Jewish World Review Oct. 5, 2004 / 20 Tishrei, 5765

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The Big Mo still looking for its lover | You just knew it had to be this way. There was no chance this presidential election could be anything but close.

As soon as the big polls show John Kerry gaining, everyone will say the debate tightened things up. Sure it did — if you want to be superficial about it. But I prefer cosmic explanations, so I say the real factor pulling the candidates back to neck-and-neck is destiny.

Four years after George W. Bush needed the Supreme Court to squeak past Al Gore, and with 9/11 and Iraq thrown into the mix, America isn't ready to give its blessings wholesale to anybody. And it's not just rank-and-file voters who are split. The best-seller lists, movies, music, the media — America is a nation divided almost perfectly in half.

That's a built-in brake against a lopsided election. Any case you make for one candidate pulling away, I can poke holes in it faster than you can say Maria Teresa Thierstein Simoes-Ferreira Heinz Kerry.

Take President Bush. Going into Thursday's slugfest, he had the Big Mo. Some estimates had him closing in on 300 electoral votes, with 270 needed for victory. Those totals didn't include Florida, Pennsylvania or Michigan, all too close to call.

Had the wind kept blowing at Bush's back, he could have racked up as many as 350 electoral votes. If that's not a landslide, it's damn close.

Ah, but the fickle finger of fate wasn't ready to make a decision. So it sent Bush off to the debate with a sourpuss look and tied his tongue so he couldn't knock Kerry out of the ring. The challenger not only survived, he emerged stronger.

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You could argue, as I do, that the Big Mo is changing teams. Bush threw his best punch at Kerry — "mixed message" and "inconsistent" are how you say "flip-flopper" in polite company — so many times that he got diminishing returns.

Call it too much of a good thing. That Kerry blows in the wind is no longer just a GOP charge. It's accepted as fact in enough of the electorate that it's starting to be discounted, as in, "Okay, I already knew that, show me something new."

When Bush didn't have anything new, Kerry had an opening. He seized it with a performance worthy of the prosecutor he once was, keeping Bush on the defensive for much of the 90 minutes. Kerry was feeling so confident he even claimed his positions on Iraq have been consistent!

So Kerry's going to pull it off, right? He's finally going to capture the majority of Americans who don't like Iraq and the economy and win by tipping the balance in enough swing states.

Well, maybe. But there's that little problem Kerry has with people not trusting him as a leader. A recent New York Times poll, for example, found a rock-bottom 32% had confidence in his ability to deal with a crisis while Bush was viewed as better on fighting terrorism by 13 percentage points. The smart money says nobody can win a wartime election with so little trust on the big issue. And there's more bad news for Kerry. The same poll found a majority who see him as being too negative, while 60% like Bush more in personal terms. Those are secret weapons for Bush that could transcend all the issues when people are alone in the voting booth. We could talk running mates, especially with the vice presidential debate coming up Tuesday. Sorry, the same push-me, pull-me pattern prevails.

Dick Cheney is the Darth Vader from the land of Halliburton, but Smiley John Edwards has pulled such a disappearing act for most of the campaign that it makes you wonder what he's hiding from. Advantage? You pick 'em.

It is what it is — back and forth, Frick and Frack, neck and neck. The last bold prediction I'll make is that it's going to be a squeaker all the way to Nov. 2 — and maybe beyond. And if we go into overtime again, it won't just be in one state this time. Registration and ballot issues are popping up all over the country.

Bottom line: Anybody who tells you for sure who is going to win is talking from the heart, not the head. And it's all because the election gods aren't ready to tell us yet who gets the job. Or maybe it's because heaven is a swing state.

Michael Goodwin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Daily News Comment by clicking here.


09/28/04: What we're up against: The war on terror & the war in Iraq are now one and the same
09/14/04: Media bias is doing nation a disservice
08/18/04: Kerry confusion will soon be unforgivable
07/29/04: Why are the wackadoos still dear to Dems' hearts?
07/21/04: Kerry couldn't say no: Hillary waffle was just part of a wimpy week

© 2004, New York Daily News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.