- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 6, 2004

Without question, President Bush’s bad-hair night in Miami last week cost him in the polls. His lead is shrinking — but he still has a lead.

On the reliable pay-to-play Internet polls, Bush stock took a hit. Tradesport.com has Mr. Bush over John Kerry by $60 to $40, down from the predebate $70 to $30. On the Iowa Electronic Market, the lead is 60 cents for Mr. Bush to 44 cents for Mr. Kerry. The predebate Bush price was above 65 cents.

Monday’s Gallup poll shows the two candidates tied at 49 percent among likely voters. However, on who would do a better job in Iraq, Mr. Bush still leads 51 to 44 percent. On who would do a better job against terrorism, Mr. Bush is ahead 56 to 39 percent. And as to who is a stronger leader, Mr. Bush is favored by 56 to 37 percent.

According to Scott Rasmussen, Mr. Bush leads Mr. Kerry 49 to 46 percent based on a post-debate survey of 3,000 likely voters. Columnist Michael Barone points out an interesting Rasmussen question: Should we be using more, the same, or less military force in Iraq? Overall, 65 percent (after the debate) want the same or more military force. Among Bush voters the number rises to 88 percent. Among Kerry voters the number drops to 53 percent.

Over the weekend, there was an interesting article by national security columnist Jack Kelly, who writes for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and appears regularly in The Washington Times. Mr. Kelly interviewed a French Arabist named Gilles Kepel who thinks the followers of Osama bin Laden are losing badly. There is no “grand diversion.” The radical Islamists failed to achieve their goal of seizing power in Muslim lands. Since September 11, 2001, they have suffered a string of major defeats.

“The Taliban has been ousted in Afghanistan,” writes Mr. Kelly. “Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have turned towards the West. Islamists in Sudan and Libya are in retreat…. The Americans are in Baghdad.” In other words, the wartime situation is not a “colossal error” as Mr. Kerry would have us believe. In fact, while Osama is holed up in a bunker someplace, estimates are 75 percent of his followers have been killed or captured.

Nor is the Iraq war an “incredible mess.” Iraqi and U.S. coalition forces have taken back the Sunni triangle city of Samarra. Attacks on Fallujah are being stepped up. Iraqi troops are doing more of the heavy lifting. In reality, there are no more than 10,000 insurgent troops in Iraq, and maybe as few as 5,000. They will be no match for the U.S. military coalition.

Fifteen of the 18 provinces in Iraq are stabilized and preparing for elections. Local elections are already occurring in the country. Influential Shi’ite cleric Ali Al-Sistani is now 100 percent in favor of holding elections. Ditto for the Kurds.

The gruesome tactics of the terrorists in Iraq — kidnappings, beheadings, suicide bombings — are desperate actions aimed at harming Iraqis. These deeds foster deep Iraqi resentment, anger and opposition toward the insurgents. That is one reason there are more volunteers for the Iraqi police, National Guard and army than available training slots.

Rowan Scarborough of The Washington Times reports Iraqi telephone subscribers are up to 91 percent of prewar levels, that oil production is ahead of 2.5 million barrels daily, that a draft voter list is compiled and registration will begin soon.

Tomorrow night, in the townhall debate in St. Louis, it is essential that Mr. Bush hammer away at U.S. successes in the global war. He must also emphasize the accomplishments of homeland security. Most important, he must link the two. The U.S. hasn’t been attacked in three years. Hundreds of plots around the country have been foiled. New York subways were never closed during the Republican Convention, as Mr. Kerry alleged in Miami. But a plot to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge was in fact pre-empted. Actually, a big victory for homeland security was that both the Republican and Democratic conventions were terrorist-free. That’s what happens when terrorists are engaged on their turf rather than our turf.

At the next debate, Mr. Bush will have ample opportunity to regroup and hammer all this home. He must emphasize there will be no “global test” on defending America. He should also insist nuclear bunker-busting weapons, which Mr. Kerry opposes, are essential to this war. So is a missile defense system, also opposed by Mr. Kerry.

Presidential leadership is about optimism and there are many hardheaded real-time facts to support a reasonably optimistic view in 2004. If Mr. Bush seizes the moment in St. Louis tomorrow, maybe he can reclaim needlessly lost ground.

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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