Monday, July 12, 2004

Has the choice of John Edwards as John Kerry’s running mate rescrambled the election odds for November?

The Iowa Presidential Winner Takes All market — a real pay-to-play futures trading system — is showing a significant bump for Mr. Kerry in the wake of his selection of Mr. Edwards. The Bush “contract” hovered around 55 cents since its opening on June 1, 2004. But it has taken a slide in the past week, falling from 56 cents to 52 cents since July 4.

The Kerry contract has seen a corresponding jump in price. Hovering around 46 cents since its opening on June 1, it has climbed from 45 cents to 51.2 cents in the past week, with most of the activity after July 4. On balance, the Bush contract now leads by a very narrow 52 cents to 51 cents.

But that may be as good as the bump gets for the John-John King of Torts ticket.

The Zogby poll of 1,008 likely voters from July 6 to July 7 shows Kerry-Edwards with 48 percent and Bush-Cheney with 46 percent. The 2-point margin is within the poll’s 3.1 percentage-point margin of error and matches the two-point spread in an earlier poll taken June 25. “This is not a big bounce electorate,” pollster John Zogby said. “We are a nation that is split down the middle, polarized and hardened.”

A July 5-7 AP-Ipsos poll of 804 registered voters — which touches the hours before and after Mr. Kerry’s July 6 pick of Mr. Edwards — shows George Bush favored by 49 percent and Mr. Kerry by 45 percent, with independent Ralph Nader drawing 3 percent. The poll has a 3.5 percentage-point margin of error.

The addition of Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina to the Democratic ticket may help in the South and among low-income voters, according to the Associated Press’ Ron Fournier. However, it is also worth noting that the AP poll shows Mr. Bush gaining ground among suburban women. The incumbent is also improving — in voters’ eyes — on his handling of foreign policy, the war in Iraq and the economy.

The latest Rasmussen nightly tracking of 1,000 likely voters polled entirely after the Edwards announcement shows Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts now attracts 47 percent of the vote while President Bush earns 46 percent. This represents a net 2 point swing in Mr. Kerry’s favor since he named his running mate. Scott Rasmussen notes this could either be a mini-bounce for Kerry-Edwards or mere statistical noise.

No polling surveys will list the name of Jeff Immelt, chief executive officer and chairman of General Electric, one of the nation’s largest companies. But his recent announcement that “This is the best economy we’ve seen in years” is potentially the most important news that will bear on the November election outcome. With businesses spanning health care, energy, industrial manufacturing, financial services, consumer and commercial lending and entertainment, GE’s results provide an excellent proxy for the overall recovery of the U.S. economy.

The lion’s share of economic data back up Mr. Immelt’s bullishness. An economic report on first-time claims for unemployment benefits fell to 310,000 last week, the lowest in more than three years. Even more important, filings of continuing claims have dropped from 3.7 million to 2.9 million over the past year, indicating more and more people are looking for jobs and finding them.

According to the New York Sun, one economist at a large Wall Street firm, speaking on condition of anonymity, suggested the recent broad-ranging economic expansion is a plus for the Bush-Cheney campaign. “Wage growth is outstripping inflation handily, and often doubles it in most white collar jobs. I’d say the data trend belongs to the president at this point.”

The John-John bump may turn out to be a blip. As for the Bush-Cheney ticket, the good-news economic story is written and fact-checked. All they need to do is read it.

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

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