they were back then. There's just one problem: the AP's math was, ahem, a bit fuzzy. Read electoral-vote.com this morning for an explanation of how the AP got it wrong. For the record, the tally this morning, by that site's count, is 290 for Kerry to 237 for Bush with a tie in Tennessee. That's not an insurmountable lead, but it isn't losing, either.