Victory Lap

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 10, 2004

What does John Kerry do now?

His exhausting marathon race to the nomination ended for all practical purposes last week. Kerry and his campaign advisers now have to deal with the changed circumstances that no longer require him to rush frantically from state to state to campaign against fellow Democrats.

Those closest to him will want him to rest, reflect, and regain his bearings.

They believe that a hyped-up, tired candidate is vulnerable to making some kind of mistake–a wrong answer to an unexpected question or some other gaff that could haunt him in the fall campaign.

Other advisers, conscious of the overwhelming financial advantage of President Bush’s campaign, want him to get busy right now to help raise the money that his campaign will have to have to be competitive.

They &uot;know&uot; from experience that money is the most important factor in winning elections.

Also, there will be enthusiasts among the Kerry advisers who are arguing that Kerry must begin the campaign against President Bush now–relentlessly attacking him and his policies from now until November.

If he waits until after the party conventions this summer, they believe, he will not have time to overcome the great advantage that a popular incumbent president enjoys.

So, which of these different paths will Kerry follow the next few weeks?

Most likely, he will try to do a little bit of each–resting some, fund-raising some, and attacking the President some.

He will be making a mistake.

It is not so much a failure to make a decisive choice among the different options that his advisors have presented, in passing by another option that is available to him–but only now.

In the few days following his sweeping Super Tuesday win, he has a precious chance to solidify and build upon the favorable impression that his victory created.

It is only available to him only right now.

Unless he acts to extend it, the favorable glow of publicity from his victory will not last. It is already slipping away and Kerry is fading to the back pages of the newspapers.

His big mistake is passing by the opportunity that every winner has to take a victory lap.

If I were in charge of Kerry’s campaign, I would have him on that victory lap now–first back to Iowa to thank the people of that state.

Dick Gephardt, John Edwards, and Howard Dean would be with him, thanking their supporters and urging them to support Kerry.

Then back to New Hampshire with the same crew, adding Wesley Clark.

He would touch down in Missouri with Dick Gephardt by his side.

Coincidentally, these three states will be hotly contested in the fall. When November comes, it would not hurt for Kerry to have the voters there believe that he really remembered them even after their primaries were over.

I would take him back to every primary state, including ones that he has little chance of winning, like South Carolina (with Edwards, of course) and Oklahoma (with Clark).

Then, I would send him into the home state of each one of his primary opponents, including especially North Carolina, where he would thank John Edwards, acknowledging that Edwards taught him a lot about campaigning and made him a much better candidate.

During this two-week victory lap, Kerry would touch down in two or three, sometimes four, states every day.

Before it was over, he would have spent a few hours in almost every state.

During the victory lap, he would stay completely positive, never even mentioning the President’s name.

He would show gratitude and share the limelight with his former opponents, basking in their reflected glow.

When the two weeks were over, I would let him rest, raise money, and prepare for his battle with President Bush, knowing that his victory lap had built positive political capital

worth tens of millions of dollars.

Unfortunately for him, he is leaving that victory lap behind–&uot;un-run.&uot;

D.G. Martin hosts North Carolina Bookwatch, which is taking a break during the special programming for UNC-TV’s &uot;Festival.&uot; It will return to the air in the spring.