This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys", April 24, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: And hot story number one, Mort, is Kerry's conundrum. You know what a conundrum is?

MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: I think so. It's a mystery, and enigma, you know, a puzzle, something like that?

BARNES: ... very good.

Well, this puzzle is that George Bush has been suffering weeks of very bad news, yet it's John Kerry who's been suffering in the polls, whose numbers have been going down.

Now, look at the, if you look at the Fox News poll, Bush has only gained 1 point on Kerry there, but when you look at both the Gallup polls and ABC-Washington Post poll, you see that the Kerry lead has morphed into the lead from right after March 2 when he locked up the Democratic nomination has morphed into a Bush lead in both of those polls, and one beyond the margin of error.

Now, here's the question. What is...

KONDRACKE: Going on.

BARNES: ... what, what's the answer to this mystery? Yes. Look, in the conventional wisdom in Washington, of course, is that whenever the subject under discussion and in the headlines is Iraq or terrorism, even if Bush is getting pounded on those issues, as he has been, he gains. That's nonsense. I mean, that's ridiculous. You don't get pounded and benefit from it.

The truth is, Kerry's been sinking across the board. In the Post poll, on eight of 11 issues, he was ahead of Bush a month and a half ago. Now he's ahead on only one, health insurance. So that means it's a more fundamental problem. And I think it is simply this, Kerry has been getting many, many more people watching him since he's won the Democratic nomination, and they've found him to be stiff and cold and not someone they warm up to at all.

That's the problem. He's, he, he just not somebody that voters identify with. And we're talking about the swing voters here in the middle.

Now, the Bush ads that have zinged Kerry have helped some too.

KONDRACKE: I was going to say.

BARNES: Yes, OK. Well, you're right.

Watch this new Bush ad, and then there's a Kerry one to follow it.


ANNOUNCER: John Kerry says, a lot of people don't really know who I am. Well, actually, a lot of people do.

ANNOUNCER: Kerry's hometown paper says, "In his continuing effort to be all things to all voters, John Kerry is engaging in a level of doublespeak that makes most voters wince."



SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As president, I'll set a few clear national priorities for America. First, we will keep this country safe and secure. Second, I'll put an end to tax incentives that encourage American companies to shift jobs overseas. And third, we'll invest in education and health care.


BARNES: Yes, which one of those ads...

KONDRACKE: Well, well, well, well...

BARNES: ... was better?

KONDRACKE: ... well, actually, you know, Kerry was better in that ad than ... than he, well, well, on the stump, you know, the word that, that springs to my mind constantly, I don't know about yours, is "ponderous." You know, I mean, he makes Al Gore (search) seem like Robin Williams (search). I...

BARNES: That's very good.

KONDRACKE: Yes, right. The, and, but the word that the Bush administration wants to plant in people's heads is "vacillating."

BARNES: Right.

KONDRACKE: Flip-flop and all that kind of stuff, unleaderly. And the Fox News poll actually shows that by a margin of 51 to 22, if you, who stands up to take strong stands at six issues, it's Bush by 51 to Kerry to 22, and what Kerry is going to do now is come out with more biographical ads showing him as the strong commander of a swiftboat in Iraq -- in Vietnam years ago, which, which he was ... years ago.

KONDRACKE: ... but, but it's not, but that's not what counts. What counts now is, you know, how do you lead the country ... forward, and the crowning example that the Bush people have yet to exploit in ads, but I'm told stay tuned, is the quote that Kerry gave on Face the Nation last September. This is about the $87 billion, whether he was going to vote for the $87 billion or not.

He said, "I don't know any United States senator is going to abandon our troops and recklessly lead Iraq to, to whatever follows the result of simply cutting and running. That's irresponsible," unquote.

Now, a month later, he did exactly what he said was reckless and irresponsible. That is total vacillation.

BARNES: Right. What's the second... hot story?

KONDRACKE: ... well, the second hot story is, the Bush conundrum. You know what conundrum means now.


KONDRACKE: OK. So the, the fact is that the economy is improving, but the recent Washington Post poll shows that by 57 percent, the country, people think that the country's on the wrong track, and a new Fox poll shows that compared to a year ago, only 11 percent think that the war in Iraq is going well for the U.S. And only 41 percent think that President Bush has a clear plan in Iraq.

But then again, only 22 percent think that, that Kerry does. And this is a comparison election.

Now, in fact, that right track-wrong track number is, even though it's 57 percent think that it's on the wrong track and only 42 percent think it's on the right track, Bill McInturff, the, the Republican pollster who studied this for years and years, says that you add 17 to 20 points to the right track number and you get the presidential approval number.

That would give Bush 59, which, or, you know, maybe even 60, which he doesn't have at the moment, he has a lot ... a lot less than that. But...

BARNES: He, he does.

KONDRACKE: ... you know, having that low a number for right track- wrong track is not fatal for a president, actually.

BARNES: You mean having that high a number for wrong track.


BARNES: Yes, yes, no. It's not good, though. You know, the truth is, Bush is pretty lucky to be where he is, given the situation where the, that number's high, where he's only got a 50 percent approval rating, and some, in some polls, he's below that.

The truth is, he has a gift that neither the two incumbent presidents who lost in recent years, Jimmy Carter in 1980 or Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, had in 1992, they had opponents who turned out to be political powerhouses and men who were both charming and easy to warm up to. Obviously, I mean Ronald Reagan and then, and then Bill Clinton.

Bush is blessed by having John Kerry.

KONDRACKE: Yes, on the other hand ... events, you know, will, may, could intervene, and determine the outgo of this ... because I still, I still think that presidential elections are referendums on the incumbent.

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