msnbc.com
updated 6/10/2004 6:58:51 PM ET 2004-06-10T22:58:51

A weeklong tribute to Ronald Reagan’s two terms in the White House pushed Democratic candidate John Kerry off the national stage and gave President Bush a platform as the nation’s eulogizer-in-chief of his predecessor.

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Kerry pretty much disappeared from public venues this week although he did pay his respects to Reagan Tuesday in California.

Bush’s high and Kerry's low visibility gives the president a slight lead in this week’s White House Derby.

In this Reagan commemoration week, one had to wonder whether the electorate, 20 years after having chosen that staunchly free-market, limited-government, anti-abortion conservative, could give its votes this November to Kerry, whose record and ideology are far closer to those of Walter Mondale, the 1984 loser, than to those of Reagan.

Of course the political environment and the electorate itself have changed since 1984, but this election will still be a choice between a liberal candidate in the classic tradition and a conservative one in the Goldwater-Reagan mold.

One way for the Democrats to redefine the race is to try to persuade voters that Bush is not truly conservative and to argue that instead, to use Kerry’s rhetoric, he is leading “the most arrogant, inept, reckless and ideological foreign policy in modern history.”

Mark Penn, who was Hillary Clinton’s pollster in her 2000 Senate race and Bill Clinton’s pollster in the 1996 presidential race, released a new survey of 1,515 likely voters this week under the aegis of the New Democrat Network.

“The No. 1 issue facing the country in the minds of voters is Iraq,” Penn reported. Surprisingly, Kerry is winning those who say Iraq is the most important issue by 50 percent to Bush’s 43 percent. Perhaps the best news for the Democrats, Penn found in his polling, is that only 35 percent of poll respondents say “the country is heading the right direction.”

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