Election Diary: Bush bloggers capture stealth media

My colleagues in American TV News are in a right old tizz over the Dan Rather debacle.

Rather claimed he had documentary evidence that Bush was given preferential treatment in the National Guard during Vietnam. Within hours of his report airing, bloggers began questioning the authenticity of the documents, and finally Rather was forced to admit he was duped. Very embarrassing for the Leviathan of CBS News, and now mainstream journalists everywhere are running scared of the amateur blogger sleuths.

The real story, however, is not Rather, but the fact that Republicans have been so effective at dominating the "blogsphere". The Bush/Cheney headquarters have a team scouring the blogsites for rumours about Kerry. They can instantly marshal hundreds of sympathetic bloggers to knock down attacks on Bush. The blogger who led the charge against Rather was no grungy student or the like but turned out to be a 46-year-old corporate lawyer in Atlanta. It's very reminiscent of 2000, when the Republicans dominated talk-radio, the stealth medium of the last election.

Meanwhile, I bumped into a friend this week who is working for one of the Democrat campaign groups. He told me they had a great new TV ad out which was going to rip into the Bush lot. The subject: Bush's ties with the Saudis ... Hmmm. Michael Moore redux isn't going to win them the election. More proof if any were needed that the Republicans have the edge when it comes to campaigning.

"To occupy Iraq would instantly shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world against us. [It would start] an urban guerrilla war and plunge that part of the world into even greater instability." Author: George Bush Snr in his book, A World Transformed, published two years before his son became President.

Bush has history on his side. Of the 28 elections that have involved a sitting president in American history, the incumbent has won 18 times. You can't underestimate the bully pulpit of the White House.

On top of that, demographics are also helping him. Because of shifts in the American population since the last election, Kerry has to get more votes in the electoral college than Gore needed. If Kerry wins the same states that Gore won, he would lose by 10 electoral college votes whereas Gore lost by only five. Mind you, there are a lot of states that deliver 10 or more votes. Florida being one of them.

Nader-watch. Has the Democrats' attempt to keep Nader off the ballot in as many states as possible backfired? Having reserved his wrath for Bush, the veteran activist has now turned on Kerry, apparently infuriated by the Democrats' tactics. "Going into this, I underestimated the mendacity of the Democratic Party," Nader said this week, "and I overestimated their smarts." To rub salt in the wound, he announced that he would be doing a triumphal sweep through Florida next week in the run-up to the first presidential debate there.

Florida is shaping up to be the critical state once again. The Democrats now admit that they have a better chance of winning Florida than Ohio. If he does the same as last time and denies them victory once more, he'd be safer in Baghdad than Boston.

Tom Carver is the Washington correspondent for BBC2's 'Newsnight'

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