- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 1, 2004

John Kerry’s improbable presidential candidacy was already losing ground before the Republican National Convention began this week.

The liberal Massachusetts senator — faithfully following the footsteps of his ideological soul mates George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis and Al Gore — was losing public support on who can best protect the United States in the war on terrorism. No Democrat can ever hope to win the presidency without crossing this national security threshold, and Mr. Kerry, at least according to recent polls, has not been able to pass this pivotal test.

The Page One headline of The Washington Post on Tuesday said everything you would want to know about the Democrats’ chances of recapturing the presidency: “Kerry loses edge on issues of security.”

When voters around the country were asked last week, “Who do you think is better qualified to be commander in chief of the U.S. military,” they chose President Bush over Mr. Kerry by 53-43 percent (a sharp turnaround from a month ago, when the senator led the president on this question by 52-44 percent).

Mr. Bush’s high command made brilliant observations months ago that this election would be won or lost on national security and that the only place to hold their convention was near the site of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, where nearly 3,000 people lost their lives and where Mr. Bush emerged as a wartime leader.

That set the stage for the GOP Convention and the party’s galvanizing theme: Mr. Bush is a leader who does not flinch or falter in the war against our enemies. In contrast, Mr. Kerry flip-flopped all over the place in an attempt to please his party’s far-left, antiwar base and looked weak, vacillating and irresolute — a man without the courage of his convictions.

And who better to open up the Republican assault on the Democrats and Mr. Kerry and defend Mr. Bush’s record than two of the most-admired Republican leaders in the country? Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who has steadfastly backed Mr. Bush’s prosecution of the wars of liberation in Afghanistan and Iraq, and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who led the city through those horrific days and became the voice of America’s indomitable spirit in the face of evil.

Mr. McCain appropriately laid out the case for the war in Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime — no one could have done it with more integrity and conviction. Mr. Giuliani reminded Americans of that terrible day — which antiwar Kerry Democrats strangely avoided or underplayed at their Boston convention — and spelled out Mr. Kerry’s disturbing habit of changing his mind, his positions and his votes almost weekly.

But the voters, bless them, were way ahead of the politicians this week. While the two presidential rivals were still locked in a dead heat among registered voters (though Mr. Bush now slightly leads Mr. Kerry in most polls), The Post’s poll showed Mr. Kerry losing ground on most issues.

On who could better handle the war in Iraq: Mr. Bush leads Kerry 52-44 percent, a loss of 4 points for the senator. On waging the war against terrorism: Mr. Bush leads 56 percent to 38 percent, a 7-point Kerry loss. Even on the economy, where Mr. Bush has long trailed Mr. Kerry, the president now edges Mr. Kerry out 48 percent to 47 percent. A month ago, Mr. Kerry led Mr. Bush 52 percent to 41 percent. All this while things seem to be improving on all these fronts for Mr. Bush.

The Republican Convention opened just as the situation on the ground in Iraq seemed to improve. The Iraqi national conference accelerated the movement toward democracy last month to prepare for elections. Shi’ite cleric Sheik Muqtada Sadr called off attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces and now intends to get involved in the political life of the country. Iraq’s interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, seems to be getting a hold on the country and earning the respect of his people.

Here at home, retail sales in July were strong. Inflation is thus far barely registering. Manufacturing has picked up and shows further signs of long-term strength.

Wall Street has remained frustratingly bearish and volatile, and that has not been good for worker 401(k)s and other pension funds. The financial markets hate uncertainly, but things should improve here, too, as Mr. Bush’s re-election appears more likely.

For now, however, everything seems to be coming together for Mr. Bush and falling apart for Mr. Kerry. All the president must do this week is give the best political speech of his life at Madison Square Garden to send him into Labor Day weekend with enough of a bounce to ensure his victory in November. I think he will.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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