Why Kerry Lost


   Most Kerry supporters assumed that there was no candidate more contemptuous of the American voter than George W. Bush.  After all, he stole the 2000 election and seeing as none of the previous four presidents who won in the electoral college while losing the popular vote had ever won re-election, and in three of those cases the winner of the popular vote in the first election came back to win four years later,  Al Gore archly assumed that he could come back and win in 2004.  But actually, Gore was just as contemptuous of the voters as Bush was, if not more, for refusing to fight for his victory all the way through the electoral college and congress; but agreed to throw in the towel and accept the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision over the decision of the 538,000 more voters who voted for him than for Bush, not to mention that the Supreme Court is not mentioned in the constitution in reference to disputed presidential elections.

   So Gore could not run again.  Kerry, on the other hand, had spent his entire life running for president, but unlike George W. Bush, was too coy to admit it.  He may or may not have married Teresa Heinz Kerry to advance his presidential ambitions; but he wrote a campaign biography which left no footprints.  After finishing the book, the reader had no idea where Kerry grew up, where he went to high school, what he did during his summers as a child, etc.  There was no personal biographical information.  In Ronald Reagan's autobiography, in contrast, the book opens with his childhood and the reader knows all about his summer jobs before he attended college.  So, Kerry was contemptuous enough of the 121 million voters not to trust them with the truth about himself.  Kerry should have rubbed everyone's nose in his international background and his father's diplomatic experience as a way of highlighting his own negotiating skills.

The Selection of the Vice-President and prior elective office

   Kerry made other errors, too.  He ran a backwards looking rather than a forward looking campaign.  He chose John Edwards, a clone rather than an asset, to be his Vice-Presidential running mate.  Edwards, a handsome Senator from an east coast state was, like Kerry himself, short on any substantive accomplishments in government.  Kerry was trying to evoke the aura of his initial clone JFK by chosing a southern Senator to balance the ticket.  And balanced it was, for 50 years ago.

   The difference between the Kennedy-Johnson and Kerry-Edwards ticket is that Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon had served in the House before serving in the Senate, while neither Kerry nor Edwards had served in the House.  In fact, both Bushs and Clinton tried and failed to get elected to Congress earlier in their political careers.  Carter and Reagan never even tried.  Ford served in the House while Truman and Bush I served as Vice-President.  Roosevelt, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Bush II were all Governors.  In other words, every president since Herbert Hoover has either served in both the House and Senate, been a Governor, or been Vice-President, or some combination of these, with the sole exception of Dwight Eisenhower.  Kerry would have been the first Senator to win the presidency without serving in the House of Representatives since Warren G. Harding in 1920.  Gephardt was the House candidate in the Democractic primaries.  Howard Dean was the Governor candidate.

   Another difference between Kerry and Kennedy is that Kennedy won re-election to the United States Senate in 1958 with 1,362,926 votes and just managed to squeak past Vice-President Richard Nixon in 1960 when no sitting Vice-President had been elected president since Martin Van Buren 124 years before in 1836.  Kerry, on the other hand, ran for re-election to the Senate in 2002 without a Republican opponent and received 1,605,976 votes, less than a quarter million more than Kennedy, 46 years later when the number of registered voters in Massachusetts grew about 55.4% from 2,556,300 to 3,972,651.  So, for Kerry to have done as well in Massachusetts as Kennedy, he would have had to get 2,118,072 votes, or half a million more than he actually received in 2002, to match Kennedy in 1958.  Clearly, Kerry was weak with the voters, even in Massachusetts. So he should have reached out to a running mate who would have brought diversity and strength to the ticket.  

   The early handicapping in the vice-presidential sweepstakes had Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, the highest ranking elected Hispanic in the country, who also had significant foreign policy experience at the United Nations in contention.  Governor Tom Vilsack of Iowa was also mentioned.  So, too, was Senator Bob Graham, the former Governor of Florida who was a member of the famous and powerful Graham media family that owned the Washington Post.  As the dwindling undecided states demonstrated on election night, Kerry could have won with Iowa, New Mexico and Louisiana and still lost Ohio and Florida.  In other words, Kerry had only one strategy for winning, it had to be either Ohio or Florida; he had no fall back position.

The Boston Red Sox World Series Victory

   Another reason Kerry lost is because he tried to take some reflected glory from the Boston Red Sox World Series victory.  The 2004 Baseball World Series was a fix.  The Yankees were ahead 3-0.  Uh-oh! The fourth game even had to go into extra innings to get the Yankees to lose.  Look at the faces of the Yankees in the dugout, the resignation.  Professional sports has become theater, with each sport vying for market share.   Bush, the former baseball team owner, knows enough psychology to understand that a Red Sox victory would be a consolation prize for Kerry's Massachusetts supporters when Kerry lost in November.  Anyway, it was a repeat performance of Mike Dukakis in 1988, when his cousin, actress Olympia Dukakis, won the Oscar for a mediocre movie performance.  The Bush family pulled the same scam on Kerry.  The Red Sox won the World Series, but the Bush family won the White House.  Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on the Democrats.

Teresa Heinz Kerry

   Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, had an uncontrollable mouth.  What the wife of the president says is important.  People in high office need to have self-discipline.  Loose lips sink ships.

Cheney's Daughter

   Kerry's gratuitous inclusion of Cheney's daughter's sexual orientation in one of the debates with Bush was shockingly insensitive and showed a total lack of judgment.

Refusing to ask for votes

   The late speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill, who came from Kerry's state of Massachusetts, wrote a book called MAN OF THE HOUSE.  In it, he says that people like to be asked for their votes.  George W. Bush explained his loss in his 1978 House race by his refusal to ask people for their votes.  Many politicians find this hard to do, for various reasons. 

   At the end of the final presidential debate, Bush's final words were a very clearly articulated, "I'm asking for your vote."  Pan to Kerry.  I can't even remember what he said, but I never heard him ask for a single vote during the whole campaign.

Elizabeth Edwards' Breast Cancer

   The fact that the wife of the Vice-Presidential candidate discovered a lump in her breast one week before the end of the campaign probably contributed to knocking the campaign decision making off its stride.  The last, crucial week of the campaign saw the Bush team "going positive" while the Kerry campaign decided not to introduce anything new.

   In addition, the Democrats' excessive focus on the missing munitions in Iraq in the final week of the campaign as if the American voters were too sieve brained to remember the previous four years was typical of the arrogant, condescending attitude toward the voters that doomed the Kerry campaign.

The Iraq War

   Kerry still might have won had it not been for the Iraq war.  In an article in the Financial Times on the day before the election, about how the soldiers were going to watch the election returns, called "Mortars and rain take priority for troops in Iraq" it says, "Under guidelines from the Pentagon, soldiers are not allowed to share their political views with journalists.  However, some agreed to discuss politics on condition of anonymity.

   "I'm sure Bush will win.  I voted for him.  If he brought us here then he should be the one to take us out," said another First Cavalry soldier.

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Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf