"Almost flailing"

By Geraldine Sealey
Published October 15, 2004 2:18PM (EDT)

The president did something yesterday he hasn't done since Sept. 11, 2001: He made a visit to the back of Air Force One, where the journalists are stowed. And all he got for his trouble was a Los Angeles Times article suggesting that his rare visit was yet another sign that he is nervous about his chances on Nov. 2.

And he's not alone in that, apparently.

"Even as stalwart a Republican as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, now a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, thought there might be uneasiness. 'If you don't have some anxiety you are not in touch with reality,' he said."

"For one thing, Gingrich said, there are more wild cards in this election than in most previous campaigns, including a surge in new voter registrations and the explosion of spending by independent political groups. 'We don't understand this election. No one does,' he said."

"After the GOP convention, Bush enjoyed a significant lead over Democratic challenger Sen. John F. Kerry. But recently it has eroded. A major reason was believed to be the president's showing in the first presidential debate Sept 30, in which he appeared peevish. Bush's performance in the subsequent debates improved, most analysts concluded, but so far he has not regained his dominant position."

" ... One senior Republican strategist not affiliated with the campaign said he began to think the Bush camp might be nervous when it launched a hard-edged ad that mischaracterized Kerry as describing terrorism as a 'nuisance.'"

"'I would describe that as almost flailing,' the strategist said. 'They went from having a very buttoned-up message where it was very defined, very provable, and it has consistently gotten more high-pitched, more shrill and less documentable. 'That to me is a very defensive position, as opposed to offensive.'"

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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