the old saw about beauty being in the eye of the beholder been more true
than in the arena of modern American politics. To this
observer last night’s first Presidential debate was a clear-cut victory
for Kerry, who looked relaxed, confident and, well, Presidential.
The other guy looked shifty and uncomfortable, bug-eyed, shoulder’s hunched,
blinking like a crazed lizard. But then that’s just us. We are
sure that to a whole passel of Republicans Bush looked forceful and trustworthy
while Kerry looked out-of-touch with the American mainstream.
But after weeks of depressing poll results and mealy-mouthed
gaffes from the challenger, it was nice to see him begin to hit his stride,
and see how the champ takes a punch to the gut. Not too well, it turns out.
Kerry’s best points were often met with a stammering retreat into generalities.
On several occasions the President’s answers seemed directed to different questions,
as though he had mixed up his cue cards.
It was clearly not a knockout blow, and we expect the race
to tighten considerably in the next few weeks. If the Democrats
can get within striking distance, they have a secret weapon that could
put them over the top. One of the best kept
secrets of the campaign so far is the uncharted effects of a massive new
voter registration campaign begun nationwide shortly after the debacle
of the 2000.
Grassroots Democratic organizers, insanely incensed with
the slick robbery of the last election, vowed not to let it happen again. For
the last four years, they have been madly registering pockets of strong
Democratic support; college campuses, hip-hop concerts, naturalization
ceremonies, homeless people and service workers.
The reason this is a "secret" edge is that many of these
newly registered voters DON’T SHOW UP in most standardized polling. They
are not among "traditional" likely voters. In many cases they
are unreachable by telephone polling and may not even have a fixed domicile.
Expert estimates say these "stealth voters", if they can
be successfully mobilized and delivered to the polling places on election
day, could provide a 2-3% last minute edge to Kerry, an edge unseen in
This serves his interest in several ways. Kerry has always
campaigned harder and seemed more vital when coming from behind. America
loves an underdog. If he can just get close enough the stealth voters could
put him over the top.
Of course, he hadn’t figured on being 7-10 points behind
a month before the election. However, if he can follow up last nights strong
performance with two more debate victories, and keep hammering away at
the key themes he has finally identified, don’t count him out. The hidden
surge of stealth voters could make the difference in the end.