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Monday, August 30, 2004

MSNBC > How to Beat Bush The former campaign manager for Gore-Lieberman 2000 offers four critical tips to the Kerry-Edwards campaign
By Donna Brazile
Updated: 1:52 a.m. ET Aug. 29, 2004
Aug. 28 - It’s hard to travel across the country these days without seeing an old familiar bumper sticker: “Somewhere in Texas, a village is missing its idiot.” Perhaps the slogan rang true for many progressive voters in this highly partisan, highly charged and highly polarized electorate. But, if the bumper-sticker crowd believes it refers to George W. Bush, they are sorely mistaken.
Sen. John Kerry can win this election by understanding that he is running against a shrewd, clever and an extremely intelligent opponent who was trained in political combat by the late GOP strategist Lee Atwater.
With all the former aides and strategists to Al Gore on board, the Kerry campaign has shown that it is wise enough to learn from some of the mistakes we made in 2000. Namely, Kerry has utilized the ubiquitous President Bill Clinton as a surrogate of sorts, and also habitually reminded voters of the prosperity and fiscal discipline enjoyed during the Clinton years.
However, as tacit as the Kerry campaign has been, it must tread lightly through segments of the political battlefield. Four years ago, I personally witnessed the relentless attacks on former Vice President GoreÂ’s character from third-party surrogates with loose, but ideologically significant ties to the Bush campaign. After having a high-energy and well-defined convention where Kerry was introduced as a decorated war hero he was forced to play defense by a group of former Vietnam veterans vehemently opposed to his candidacy. As the challenger, Kerry had to personally respond to these scurrilous attacks on his character with the hopes of setting the record straight before November. Thankfully for Kerry, this back-and-forth occurred in the slow news month of August and not in October, which would have made it omnipresent in the minds of voters.
But to defeat George W. Bush, Team Kerry-Edwards must do four things well (and avoid any strategic mistakes we made in 2000 that would place him on the defense) for the rest of the electoral season.
These are simple truths, but difficult to enforce.

Message Matters
During the final months of the 2000 presidential campaign, we struggled to create a strong, compelling message on how Gore could stand up and fight for ordinary people and build on the Clinton-Gore record of prosperity. Kerry’s positive convention message of “America can do better” must remain consistent from now until Election Day. A race against an incumbent is a referendum on the direction of the country. Kerry can make the arguments much easier for voters if he’s making a compelling case—either based on a vision for the country (see: ‘Putting People First’) or something about his leadership style (‘A President You Can Trust’).

There is also room for negative message. The Kerry-Edwards ticket needs to find the one, overarching negative message about Bush that you want voters to hear time and time again. Why not say, “President Bush can't be trusted, is too extreme, etc.”? Team Kerry must get up every day and put in place events, developments, news, surrogates that drive the negative message. The campaign should recognize that you are either on offense scoring points and moving the ball downfield or on defense being scored upon. Thus, the Kerry-Edwards campaign must divide each week up like it as an inning and try to score some points.
Minimize Mistakes
In an election this close, the candidate who wins may be the one who makes the fewest mistakes. In the fall, a one-day July story becomes a one-week October story when more voters are paying close attention. Back in 2000, we made some significant errors in the final weeks that either slowed our momentum or placed us on the defense.
Use candidate time wisely; recognize that nothing makes up for quality candidate appearances and events. Kerry must get to know those voters and what they care about in the so-called battleground states. The local events should highlight KerryÂ’s national message and tailored to the markets heÂ’s trying to carry on Election Day.
Don't approach these crucial presidential debates like they are a Harvard-Yale Society debate. This will serve as KerryÂ’s chance to show voters who he is as a person. They will want to be comfortable with him. Kerry must come across like a next-door neighbor who is respected on the block. Smile. Lots of smiles and absolutely no narrowing of the eyes, sighs or glancing at his watch.
The bottom line is Kerry should feel, look and act like a winner. Voters respond to confidence, just look at Bush and why the race is still narrowly tied. All the traditional political indicators continue to point to a Kerry win in November—the percentage of registered voters who say they will re-elect the president is still low, the right track-wrong track number favors Kerry. And there is one simple truth no one will dispute: Democrats fiercely want to send George W. Bush back to Crawford, Texas.
Donna Brazile, a senior political strategist and former campaign manager for Gore-Lieberman 2000, is the author of "Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pots in American Politics" [Simon & Schuster]
© 2004 Newsweek, Inc.


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