Let's hedge this with all the usual qualifiers. Kerry could pull it out. The spread's within the margin of error. Respondents to polls are lying out of fear of John Ashcroft.
With 12 days left before the election, millions of Americans have already cast their ballots -- records are being set for early voting and absentee ballots in all of the battleground states and in many non-battleground states. Yet, it is no easier to identify a frontrunner now than it was last spring. Rarely in history has an American presidential contest remained this close for this long, and it is beginning to appear that, like 2000, 2004 may be a year when neither candidate opens up a clear lead at the close of the contest.
That's got George W. Bush's reelection campaign team running scared, as races that stay close to the end tend to break for the challenger. But John Kerry's camp has had a hard time identifying themes in the post-debate period. For instance, it took the Democrat the better part of a week to figure out that the shortage of flu vaccine is precisely the sort of real-life crisis that illustrates the problems that result when the federal government adopts a hands-off approach to health care concerns.
The big movement seems to be occurring not in the presidential race but in contests for the Senate, where Republican overconfidence has created unexpected openings for the Democrats.
I wrote nearly twelve months ago in this space about the importance of building progressive strength in 2004 and beyond. A year later, progressives have hope in the decade ahead, thanks in part to Howard Dean.
Dean's new book, You Have the Power, is an eloquent attack on Bush's failed record. At its core, however, is Dean's belief that progressives must look beyond November 2nd to achieve a progressive majority.
For starters, tactics matter, argues Dean. "By...establishing a permanent election-to-election presence on the American political scene through think-tanks, foundations, and grassroots organizations," Dean writes, the radical right has achieved political power. Extremists can be beat at their own game, though.