Contact Me By Email

Atlanta, GA Weather from Weather Underground

Monday, October 18, 2004

The New York Times > Washington > Campaign 2004 > Political Memo: For Kerry, a Few Words That May Be Debatable

The New York Times > Washington > Campaign 2004 > Political Memo: For Kerry, a Few Words That May Be Debatable

WASHINGTON, Oct. 17- Senator John Kerry and President Bush devoted four and a half hours and nearly 45,000 words to three detailed and substantial debates. But a single remark by Mr. Kerry, noting that Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter Mary is a lesbian, has shadowed his strong performance and given Republicans an opening to slow the momentum Mr. Kerry got from the debates, some Democrats say.

Amid signs of Democratic concern, Mr. Kerry's advisers acknowledged Sunday that some voters perceived Mr. Kerry's remark as an invasion of Ms. Cheney's privacy, a gratuitous personal insult, or a crass political calculation by which Mr. Kerry was trying to drive a wedge between Mr. Cheney and conservatives unaware that his daughter was gay.

And Republicans were quick to seize on the exchange to reinforce their effort to portray Mr. Kerry in these closing days of the presidential race as a man who, as Mr. Cheney put it, "will say and do anything in order to get elected."

"He shouldn't have done it," said Matthew Dowd, a senior adviser to Mr. Bush. "It was inappropriate. I just don't think you should bring up people's children in the course of a campaign. And it wasn't just accidental that he did it - he's not an accidental guy."

Mr. Kerry's aides said the remark was neither the result of political calculation nor meant unkindly, insisted that it had been a spontaneous response to a question and noted that Mr. Cheney himself had brought the subject up earlier this year. Mr. Kerry invoked Ms. Cheney at the debate in Arizona last Wednesday in arguing that homosexuality was not a choice. Mr. Bush dodged the same question as he reiterated his support for a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage, a position Mr. Cheney says he does not share.

Still, as the fallout continued this weekend, some Democrats were clearly concerned, aware that there has rarely been a presidential campaign as close as this one. Three organizations released polls on Sunday showing that Mr. Bush had improved his standing. Time magazine showed him with a lead of two percentage points while Newsweek found he was ahead by four percentage points. The latest Gallup poll said Mr. Bush had a lead of eight percentage points.

Considering that most polls found that viewers judged Mr. Kerry the clear winner of all three debates, some Democrats said the most likely explanation for these results was a sharp response to the remark, noting that the polling interviewing was taking place amid intense news coverage of this dispute.

It is not clear whether this is a passing dust-up, as Mr. Kerry's advisers said in dismissing these latest polls, or the kind of event that could prove consequential in a race in which voters' allegiance to Mr. Kerry is anything but deep. The concern for Mr. Kerry, of course, is that with 16 days until the election, passing dust-ups can end up not passing soon enough.

"Here's the impact it had: two days of nonstop cable talk about how Bush lost the debate was avoided for them," said Joe Lockhart, a senior Kerry adviser. "It doesn't mean it hurt us. I give them credit. They lost the debate and they scrambled and they came up with the best hand they had."

Other Democrats were less sure, and said that at the very least these polls, coming after several days in which Mr. Bush's team had pounded Mr. Kerry for his remark, suggested Mr. Kerry had inadvertently thrown a lifeline to the White House. If Mr. Kerry's advisers have been a bit slow in grasping the potential impact of this - and some sympathetic Democrats said Sunday that this was the case - it reflects, to some extent, a cultural divide.

In Mr. Kerry's mind, he was stating a well-known fact. Ms. Cheney is openly gay, and her father mentioned it at one of his rallies before the Republican convention. More significant, calling someone a lesbian in this era is hardly an insult in Mr. Kerry's mind, his advisers said.

But to listen to conservative radio shows, or to talk to voters since the debate, it is clear that not everyone shares Mr. Kerry's view. Even some Democrats said that many viewers thought either that Mr. Kerry was outing Ms. Cheney, or that calling someone a lesbian was a schoolyard insult, a bit of behavior that was unseemly for a presidential candidate.

"He really hit a nerve with me when he started talking about Cheney's daughter," said Mike Kembin, a Republican from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "I felt that was someplace he shouldn't have gone."

And Doug Fulton, 46, a Democrat from Des Moines, said: "I wish he hadn't done that. I don't think he meant anything by it. I just think he could have done without it."

Mr. Kerry's aides said his comment was not part of a big political plan, and two officials who attended debate preparations said they had not heard the subject of Ms. Cheney come up.

Mr. Bush's advisers were openly skeptical of that assertion, noting that Senator John Edwards of North Carolina had also talked about Mr. Cheney's lesbian daughter in the vice presidential debate.

"He did it to score political points," Mr. Dowd said. "He made some calculation that it was good for him."

Some Democrats said they wished Mr. Kerry had moved to defuse this issue immediately by issuing an apology. But aides said the campaign decided that no apology was needed, given that Ms. Cheney is open about her sexuality and that her own father had talked about it.

"I don't think the senator was trying to score political points," said Mr. Kerry's spokeswoman, Stephanie Cutter. "He was trying to show respect for what strong families do with this issue. They have supported their daughter."

As is frequently the case in campaign episodes like this, the real damage is a function of whether they reinforce existing voter concerns about a candidate, like when Bill Clinton, at the very time he was being mocked as "Slick Willie," talked about smoking marijuana and not inhaling. And Republicans were arguing that this was the case. "This reminded people that this is a guy who will say anything to get elected," Mr. Dowd said.

Perhaps. Democrats were less sure about that. It is not as if Mr. Kerry had argued both sides of the same issue.


  1. Great Blog!

  2. Great Blog!

  3. I came across your blog by accident....then was intrigued! Chip

  4. I came across your blog by accident....then was intrigued! Chip

  5. I came across your blog by accident....then was intrigued! Chip

  6. I came across your blog by accident....then was intrigued! Chip