Beneath the relatively even division in the polls lies a fundamental reality: Voters overwhelmingly side with Bush as the better wartime president — the best at handling terror, weapons of mass destruction, North Korea, Iran, and homeland security. But by equally large margins, they feel Kerry is the better peacetime president — the man best suited to creating jobs, improving education, the environment, health care, prescription-drug prices, Social Security and Medicare.
Until now, terrorism and national-security issues have dominated the national dialogue. Despite the casualties in Iraq, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, the faulty intelligence before the war, the lax response to the pre-9/11 warnings and the lack of anticipation of Iraqi resistance, Bush still holds a big lead on terror-related issues. All the negative press has really been positive for Bush, because it ratifies his strength as the issue.
At his convention, Kerry has a chance to turn the national debate to the domestic-policy issues on which he holds a lead. He can warn about the budget deficit, convince voters that Social Security and Medicare are in jeopardy, attack Bush's prescription-drug plan as inadequate and say the recovery has failed to make the lives of individual Americans any better. In doing so, he could bank on his ability to increase the saliency of these issues and seek to turn the election back to turf on which he holds a natural partisan advantage.
But, in focusing on these peacetime issues, Kerry implicitly cedes the terror issue to Bush. He fails to make the case that he is up to handling the al Qaeda threat and does nothing to reinforce his credentials as a leader in a time of international crisis. Revisiting his Vietnam War record won't do enough to bolster the credentials he needs. He has to weigh in on today's terror issues and show he is up to the job.
polling data shows a dead heat race but the underbelly of the race appears to favor Bush. Who is a better leader--Bush 48 Kerry 36. Trust on national defense--Bush 48 Kerry 45. Other numbers show a race evenly divided. But on the question of who is winning the war on terror, US 48, terrorist 28. This latter number shows a steep hill not only for the terrorist but for the political view of the Democrats.