by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
February 11, 2004
WITH STUNNING VICTORIES IN THE SOUTH, KERRY LOOKS UNBEATABLE
BRADENTON, Fla., Feb. 11, 2004 -- With support both broad and deep among all sectors in both states, John Kerry held a 26-percent lead in Virginia and a 16-percent lead in Tennessee last night as he added two more states to a string of caucus and primary wins that have christened him the undisputed leader of the Democratic Party's 2004 challenge to President George W. Bush.
On a night that saw rumors swirl into fact, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina indicated he would stay in the race as far as Wisconsin's Feb. 17 balloting, while retired four-star Gen. Wesley Clark called a news conference in Little Rock, Ark., tomorrow to announce his decision to drop out of the race. Clark finished third in both states, where he had spent more than $2.5 million on television commercials since December with little effect.
The complex and well-tested character of John Kerry now faces its greatest challenge: consolidating the many separate campaigns and convincing their leaders to join him in ousting a sitting President who is likely to have far more money to spend, far more influence to bring to bear, plus all the trappings of the presidency and the same social and educational background as his opponent.
Kerry, a hockey player, hunter and hang-glider, is a modern samurai poised against a backdrop of the antiwar movement, a lifetime in politics and a long stint in the Senate. In President Bush, he faces a man who is aggressive, cocky, and physically tough, who won a grueling battle for the White House in 2004 by just 504 votes and is the son of a past president who himself was chased out of office after just one term - mainly because he had promised "no new taxes" and delivered them anyway.
Just Sunday, the President stuttered and stumbled verbally as he faced the withering fire of "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert, appearing anything but presidential. His next opponent, a tall, well-mannered, eloquent and patrician fellow Bonesman and graduate of Yale, is only rarely unsettled by a question; when he is, he usually waits his discomfort out and then speaks. His words form whole sentences, and are gramatically correct; those of President Bush are like gravel mashed into a marble floor.
While a shell-shocked GOP struggles to recover its bearings, having seen both of their favored opponents for the President fall to Kerry's late surge in Iowa and the convincing triumphs after, Kerry needs to engage the President without seeming to impugn him. To lay bare the crude outlines of the beliefs that separate these two men would be to expose the nation to a battle of wits and witlessness from which it would be slow to recover. President Bush, at the same time, must not engage John Kerry, because he is no match for him. His campaign must aim its cannons and broadsides at something or someone close to but slightly beyond Kerry, such as his wife and her money, or his parents and his friends; and that is a truly high-risk strategy likely to fail.
What is poorly understood by most Americans at this point in the race is that President George W. Bush has lost. Already hooked, he will fight and flail like a swordfish being reeled in to a chartered yacht, which will sail away with his hopes and his image, never looking back at the vanished roiling sea.
That is not to say that Americans themselves have not made the decision; they have, at home and in their hearts, and in some states at the ballot box, but they have made it. In November, we will open up the secret box of their hopes and read their writing, which by then for many months will have been plastered on the wall.