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Advantage Bush

They would have preferred Dean, but the Bushies are still confident.

Feb 2, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 20 • By FRED BARNES
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* Education. With passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, Bush neutralized the education issue, long a Democratic talking point. But Democrats have pounded him for not spending more, and his hold on the issue has eroded. He's beginning to fight back, but not as aggressively as Kerry and Edwards are attacking. Advantage Democrats.

* Health care. This is the best Democratic issue. Sure, Bush got a prescription drug benefit for the elderly, but polls show the public isn't appreciative. Meanwhile there's strong support for more government aid on health care. Bush will never be able to out-promise Kerry and Edwards. Advantage Democrats.

* Culture. One of the most politically potent passages in the State of the Union was Bush's take on gay marriage. It was a threefer, attacking judicial activism, gay marriage itself, and (by implication) Kerry's home state, Massachusetts, whose supreme court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. Advantage Bush.

The president has another advantage, the ability to alter the political landscape, at least briefly. He can command the nation's attention at any time, change policies, announce new initiatives, meet with foreign leaders at summits, and so on. In their first big political test in Iowa, neither Kerry nor Edwards showed the ability to create openings on his own. They were reactive, and they got lucky. Kerry got the endorsement of an ex-Green Beret whose life he saved in Vietnam. The fellow, whom Kerry hadn't seen in 35 years, phoned out of the blue. Edwards played off the bitter squabbling in speeches and ads between Dean and Gephardt. To beat Bush, Kerry or Edwards will have to do a lot better.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.