February 04, 2004

When Will Dubya Start Campaigning?

Steve Bainbridge asks What is Bush Waiting For? in regards to the spending of the President's copious re-election war chest. (He builds off of concern voiced by Virginia Postrel who is also concerned about the President's lack of voice).

The answer is, I think, that it isn't time yet. Right now the airwaves are flooded with the Democratic Pack trying to get nominated, and Bush ads would get lost in the sea of noise. I don't think, for example, that Bush could suck the oxygen away from the Dem fight at this point.

You want some proof of this hypothesis? What happened to the supposedly oh-so-cleverly positioned State of the Union Address? Those rascals in the White House were going to steal the Democrat's post-Iowa thunder, right? Wrong. Instead of sound bites from Dubya all we saw was Dean's Scream and endless speculation about why Dean had imploded.

For better or for worse, the airwaves are going to be dominated by the Democratic nomination process. This is pretty typical, and I wouldn't get overly concerned about the fact that the President is curently taking a little bit of a beating--this is fairly normal. If memory serves, Dole was thought to be competitive with Clinton at this point in 1996 and for that matter Mondale was beating Reagan in some polls in early 1984.

Indeed, I was thinking the other day that the prolongation of the Democratica nomination process may be a good thing for Bush because the longer it goes, the longer they have to a) criticize one another, and b) spend money doing so. As the field is winnowed, the candidates (really just Kerry, Clark and Edwards) are going to have to really go at one another and get specific about how unworthy the other guys are to be the president. This ultimately works to Bush's favor.

So, I would expect Bush to start spending some money around mid-March to early April when it is clearer how the message should be shaped. Indeed, the SOTU illustrates this idea as well, as the contents of the SOTU seems aimed at Howard Dean who, oops! was who it needed to be aimed at after all.

Hence, I don't interpret the relative silence from the WH as any sort of cowering, but rather I see it chiefly as reasonable patience.

Don't forget: to everyone except us political junkies, no one is really paying attention to the general election match-up, if they are even paying attention to the primaries.

Hat tip: OTB.

Posted by Steven Taylor at February 4, 2004 04:45 PM | TrackBack

Fair enough. Two thoughts. (1) Given how bad the domestic half of the SOTU was, thank goodness Dean sucked the air out of it! (2) If Bush plans to run on the domestic half of the SOTU, he could well get creamed no matter when he starts. I mean steroids? Cheers, Steve

Posted by: Prof. Bainbridge at February 4, 2004 04:52 PM

Ye hath a pointe.

Posted by: Steven at February 4, 2004 05:02 PM

I can pretty much guarantee that after the Democratic convention Kerry (or whoever the nominee is) will lead in the polls. Then after the Republican convention Bush will regain the lead. At that point both sides will slug it out in earnest. There's not much point in worrying about polls at this point unless Bush really starts to slip.

Posted by: Randal Robinson at February 4, 2004 09:31 PM

Actually, I'd characterize polls that track a contest between Bush and any democrat at this point as a waste of breath at least, professional irresponsibility on the part of polling companies and news organizations at worst. The reasons for that charge are too numerous to make in these comments. Maybe I'll start a blog. :-)

Posted by: bryan at February 4, 2004 09:44 PM

Rumor is that Bush will be on "Meet the Press" this Sunday - let the campaign begin!

Posted by: Eric Lindholm at February 4, 2004 10:02 PM

I think it is time to do something... He is getting nailed in the last 2 weeks.

Posted by: Paul at February 5, 2004 12:23 AM

The Dems are beating each other up in the primaries, so why should Bush spend good money now? I agree, wait til after Super Tuesday (at the earliest) and target appropriately.

Also, the populace has a short attention span. What is an "issue" today, could very well not be by mid-summer.

Regarding letting others "shape the conversation" -- why not (at this early stage)? Build your defense against their attack when it solidifies (instead of going for a shot-gun approach), and emphasize your counterattack closer to the election (without giving them prior notice and time to defend themself).

I think this is a winning strategy.

I mean, no offense, but has Virginia ever managed a winning election campaign?

Posted by: cj at February 7, 2004 02:22 AM
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