Message adjustment

However much the country has changed since the election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980, it is still apparently difficult for an avowed liberal to be elected president. Thus the necessity of camouflage and concealment by a liberal candidate like John Kerry running for national office. According to the Washington Post, Kerry is now “emphasizing centrist themes on the campaign trail while privately reassuring liberal constituencies he is committed to their core issues.”
Included in his effort to downplay his liberalism is the search for a Republican to run as his vice presidential candidate; the Post reports that Kerry’s people have approached Republican Senator Chuck Hagel has been approached by four Democrats “not part of the Kerry campaign” to ascertain his interest.
The Post reports that Kerry is perceived as a liberal and that this perception is a drag on his candidacy:

Kerry’s effort to adjust his message also represents a strategic necessity for another reason. A top Democratic strategist, who discussed private data on the condition of anonymity, said internal polling shows that Kerry is still viewed as a Massachusetts liberal by a large number of independents and some Republicans who express a willingness to vote for a Democrat.
Several party officials said the candidate’s close affiliation with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.), one of the country’s best known liberals and war critics, is hurting Kerry’s standing in the middle. Kennedy’s prominence at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in July could reinforce that connection.

Can Kerry shed the image of a Massachusetts liberal? One would think that would be mission impossible:

Whether Kerry can authentically project a more moderate message is a major question. He has one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate, but centrist Democrats say that on many defining votes in the 1990s — welfare reform and free trade among them — Kerry sided with the centrist wing of the party against the liberal wing.

Despite the Post’s citation of “centrist Democrats” (who would they be and why are they left unidentified?), Kerry is in fact a Massachusetts liberal. What about gay marriage?

Despite the unity among Democrats, Kerry is working feverishly to placate liberals who might feel slighted by his new approach. At a recent private meeting, the Massachusetts senator assured gay rights activists that his public silence on the gay marriage debate does not reflect his strong, personal commitment to their issues, participants said.
Kerry advisers said a strong public defense of gay marriage could undermine the candidate’s appeal in culturally conservative states, so he rarely raises it on the hustings. Last week, after speaking in Topeka, Kan., at a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s school desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education, he was asked why he did not mention gay marriage, since that day also marked the first day his home state was allowing such unions. He brushed aside the questions without answering.

I would think that a competent campaign on behalf of the president would make this one issue that Kerry can’t evade, although the Bush camp’s relative silence on it to date is not a good sign. The Post article is “Kerry broadens scope of his pitch.”


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