Democrats yesterday said Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign is off track and blamed television ads by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, President Bush’s bounce from the Republican convention, and themselves.
“Mistakes were made,” James Carville, Democratic strategist, said of the campaign’s August operations.
Mr. Kerry “is not satisfied with the state of his campaign” and will retool it this week, Mr. Carville told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“It’s true,” Kerry strategist Tad Devine told “Fox News Sunday.” “Our message could not get through the way we wanted it to in August,” because of the Swift Boat ads.
But the Bush team noted the scale of the task facing Mr. Kerry, who now trails in polls by double-digit margins.
Two polls show that Mr. Bush received a substantial boost from last week’s Republican National Convention. Time magazine, in a poll released Friday, found Mr. Bush up 52 percent to 41 percent over Mr. Kerry. A Newsweek poll, out Saturday, had him up 54 percent to 43 percent. Both polls have a margin of error of four percentage points and were a statistical tie before the convention.
“There’s never been a challenger that has come back after being down double digits after the convention, after their incumbent’s convention. That’s never happened,” Bush strategist Matthew Dowd told “Fox News Sunday.”
The Kerry campaign is banking on a new round of paid television advertisements to catch up to Mr. Bush.
“We’re going to be able talk about issues like jobs and health care and the fact that John Kerry wants to take this nation in a new direction,” Mr. Devine said. “And I think he’s going to win the election because he’s right on the issues and he has a very powerful message.”
The new strategy includes a negative ad accusing Mr. Bush of being insincere on issues affecting senior citizens and raising Medicare premiums, and Kerry-Edwards campaign officials made the Sunday talk show rounds promoting a list of “143 lies and distortions” they say Mr. Bush has made.
“We’ve actually documented it” Mr. Devine said. “The problem with lying to people is that the truth catches up to you. And I think that’s what’s going to happen here. I mean, for example, the president, on Thursday night in his acceptance speech, said we owe a moral obligation to our seniors. And the next day his administration leveled the largest Medicare premium increase in our nation’s history.”
The administration announced late last week that Medicare premiums would go up $12 a month from $66 to $78. The federal government pays 75 percent of Medicare costs, for which Mr. Bush has budgeted $339 billion next year.
Bob Schieffer on CBS’ “Face the Nation” asked Mary Beth Cahill, Mr. Kerry’s campaign manager, to “point out one specific lie” the president has told.
“Well, I mean, I think the major thing that he has talked about is, you know, Senator Kerry and No Child Left Behind, for example. You know, John Kerry supported the president on No Child Left Behind because he wants a better future for this country. And it’s the failure of this president to fund those measures and to make life better for all Americans, you know, that is a real, a major lie,” she said.
“And obviously the president lies about John Kerry’s service, and his allies’ charges against John Kerry are without base. They’re scurrilous, continuously leveled, you know, by the vice president as recently as Wednesday night. These are things that the president continually goes back to, and the American people will reject them,” she said.
Democrats said commercials by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth have also had an impact on Mr. Kerry’s campaign and repeated their calls on Mr. Bush to condemn the ads.
Mr. Bush and other White House and campaign officials have condemned all ads by so-called 527 groups, and filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission to regulate such group’s fund raising.
Democrats say the poll numbers will get closer as the election approaches, and Republicans agreed.
“Now, will this race begin to turn back to much closer? Yes, it will. By the time we get to debates, this race will be much closer. But I do think there’s been a fundamental shift,” Mr. Dowd told Fox.
Ken Mehlman, Mr. Bush’s campaign manager, agreed.
“Obviously, this is going to be a close election; we’ve always said it would. Where it settles out, we don’t know,” Mr. Mehlman said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said Mr. Kerry “fumbled” because Republicans had presented a plan for the future and Mr. Kerry has not.
The convention was the “first chance we had to lay out the president’s case, and it was a very powerful one,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”
With 56 days remaining until Election Day, the Democrats’ top official took issue with polls showing a Bush lead and vowed Mr. Kerry would stay on the offensive for “60 days straight” — although the Democratic candidate took yesterday off.
“Those numbers will begin to settle down when people begin to focus and, as you know, many people are not going to focus until some time in October,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said yesterday in a conference call with reporters.
“I really don’t care about head-to-head polls; what I care about are polls in the battleground states,” Mr. McAuliffe said, adding that Mr. Kerry is in “very good shape” in the polls he has seen in Florida, Ohio and New Hampshire.
The Bush administration has been “an abject failure on every single issue,” Mr. McAuliffe said.
“He can give a nice speech at his convention and make a lot of promises, but they are empty promises and George Bush has been AWOL the last four [years] on issues that matter to the American family,” he said.
Joseph Curl contributed to this report.
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