- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Convincing voters he can compete with President Bush on issues of national security and fighting the war on terror are the central elements of Sen. John Kerry’s redefinition project. His convention planners in Boston devoted every day to hammering home that message, as have his speechwriters and strategists at subsequent campaign stops this month.

Has it worked? Apparently Mr. Kerry thinks so. A Sept. 2 article in The Washington Post says, “Despite losing ground in polls, Kerry believes he has cleared the national security hurdle with most voters and plans to focus mostly on health care and economy leading up to November 2,” according to his new campaign staffer, former Clinton White House spokesman Joe Lockhart.

Voters, however, have a different take, according to our recent national polling conducted August 19-22, with 800 registered voters and a +/-3.5 percent margin of error.

For example, we asked: “Who do you believe is better equipped to handle the situation in Iraq?” Fifty percent of voters said Mr. Bush, while 33 percent chose Mr. Kerry. Interestingly, independent voters favor the president by about the same margin (50-29 percent). There are also few differences between men and women voters. Men think Mr. Bush is better equipped by a margin of 55-32 percent, while women favor the president by a similar margin, 46-29 percent.

Voters also chose Mr. Bush by a significant margin when selecting the candidate who will keep the country safer. Overall, the president bested Mr. Kerry by 13 percentage points (51-38 percent). Independent voters again fell in lockstep with the sentiment of voters overall — precisely mirroring the above 51-38 percent result.

The Kerry campaign believes that it made significant headway on the national security issue during the Democratic National Convention. But when asked if “the [convention] made you trust the Democratic party and John Kerry on national security and fighting the War on Terror more, less, or about then same,” only 13 percent of voters say it increased their trust — while nearly a quarter say it made them trust the party and Mr. Kerry less. (Fifty-two percent say the convention had no effect). Again, independents feel similarly — only 7 percent said the convention made them trust the Democrats and Mr. Kerry more on national security, 18 percent said less, and 62 percent said about the same.

Mr. Kerry and his campaign were probably right that as the November election approached, citizens would increasingly base their choice for president on issues like national security and safety from terrorism. They have not been able to figure out how to dislodge Mr. Bush as the clear favorite among voters on these issues.

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