Trending Kerry

Published October 12, 2004 7:20PM (EDT)

Pre-debate spin is usually about lowering expectations for your guy and raising the bar for your opponent. But with John Kerry up 2-0 on George W. Bush, Joe Lockhart and the other Democratic spinners aren't playing that game anymore.

On a conference call with reporters this afternoon, Lockhart said that he expects Kerry to perform well again Wednesday night in Tempe, Ariz., and that Bush -- in style and on substance -- may face his toughest night yet. Democrats are heartened by the latest Gallup poll, which suggests that the number of people who think Kerry won the second debate is growing. Kerry had a three-point edge in an ABC poll taken immediately after the second debate; in the Gallup poll, voters said Kerry won by a margin of 45-30. "We can't remember an incumbent who lost three consecutive debates in the minds of the public and then went on to victory," Lockhart said. "We think the pressure is on the president to salvage one debate victory from the three."

Democrats are also seeming awfully bullish on the race overall. A new Democracy Corps poll has the race tied nationally, and Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg says Kerry holds a two-point lead in battleground states. Kerry advisor Mike Donilon says that internal campaign polls have Kerry up by a somewhat larger margin in the battleground states.

However, Greenberg and Donilon say the real numbers to watch our those just just below the surface of the horserace. Bush's approval rating is down to 47 percent in the new Gallup poll. When Democracy Corps asked voters whether the country should stay the course set by the president or move in a "significantly different" direction, a 52-percent majority chose the new direction. At the same time, Greenberg said, the pro-Kerry numbers -- on likeability, on which candidate cares about people like you and has a hopeful vision of the future -- are all moving in a positive direction for the Democrats.

What does it all mean? "The data would lead you to believe that this race is trending toward Kerry," Greenberg said. "If the election were held tomorrow, I'd rather hold our hand than the president's hand."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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