Sunday, July 25, 2004

THE DIVIDED ELECTORATE. More evidence that this year's election may be about the passionate base of each party rather than swing voters: the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, which shows that 79 percent of potential voters have already made up their minds, up from 64 percent at the same stage of the campaign four years ago. Times reporter Robin Toner writes:

Rarely has a presidential campaign been this intense, this polarized, this partisan, this early. The conventions historically begin the general election season, ending a lull after the primary season has wound down. But for months now, the general election battle has been fully joined.

Which is why Franklin Foer's New Republic piece (sub. req.) on consultant Bob Shrum's takeover of the Democratic Party, and of the Kerry campaign, raises some worries about Kerry's chances. Foer's main point about Shrum is that he's not as bad as you've heard. (Well, that's a relief!) But his secondary point is that Shrum is a master of focus groups and day-to-day tactics, not strategy and vision. Foer observes:

In truth, Shrum's greatest weakness is not the ideological inflexibility for which he's often derided - even in private he did not urge Kerry to take more liberal positions on gay marriage and the Iraq war - but rather a strategic myopia. According to one consultant who has worked with Shrum, in the heat of a campaign, "He's far more tuned into focus groups and polling data than moral arguments." He has a gift for churning out pithy lines and spin that will win a newscycle but a harder time devising a grand message for the campaign. He may be an excellent tactician, but former congressman Tony Coelho, who chaired the Gore campaign, told me, "My concern is how good of a strategist he is. In the campaign, Shrum against Karl Rove, I'm not sure that we end up with the long stick." Indeed, during the Kerry campaign, Shrum hasn't produced anything comparable to the leitmotifs that Rove provided Bush in 2000. There's nothing akin to Bush's "compassionate conservatism" or his relentless emphasis on "restoring honor and dignity to the Oval Office" - or, for that matter, to Edwards's "two Americas."

Of course, if ever there was a candidate who needed help in crafting his million-and-one policy ideas into a grand strategy, it's John Kerry. But given that Shrum also has a reputation for not playing well with others, it may become difficult for the campaign to reach out and help Kerry translate his myriad little thoughts into two or three Big Thoughts.

MEDIA! CELEBS! (WELL ...) FOOD! BOOZE! Nice to see the new South Boston convention center filled last night at the Boston Globe-sponsored media party. It could be a while before it's filled again. It would have been a great place for the Democratic National Convention. Why didn't somebody think of that?

The celebrity-journalist quotient was rather low, which may have had something to do with the fact that it was held on Saturday rather than Sunday, when much of the media arrives. The Reverend Jesse Jackson and Bill Russell were there, and Little Richard performed. The most notable media celeb I ran into was New York Times columnist David Brooks, a nice guy whose very aura exudes "Not a Media Celeb."

The Globe spent a reported $500,000 on the party. The food was great and the booze was free - wasted on those of us who had to drive home. The best-line-of-the-night award goes to WLVI-TV (Channel 56) political analyst Jon Keller, who told the Globe's Geoff Edgers: "It's a good marketing ploy for the convention center, and I thank the Globe for the free beer, but Ferris wheels and open bars are a dangerous combination."

Yes, there was a Ferris wheel. No, Media Log did not get on it.

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