In politics, being a little ahead and motionless is a delicate, tremulous place to be. And that is, arguably, where the Kerry campaign is right now. If you look at the rivers of commentary flowing out over the Internet you see a note or an undertone of concern among many Democratic partisans who believe that in the last couple weeks the Kerry campaign has failed to react sharply or dexterously enough to his opponents.
First, there was the back-and-forth between Kerry and the president over the Iraq war resolution, which many seem to think Kerry bobbled. (Why the Kerry campaign has allowed itself to be placed on the offensive on this isn't clear to me at all.)
And then there's the background noise of the swift-boat malarkey, which, if painfully thin and discredited on close inspection, nevertheless may do damage simply through repitition. I do my best to ignore our domestic Falange on matters like this, but at the moment they seem to be exulting in the fact that while they first insisted John Kerry never could have been in Cambodia as he has often claimed it now turns out that he was there, though not in December 1968, but January and February 1969.
I have a certain bias for February 1969 so perhaps that's why I don't see this as a particularly big deal.
In any case, even as these things are going on, and some are beginning to fret, we have an entirely contrary motion, at least reflected in public opinion surveys. After heated words on both sides in the days just after the convention, what now seems clear is that there was a small but appreciable bounce for Kerry. Small compared to previous bounces, as Republicans argued, but perhaps understandably so given the polarized electorate and the fact that Kerry, the challenger, was already slightly ahead, as Democrats replied.
Yet, in the almost two weeks since the convention, something else novel has happened. The logic of a 'bounce' is that it's a run-up in the polls which slowly subsides. But the reverse has happened with Kerry. While his bump in the polls coming out of the convention was relatively small, the numbers which have appeared since that time has shown a slow increase in his lead and -- more pointedly -- a deepening of the underlying bases of that lead, as measured in approval on key issues, trust, likability, and so forth.
The trend has also been apparent in key state match ups. For instance, since the convention, the two independent polls of Florida voters -- one of likelies, another of registereds -- both show Kerry ahead by 7 points. A third poll, the oldest of the three, was done by a Republican firm. And that one shows the race as a tie.