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Cook and Murray Tell All

Wonkette operative P.R. gives us the scoop on this morning's National Journal breakfast briefing with political analyst Charlie Cook and Alan Murray, chief of CNBC's Washington bureau and anchor of "Capital Report." Highlights:


Cook pointed out that he has never accurately predicted a running mate. No one has. He said, "I know Joe Lieberman. Even he didn't know" he was going to be picked by Gore. Dole used to make fun of Kemp's intelligence; no one predicted Dole would pick him.  When pundits on television make a VP prediction, they should run a Chyron crawl under them, saying, "This information is for entertainment purposes only."

Kerry's problem is that he doesn't connect well with people. "If you stuck a thermometer in his mouth, it would come out at 63 degrees."  Cook said the key test was, "Would you want to go fishing with him?"  More importantly, "Would you want to go fishing with him, if you knew you weren't going to catch anything?" 

[Murray] predicted a tag team match in the Fall, with independent groups (such as MoveOn.org) saying the things that Kerry cannot, such as showing clips of people from the Bush administration saying things from a year ago, that are no longer credible.

The breakfast was fruit and quiche (which was a little bland and in need of salt and pepper).

Why are we running this? Ari Fleischer is to famous in D.C. as National Journal breakfast meetings are to exciting social events in D.C. (And, OK, there's some good analysis for people who care about that kind of thing. . . who should know better than to read Wonkette, anyways.)

The National Journal held another of its regular breakfast briefings with Charlie Cook of The Cook Political Report (www.cookpolitical.com).  Joining Charlie this morning was Alan Murray, chief of CNBC's Washington bureau and anchor of "Capital Report."

Cook started off by pointing out how unsettled things were currently. If the election had been held in December, Bush would have won. If it had been held in late January, Kerry would have won. If held in March, then Bush. Kerry's ratings are down, but Cook isn't sure where the ratings are and is not sure where they are headed.

He said there were huge question marks over the presidential race. Kerry's running mate will be the next big thing. Cook pointed out that he has never accurately predicted a running mate. No one has. He said, "I know Joe Lieberman. Even he didn't know" he was going to be picked by Gore. Dole used to make fun of Kemp's intelligence; no one predicted Dole would pick him.  When pundits on television make a VP prediction, they should run a Chyron crawl under them, saying, "This information is for entertainment purposes only." Edwards is a leading choice. He is more attractive than Kerry, but that means it is unlikely he will be picked. When selecting a VP, the rule is: First, do no harm to the ticket. Then, you want someone who can deliver a group or make a statement. Cook (ignoring his own advice about making VP predictions) suggested that Kerry should pick Gephardt. Ohio is most important state in race. Northern Ohio is where job losses are hurting Bush; Southern OH is more conservative; but the votes are in the North.

Bush's key problems are Iraq and jobs. Kerry's problem is that he doesn't connect well with people. "If you stuck a thermometer in his mouth, it would come out at 63 degrees."  Cook said the key test was, "Would you want to go fishing with him?"  More importantly, "Would you want to go fishing with him, if you knew you weren't going to catch anything?"  He told this story about a Kerry appearance in Iowa, where one of the guys from his unit appeared and revved the crowd up and then Kerry came onstage and was just okay.  Cook posed the question, "What if Clinton had had Kerry's war record?"  He would have reduced even Rush Limbaugh to tears.

Another of Kerry's issues is this: There is a presumption that a Southern Democrat is a moderate. A Massachusetts Democrat is presumed to be liberal. Deserved or not, stuff is likely to stick to Kerry. Cook described it as the "Tar Baby effect."

Cook said that he was a panelist at a president debate, he would have one key question for each candidate.  For Bush it would be "Why did you invade Iraq before taking care of Al-Qaeda?"  For Kerry, it would be: "Why did you vote against the first Persian Gulf War and vote for the second?"

Then Alan Murray came on.  He started by pointing out that until very recently, the campaign was all about jobs.  With the horrible killings in Faluja and the Shiite uprising on the negative side and the new job numbers on the positive side, perhaps foreign policy would become a major campaign issue.

Murray felt it was unclear what Kerry will do to solve the jobs situation. Bush and Kerry's fiscal policies are the same, he felt. Kerry hasn't said he'd replace Greenspan. Bush has shown no inclination to deal with spending and is not credible to deficit hawks in his own party. Kerry is also weak on spending. Murray did not see a broad effect on the campaign from the deficit. Candidates have to give people sense of momentum in job growth. It will be hard for the Republicans to make people feel better in six or seven months, even if they're good months.

Murray said that it's hard to make elections about foreign policy. Extraordinary events in Iraq may make it an issue.

He predicted a tag team match in the Fall, with independent groups (such as MoveOn.org) saying the things that Kerry cannot, such as showing clips of people from the Bush administration saying things from a year ago, that are no longer credible. Murray said that if this election becomes a referendum on the president, then Kerry doesn't matter. Cook added that a referendum election is always a referendum on the incumbent. Either people will think that we should have gone into Iraq and it's going well, or we should have gone into Iraq and it's going badly, or we shouldn't have gone into Iraq at all.  Two of those options are bad for Bush.

In answer to an audience question, Murray said that health care won't be a big issue in this election. That issue is not in the best interests of either candidate. Cook felt that a good solution to the problem was Dick Gephardt's proposal to repeal the Bush tax cuts and give a tax credit to companies for health care. Cook described this plan as a "trade plan without protectionism."

Cook doesn't think FEC will shut down 527s, since the law doesn't work that quickly.  The FEC may revisit the issue after the election.

Cook felt that Nader will get fewer votes than last time. Nader may get one-third to one-quarter of what he got last time, but still make difference. Of the electoral populace, 30-40% won't vote for mainstream candidate.  Today's independents are totally disconnected.  They don't follow the media.  They will make up their minds the week before the election.

Murray said that the 9-11 Commission report will be tough on the President, but will have little effect on the election. If there was another domestic terror attack, both Cook and Murray said it was hard to say how it would play out.  It would depend on when the attack happened and under what circumstances.

In response to a question about Congressional races, Cook predicted there was a 99% chance that the House will stay Republican (He only declined to say 100% out of superstition). There had been some erosion in the Senate, Cook said, and there was only a 60% chance it would remain Republican (earlier, he would have said it was a 90% chance).

When asked about the "Anybody but Bush" factor, Cook pointed to the amazing amount of money raised by Kerry.  He said that this money "was not a show of love and affection" for Kerry.

The breakfast was fruit and quiche (which was a little bland and in need of salt and pepper).

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