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updated 8/20/2004 10:00:11 AM ET 2004-08-20T14:00:11

This week’s controversy over allegations made by anti-John Kerry Vietnam veterans in their TV ad and in their book provides an illustration of the way division of labor works today in American politics.

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“The President keeps telling people he would never question my service to our country,” Kerry said in a speech Thursday. “Instead, he watches as a Republican-funded attack group does just that. Well, if he wants to have a debate about our service in Vietnam, here is my answer: ‘Bring it on.’”

Indeed, John O’Neill (who debated Kerry more than 30 years ago on the Dick Cavett show on ABC) and his fellow “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” have “brought it on.”

Bush himself has stayed aloof, praising Kerry last week, saying Kerry "is justifiably proud of his record in Vietnam and he should be."

As the dust settles a bit, Kerry remains in the lead of MSNBC.com's White House Derby.

How potent an issue is Bush’s non-disavowal of the Swift Boat Veterans ad?

Those voters who don't believe Bush in general will never believe that he and his strategist Karl Rove didn't authorize the ad.

Voters may assume all anti-Kerry attacks are somehow conforming to a larger anti-Kerry strategy, and likewise on the anti-Bush side.

And in the end, the battle of Najaf may well matter more to voters than the battle on the Mekong River in 1968.

The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, with coverage by talk radio, blogs, and some in the more traditional news media, did force Kerry to spend time responding.

If you are campaign manager, you never want to have your candidate dancing to your adversaries’ sheet music.

Meanwhile, in another illustration of division of labor, even though Kerry did not delve into the question "what did Bush really do in the Air National Guard in 1972?" anti-Bush allies like Michael Moore, Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe and Moveon.org have been doing that work for months. Moveon.org uncorked a new ad this week criticizing Bush’s Guard service, which Kerry disavowed.

A new Pennsylvania poll from Franklin & Marshall College released Thursday showed Kerry with a six-point lead, 48 percent to 42 percent over Bush, but still within the margin of error, which was 3.8 percent.

The undecided amounted to eight percent. If one accepts the traditional pollster’s wisdom that two-thirds of the undecided ultimately vote against the incumbent, Kerry looks to be in fine shape in Pennsylvania.

Bush has made a remarkable 32 visits to the Keystone State since becoming president. This is puzzling in that he lost Pennsylvania by more than 200,000 votes last time. This could end up as one of the smartest — or most ill-advised — investments in modern campaign history.

But Pennsylvania illustrates the point that we don’t know for sure what the battleground states are and neither do the candidates. It is easier to say which states are not tossup states (Alabama, California, Utah, Rhode Island) than which ones are.

And this week's list of tossup states may not be the same as the week of Oct. 25

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