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A Pretty Good Hand

With a strong performance in the third debate, President Bush is sitting on a good hand. Senator Kerry is grasping for an inside straight.

12:04 AM, Oct 14, 2004 • By HUGH HEWITT
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IT IS HARD TO IMAGINE how Bob Schieffer could have been more pro-Kerry in last night's debate--short of actually wearing a Kerry-Edwards button.

Which makes the president's win even more impressive. Despite talking points cueing questions to Kerry on jobs and minimum wage, and intended-to-put-him-on-the-defensive set-ups about "what do you say to the man who lost his job," "assault weapons," and "is sexual orientation a choice" hardballs at Bush's head, the president calmly turned the questions to the issue he wanted to get to and put Kerry in a corner he can not possibly escape from in 20 days.

It is the global test, government healthcare, do-nothing for 20 years in the Senate corner. It is the corner where Social Security is just fine, where $2.2 trillion in proposed spending doesn't have to be squared with an $800 million--at most--raising tax hike, and where the "far left bank" of the mainstream marks a boundary. Forget Kerry's blunders. (The introduction of the vice president's daughter into the debate was a huge blunder, as was the "I passed 56 bills!" howler and the uncomfortable, "I married up" moment.) For all his lawyerly eloquence, Kerry just doesn't connect, and cannot connect because the electorate knows a few things about guns and taxes and social security. Twenty years ago candidates could ignore facts because 30 minutes of nightly news didn't really push policy debates into living rooms.

Now there is no escaping the endless debate. It is on the cable channels, over the dozen syndicated talk radio shows with large audiences, always at the fingertips of the blogosphere-visiting computer user, and in the offices and on the assembly lines at work. Voters know the score more than they ever have.

And they know what "global test" means and they understand why John Kerry keeps having to say he will not subject American foreign policy to a veto: Because his record demonstrates that he will adopt just a veto. When Bush brought up Kerry's vote against the first Gulf War tonight, conservatives cheered. Finally, they said, not considering that it was smart tactics to keep that rhetorical gun holstered until Round 4.

The debate highlight reel from 2004 will begin and end with "global test," and will focus on gay marriage, abortion rights absolutism, and, of course, the war in Iraq. There will be no Bush errors except his facial expressions from Round 1--no gaffes or missteps. There will be, however, a heartfelt and understood discussion of his personal faith and a lasting impression of a good man who has led through very difficult times and deserves to keep the job.

So now John Kerry has to keep African American turnout where it was in 2000 while keeping the president's share of that vote below 8 percent; he must keep the Catholic vote evenly split, the Jewish vote lopsided, and must hope that 4 million "evangelicals" stay home like they did in 2000. And Kerry's got to hope that proposing a "global test," and talking in terms of "nuisance" is just the key to that inside electoral straight.

Sure, I think the GOP cannot take anything for granted, and must be particularly concerned about vote fraud. But it is very hard to take these circumstances, mix them with 4 percent growth over 7 quarters, a 5.5 percent unemployment rate, elections in Afghanistan and progress in Iraq, the Swift Boat Vets, Michael Moore, and the Massachusetts Supreme Court and still see a vote for unseating a wartime president in favor of the Senate's most liberal member--who, incidentally, voted against the first Gulf War and has flip-flopped on the current one.

Call me crazy, but I think the president is in a very good place 19 days out.

Hugh Hewitt is the host of a nationally syndicated radio show, and author most recently of If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat: Crushing the Democrats in Every Election and Why Your Life Depends Upon It. His daily blog can be found at