Thursday, September 16, 2004
In the 1920's and 30's, the German General Staff developed a theory of panzer operations that sought to apply tremendous mass and overwhelming force against a weak or unattended point in an enemy's line. Once the enemy's line broke, at that point, the panzertruppen would break through and run riot into the enemy's rear and flanks. That point in the line was called the Schwerpunkt.
The ersatz controversy surrounding CBS' attempts to throw the election to John Kerry have overshadowed a much larger story.
The President's position in important Gore states is starting to run even or overtake Senator Kerry. I will provide evidence below, but let me first tell you why this is important.
In a campaign for electoral votes, the object of the exercise is to secure your base and pull into small leads in the contested states. In a "50-50" environment, the opponent's base states are usually ceded to him, and full attention is paid to the "battlegrounds". Hopefully, this provides one with the minimum of 270 electoral votes needed to win a Presidential Election.
The Kerry Campaign has based its effort on the following two assumptions:
1. The American people have made the decision to replace George W. Bush and need to be convinced that Kerry is a safe, sound alternative.
2. We operate in a 50-50 political universe in which victory can only occur at the margins.
Assumption 1 was always open to question. It was a result of polling data that the Democrats took back in the Spring when we were taking heavy casualties in the Sunni Triangle, Richard Clarke seemed all the rage, and John Kerry had sewn up his nomination. The Kerry people had to be heartened by the reaction to the release of Michael Moore's film, Farenheit 9/11, for instance. Of course, what they forgot was that Moore's film was targeted at the Democratic base vote. What the Kerry people didn't realize (or so it seems to me) is that the opinions offered by the poll respondents were always subject to change.
Assumption 2 was based on the 50-50 environment fostered by the results of the 2000 election. The 2000 election results were the way they were for two reasons:
1. The greatest Democratic Party turnout effort in history on behalf of Al Gore.
2. The late-breaking Bush DUI story, the exposure of which had been engineered by people associated with the Gore campaign. This story served to depress the turnout of Christian Evangelicals for George Bush. Karl Rove would later estimate that somewhere in the vicinity of four million Evangelicals stayed home on that day.
Assumption 2 depended on a Steady-state theory of politics in which nothing changes. However, the 2002 elections showed a Republican turnout effort that should have stood the 2000 conventional wisdom on its head. However, the Kerry people appear not to have drawn the proper conclusions from that election: that the Republican Party had learned, rather quickly, the lessons of 2000 and had decided to concentrate on a massive ground effort and an increased attention to the concerns of Evangelical voters.
A look at the polling data from some of the latest battlegrounds indicates to me that Bush has established a schwerpunkt and has room to begin exploitation of his breakthrough.
Key to understanding Bush's achievement up to this time is to look at a single state: Wisconsin.
Wisconsin was blue in 2000, but it wasn't blue enough to put it out of the reach of the Bush campaign (compared with, say, California-which remains blue, Governator or no Governator). Bush has moved into a lead in Wisconsin in the past month, as these polls indicate. When I saw Wisconsin begin to flip, I knew that Kerry was in deep strategic trouble, and would be fighting a defensive campaign throughout the fall.
To win, Kerry must run the table of the Gore 2000 states and pick up two or more Reds, such as Florida, Ohio, and Missouri. He is losing Gore states.
Two other states have turned red to the extent that they are off the table. Ohio appears to be moving out of Kerry's reach, while Missouri, a contested battleground, has moved into the leaning Bush column. Each state Kerry must have to pass 270. It is looking as if he will not have them.
If the Schwerpunkt appears to have been Wisconsin, the exploitation phase of the campaign appears to be occuring throughout the rest of the Midwest and, surprisingly, in Kerry's East Coast base.
Iowa appears to be up only three points for Kerry. Michigan is less than five for Kerry. Minnesota is trending towards Bush, at last report(it should be noted that the Minneapolis Star-Tribune poll has Kerry up by nine, but that poll is being dismissed as having oversampled Democrats in a big way). Finally, Pennsylvania could flip for Bush this year, at least according to the latest polling. The last three polls in the Keystone State show Bush in the lead by one point or another.
But that's not the real news of this morning (well, aside from Hurricane Ivan, anyway).
Bush is up by four in New Jersey (in the latest Survey USA poll), and appears to be closing in New York and Illinois.
If these latest poll numbers are confirmed over the next week, then what began to happen in Wisconsin several weeks ago is being replicated in battleground states across the country. For clues, watch where Kerry places his advertising money. If he starts putting money into New Jersey and Illinois, you know this election is almost over. Watch New York, as well.
Bush is putting his advertising money into the Upper Midwest, Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania. He will put money into New Jersey and Illinois, on that you can bet. If New York gets within five points, he will put ads with Giuliani all over them in the Empire State.
All of this could change, but I don't see it happening. Bush would have to be as clueless as his enemies make him out to be to blow this election.
Which he could, but I don't foresee it.
It is easy to see who is on the offensive, and who is playing defense. The man who frames the debate and decides the terrain is the man who wins. So far, Bush has decided the terrain on which the contest with John Kerry will be fought.