From the Trail: Carl Cameron's Campaign Notebook

Carl Cameron
FNC's Chief Political Correspondent Carl Cameron sends quick notes back from the campaign trail.  Look for them here just for FOX Fans!

Monday, 8/2/04: How did John Kerry manage to get NO Bounce? 

Back in the day a candidate often campaigned into June before sewing up the nomination, a couple of months of lazy summer campaigning would pass and the convention would introduce the candidate and his running mate.

But Kerry effectively had it won with his back to back victories in IA and January!  As Kerry steamrolled through the primaries, activist Democrats voted, but others watched and became interested.

Then once Kerry clinched the nomination and the covers of magazine around the world flashed his face, the Bush campaign launched an 80 million dollar ad blitz...effectively introducing Kerry their way -- as a weak-on-defense, Massachusetts tax-and-spend liberal.

Kerry did very little to standout after clinching.  There were a few major policy speeches and a strong ad campaign. But throughout the spring and summer, Democrats consistently complained that Kerry lacked a message and was not fighting back effectively, perhaps they were right.

Kerry advisers argued all summer that the Bush ad blitz had failed “despite 100 million dollars worth of negative ads” because the horse race remained basically tied.   But the absence of a convention bounce suggests that the Bush camps early attempt to define Kerry has in fact left a strong impression in the voting public's mind. That may be making it difficult for Kerry to redefine himself.

The Kerry camp knew the threat well. In 1996 President Bill Clinton, through issue ads by the DNC, unleashed an unprecedented attack on Bob Dole before the summer lull. It was costly, nasty, very early...and a much studied object lesson in all campaigns since.

The Kerry camp early this year did not have the cash or organization to effectively fight back, they were tapped out having fought off Kerry's rivals. It took weeks to get on a “nomination footing.” Kerry tried to counterpunch on the stump by decrying the ad blitz but he also made a tactical decision that diminished his own ability to be in the news. For much of the year, while the GOP was branding Kerry a waffling lefty, he adopted a “make-no-news-approach.”

The Kerry camp argued all summer that they were laying low on the major political stories because “in politics when your opponent is in trouble, don't interrupt.” The President, politically, has had some very tough months based on the news and polls. Kerry deliberately stayed out of numerous stories, most notably the 9/11 commission hearings.

Now the Kerry camp says they never really expected a bounce. They note the static nature of the undecided vote and hope the president stays flat too. One very senior Kerry adviser even admitted that there “may be some truth” in the analysis above.