- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 8, 2004

The Bush-Cheney campaign yesterday moved swiftly to blunt the impact of John Kerry’s choice of Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina as his Democratic running mate.

Democrats say the choice of Mr. Edwards will put the South in play in November, even as election analysts from both parties declared that the addition of a Southerner will have no geographical impact on the presidential race.

President Bush’s campaign yesterday debuted two ads in Mr. Edwards’ home state of North Carolina. One criticizes Mr. Kerry’s Senate vote against funding for troops in Iraq — showing the candidate saying, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.” The other ad, titled “Differences,” recalls Mr. Kerry’s support of a 50-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax.

“We’re not going to take anything for granted,” said Bush-Cheney ‘04 chief strategist Matthew Dowd.

The Bush-Cheney campaign plans to guard against a Democratic incursion in the South, which has become a Republican stronghold in recent elections. Democrats, meanwhile, hope to force Republicans to do battle on their home turf — or at least spend time, money and effort securing their electoral base.

Mr. Bush carried every Southern state in the 2000 election. North Carolina, which gave Bush-Cheney a 13 percentage point win, hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1976.

Mr. Dowd said the Bush-Cheney campaign thinks the territory is safe in November.

“We’re pretty confident that Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards will have a very difficult time selling their record in any state, but especially the South,” he said. “It’s not like they’ve balanced the ticket with a conservative. I have my doubts if [adding Mr. Edwards] makes it so that they can carry Southern states.”

Republican pollster Frank Luntz agreed.

“Edwards is a great communicator, but that stops at the Mason-Dixon Line. John Edwards is just as out of step with the South as John Kerry,” he said. “There is no geographic impact for Mr. Edwards whatsoever. It’s all spin.”

Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh said although Mr. Edwards might not deliver a Southern state, his selection was intended to send a message nationwide.

“It’s not a geographic advantage as much as a demographic one,” she said. “This is not about a state strategy. That’s not how the game’s played anymore.”

But independent pollster John Zogby said the selection of Mr. Edwards has brought “a notable change” to the race, especially for the Bush-Cheney team.

His poll released yesterday shows the Kerry-Edwards team has cut dramatically into the Bush-Cheney lead in the South. The poll of 1,008 voters conducted after the senator from Massachusetts picked Mr. Edwards as his running mate shows the South now a statistical dead heat, with Bush-Cheney leading 50 percent to 47 percent. One month ago, Mr. Bush led Mr. Kerry 53 percent to 35 percent, with 12 percent undecided.

“They have to play defense now,” Mr. Zogby said.

The latest tracking poll by the Rasmussen firm shows that despite voters’ favorable impression of Mr. Edwards, the presidential race remains a dead heat, with Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry each with 46 percent.

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