What George Mason Experts Are Saying about…the Democratic National Convention

Posted: July 28, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of occasional articles on what George Mason experts have to say about a current topic. These are personal opinions and do not reflect an endorsement by George Mason University.

Conventional wisdom may suggest that presidential nominating conventions serve little purpose, but Boston is extremely important for John Kerry’s candidacy, says Colleen Shogan, assistant professor in the Department of Public and International Affairs. According to a recent Wall Street Journal poll, only 57 percent of Americans say they “know a fair amount about John Kerry and what he stands for.” This number is down from March when 68 percent of Americans knew about Kerry. “John Kerry needs to use the Democratic convention to reintroduce himself to the electorate and convince voters that he can serve as a strong leader in a time of uncertainty and war,” Shogan says.

“He also must avoid the temptation to use the convention as a ‘Bash Bush’ tirade.” Noting that the most recent Newsweek poll shows that only 43 percent of Americans believe President Bush deserves to be reelected to a second term, Shogan says Kerry should capitalize on doubts about Bush’s leadership and “use the primetime coverage to give swing voters an affirmative reason for choosing him rather than an incumbent president they aren’t excited about returning to office.”

How will Kerry solve the crisis in Iraq and recent intelligence failures? Can a Kerry administration implement trade policies that are both free and fair? Shogan says Kerry should use the convention to advertise his positions on such important election issues to combat the Bush campaign’s allegations that Kerry’s leadership is unsteady and unpredictable.

While America has never postponed a convention because of war or terror, discussions of the threat posed by terror to both conventions are emerging now, notes Jeremy Mayer, assistant professor in the School of Public Policy. Commenting on the political ramifications of a terrorist attack, he says the first thing to happen if either convention is hit by a terror attack or major threat that causes significant disruption to the event would be that Americans would pay a great deal of attention to the convention.

“Over the last 30 years, fewer and fewer Americans follow what happens at the party gatherings. If there were a terror incident, but the convention continued, the number of viewers—and the potential convention bounce—would grow. Second, any major terror event will give Bush and Kerry obvious avenues for attack. After the dust clears, the question will be, does this confirm that we need an aggressive, forward strategy against terror, as suggested by the president, or does it suggest that we are still far too vulnerable to terror and resources for homeland security and the fight against al Qaeda have been squandered in Iraq?”

Finally, Mayer says, any terror attack will distract from anything else on the campaign agenda. “That could be good news for either candidate, depending on what is occurring. If the economy is recovering strongly, but the nation is riveted by the reappearance of domestic terror, that will be bad for Bush. On the other hand, if American troops are continuing to die in Iraq, domestic terror will at least briefly take that off the front pages, which could work in Bush’s favor.”

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