- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 31, 2004

At the start of the Republican Convention, major media outlets all reported a slight improvement in George W. Bush’s polling numbers. The Los Angeles Times poll has Mr. Bush ahead nationwide, and also shows him opening slight leads in key battleground states of Ohio, Wisconsin and Missouri.

Clearly, the Swift Boat veterans are having a major impact on this presidential race. In truth, not one of the political pundits saw this coming. Perhaps John Kerry should have anticipated it. But his tepid, halting and, as usual, flip-flopping responses made him seem totally unprepared.

And the worst may be yet to come for Mr. Kerry: Two other surveys show the impact of the Swiftees could be even greater than established polling data suggest.

The Tradesport.com survey shows Mr. Bush opening an absolutely incredible 58-42 percent lead over Mr. Kerry. Two weeks ago, this survey had them locked at 50. Similarly, the Iowa Electronic Market has Mr. Bush surging with a 55 percent to 45 percent lead over his opponent. That’s also up from a dead heat only a few weeks ago.

These are startling numbers. They suggest the charges of the Swift Boat veterans and Mr. Kerry’s weak response in his first major trial by fire have rescrambled the election deck chairs and may have completely blown the lid off the race.

One thought to take away from this is the importance of leaving the door open to the views of any and everyone when it comes to politicking. It’s a question of free speech, really. Nobody should be prevented from expressing his views — and no one should be prevented from financing his beliefs through so-called independent interest groups.

Stopping the so-called 527 groups would be a big mistake. As long as financing is disclosed immediately on the Internet, why shouldn’t Americans have the right to say and fund anything they want?

Of course, we’re only hearing about the evil 527 groups now that Mr. Kerry has felt their bite. The Kerry camp says a Bush conspiracy led to the Swiftees unfairly attacking his record. But Mr. Bush never came out against the 527s until the Kerry camp (and the campaign-finance-reforming John McCain) pressured him to do so. Anyway, Mr. Bush himself dismisses the idea Mr. Kerry lies about his war record.

Without question, a key reason for Mr. Bush’s weak showing in the polls during most of this election season has been the constant slamming of the George Soros-type 527 groups. These folks have lied about and slimed the president’s record. And their assault has dwarfed that of the Swift Boat veterans.

Before the Swiftees came on the national scene, nine of the 10 wealthiest 527 campaign groups were Democratic. Only the conservative-leaning Club for Growth made the list of the top 10 soft-money political advocacy groups.

The Swiftees, however, are catching up. So far, the Swift Boat veterans have done most of their damage with less than a million bucks. But now Washington insiders say the group will be backed by Progress America, a 527 organization that has already raised about $25 million.

Well, let the games begin. American politics is a bloodsport. As we are learning, these political charges and countercharges can have a significant impact on the race. Good. Voters around the country will decide the merits of the 527 campaign ads, and take their decisions to the voting booth. The candidates may not like it, but they have to take it. It goes with the territory.

Actually, I would suggest the assault on John Kerry by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth has electrified this race, creating far more interest than there was previously. Instead of stifling political perspectives, government should get out of the way — then we can have a full hearing of all points of view.

On the first Tuesday of November, the voters will decide.

Lawrence Kudlow is a nationally syndicated columnist and is chief executive officer of Kudlow & Co., LLC, and CNBC’s economics commentator.

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