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Inside Politics
The Morning Grind / DayAhead

Pessimism and presidential politics

By John Mercurio
CNN Political Unit

• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
George W. Bush
John F. Kerry
Morning Grind

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- So, who's the real pessimist here?

Is it Sen. John Kerry, who one Republican said Tuesday would have the "dark cloud" over his head in the cartoon version of this campaign? (Wait, this isn't the cartoon version?) Or is it President Bush, who Kerry said Tuesday "believes Americans are willing to accept less than America is used to"?

The truth, of course, is that Kerry, relying on the notion that voters hold a negative view of the Bush-Cheney status quo, fills the traditional role of the "gloom and doom" challenger -- much as Ronald Reagan did, famously and effectively, in 1980 when he asked voters whether they were "better off today than they were four years ago."

That strategy has met with mixed results among Democratic challengers. Walter Mondale tried it in '84 and lost 49 states. Bill Clinton deployed it successfully in '92 against "41", whose attempts to accentuate the positive fell flat when voters saw him as uncaring and blind to their struggles. (Remember rosy scenario?)

With "41" in mind (always), Bush-Cheney is battling Kerry's strategy on two fronts -- dismissing him as the "gloom and doom" candidate while intensifying the charge that the economy is improving.

Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman will hold a conference call at noon ET Wednesday to discuss progress on the economy. Rep. Deborah Pryce of Ohio and Rep. Candice Miller of Michigan will also release statements focusing on their local economic roses. (Kerry is in Pryce's state Wednesday, Miller's Thursday.)

While in Columbus on Wednesday, Kerry will unveil his plan to increase the tax credit for child care and expand after-school programs. He'll attend a fund-raising breakfast at 9:05 a.m. ET before delivering his speech at 10:30 at the Marion Franklin Community Center.

For his part, Bush travels to MacDill Air Force Base/U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida, where he'll give a speech to military personnel and a briefing at Central Command, which has been running much of the war on terrorism. The president will make remarks to military personnel and speak privately with families of fallen soldiers at 1:30 p.m. ET

Child-care proposal

In Ohio, Kerry will propose increasing the value of the child-care tax credit by $800 for a typical middle-class family with two children in day care. Second, Kerry wants to create the "School's Open 'Til 6" after-school program, which aides say will almost double to 3.5 million the number of children who participate.

"Our kids need a safe place to go while their parents are at work, and parents need peace of mind," Kerry said in a statement released Tuesday night. "They need to know that while they're at work, their kids are safe."

Camp Kerry says the child-care tax credit could be paid for with "new proposals" to close corporate tax shelters. Kerry's expansion in after-school programs would be financed by rolling back Bush's tax cuts for families making more than $200,000 a year.

Bush-Cheney has "pre-pounced" on the senator's campaign event. "Kerry's doom and gloom can't hide the fact that Ohio's economy is adding jobs," Bush-Cheney spokesman Steve Schmidt said in a memo previewing Kerry's trip to Columbus.

Dismissing Kerry's claims that the middle class is being "squeezed," Schmidt said that nearly three-quarters of Ohio's payroll job growth in April was in industries paying higher than the national average. Unemployment is down to near its 1990s rate, and Ohio personal incomes increased by almost 1 percent during the fourth quarter of 2003.

"Kerry's sham economic indicator says that our economy was better under Jimmy Carter than under Ronald Reagan, a deception few Ohioans are likely to believe," Schmidt said.

And, of course, former GOP presidential candidate Steve Forbes also weighed in on Kerry.

"If you were doing comic strips you would have the dark cloud above his head, constantly raining," Forbes said during a conference call Tuesday. "If the morning has a little bit of fog, he'll say fog is descending on America. If the sun is out, he'll say that we're going to get overly sunburned. If it rains, he'll say there are floods coming; if it doesn't rain, he'll predict drought. And the fact of the matter is, in terms of the American economy right now, it's in a very strong position."

Kerry tending to business?

Kerry returns to Capitol Hill around 3:30 p.m. ET for what could be the more momentous part of his workday.

Aides aren't saying much about his schedule once he's there, but we suspect he's tending to a little VP business. In the closing days of his selection process, we hear he may meet, schedules permitting, with Sen. John Edwards on Wednesday afternoon and with Wesley Clark on Thursday morning before leaving for Michigan. Clark is headlining a Kerry fund-raiser ($1,000 a head) on Thursday night, co-hosted by former Navy Secretaries John Dalton and Richard Danzig, at a private home in northwest Washington.

Notably, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack is also in Washington on Wednesday. Vilsack joins Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and others at the Families USA press conference on health care at 10:15 a.m. ET at the National Press Club.

And finally, the Philadelphia Daily News endorses Kerry, becoming the first major newspaper in the country to back a candidate in the presidential campaign. The tabloid, which features a picture of Kerry on its cover Wednesday under the words "Elect Him," said the nation "cannot afford another four years of George Bush."

"Unlike the current White House occupant, Kerry can lead America to a brighter, better future," the Daily News writes. "He has shown the personal courage, compassion, intellect and skill to lead this country in a time of war abroad and economic troubles at home. He is a serious man for a serious time."

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