- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Coming off a successful convention in Boston, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry now has a substantial number of people thinking he can win in November, and more than a few who are certain he will. I still think President Bush will be victorious in the end, but there is no question Mr. Kerry has narrowed the gap and made himself an extremely viable candidate.

The main reason I think Mr. Bush will win is that by historical standards the economy is doing well enough. The evidence of past elections is that the pocketbook issue always dominates voting, even in wartime, and voters are wary of changing horses in the middle of a stream. Hence, they are reluctant to risk economic conditions that are good on the chance a new administration might do a little better. After all, they might do worse. So voters usually conclude it’s better to stick with the devil they know than one they don’t.

For this reason, every political/economic forecaster who has looked at this question has concluded Mr. Bush will win easily in November. Macroeconomic Advisers, a St. Louis consulting firm, predicts Mr. Bush will get 61.9 percent of the two-party vote; Yale economist Ray Fair predicts Mr. Bush will get 58.7 percent, and the giant economic forecasting firm Global Insight predicts 56 percent. Economy.com predicts Mr. Bush will get 54 percent of the vote and gain 373 electoral votes.

It’s important to note none of these forecasters has any political orientation. They are simply looking at the data for the benefit of their clients. Moreover, there are no forecasters using similar methods currently predicting a victory for John Kerry. And it is highly unlikely any will, barring an unprecedented economic collapse between now and Election Day. At present, every economic variable the forecasting models use is expected to be positive for at least the next three months.

Of course, the models could be wrong, as in the past. But in previous cases of error, the predicted margin of victory was very narrow, as in 2000. This year, however, there is a very wide margin of victory estimated. Thus the models would not just have to be wrong; every one would have to be spectacularly wrong for Mr. Bush to lose.

Obviously, these results run counter to much of the recent polling data, showing Mr. Kerry with a lead of about 5 percent. However, much of this is a convention bounce that will probably dissipate and be offset by Mr. Bush’s bounce following the Republican Convention later this month. Most political observers see the race as roughly even.

Although most of Mr. Kerry’s support comes from people who always vote Democratic and those who simply hate Mr. Bush for various reasons, presumably there are some open-minded people who simply like what Mr. Kerry proposes and think they would be better off if he were president. These people need to think carefully about the political situation Mr. Kerry will face if he is elected.

It’s important to remember Mr. Kerry will almost certainly have to deal with a House of Representatives under Republican control. I know of no political forecaster on either side who thinks the Democrats have any real hope of retaking the House.

Moreover, Republicans will probably hold the Senate as well. Although Democrats have a better chance there than in the House, they will have to get all the breaks to regain control. And if they do, their margin will be razor-thin, with Republicans easily able to easily block any Kerry initiative with filibusters.

Therefore, Mr. Kerry would have a very difficult time getting traction on any proposal of his requiring legislative action. We can also assume Republicans will repay the Democrats for stalling their judicial nominees by making sure all of Mr. Kerry’s wait a long, long time for confirmation.

Where Mr. Kerry may have a slightly stronger hand is in tax policy. That is because all the Bush tax cuts expire in coming years. Consequently, Mr. Kerry could impose a fairly substantial tax increase simply by vetoing efforts to extend them or make them permanent. Although Mr. Kerry himself favors some of these tax cuts, a potential veto might give him leverage on other issues.

In short, we are likely to see a legislative stalemate, with neither side able to get much done. Thus, those hoping for some new government benefit Mr. Kerry has promised are unlikely to see it even if he wins. Congress will be a sinkhole for just about every Kerry initiative except tax increases, which he can impose with just his veto pen.

Bruce Bartlett is senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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