Reply Hazy, Try Again … Again … Again …

This week has magazine scribes raising sweeping questions and relying on a range of sources to supply a range of Magic-8-Ball-like responses. In other words, same shtick, different week.

U.S. News & World Report’s Roger Simon interviews the Bush campaign’s chief strategist, Matthew Dowd, who, along with his colleagues, believes Bush “will win, but nobody is talking landslide.” Simon asks, “Might we not have another election where the winner is not known until weeks after Election Day?” Dowd replies that he and his team are “watching that. Closely.” Signs point to yes.

In other (U.S.) News, is the State Department punishing the foreign media for its anti-Bush attitude? Outlook good. “For the first time since Ronald Reagan ran for re-election in 1984,” Paul Bedard writes in Washington Whispers, “the State Department isn’t pampering the foreign press by outfitting high-tech briefing rooms at the political conventions.” A State spokesperson says, “Money’s tight.” And an unnamed but “angry administration official” who “barks” tells Bedard, ‘They can come and pay like everyone else! It’s ridiculous; this is foreign press welfare.’”

BusinessWeek’s Richard S. Dunham is of the conventional wisdom that “Kerry is well behind where he ought to be against a President who’s had a stretch of bad road,” and it “can only be chalked up to the senator’s stiffness on the stump and a strategic team with the reflexes of a Cape Cod sandbar.” Dunham wonders, “can Kerry come back from his silent spring?” Reply hazy, try again.

To Newsweek’s Howard Fineman and T. Trent Gegax, Kerry’s strategy is anything but hazy. “For now, at least,” the duo writes, “Kerry’s strategy is clear: if the country wants a commander in chief, pick the one who has actually been under fire in war, not the stateside guy who got us into Iraq.” But, Fineman and Gegax ask, is Kerry’s “plan to take it to Bush on national security a masterstroke, or a fool’s errand?” Cannot predict now.

Time’s Karen Tumulty - if you can tear yourself away from the “Secrets of the Teen Brain” cover story - finds Kerry “tripping over himself on the trail, but not without a little help from the Bush campaign.” Do assorted unnamed Kerry insiders concur with Tumulty that Kerry “has something of a gift for the toxic sound bite?” It is decidedly so. Tumulty quotes an unnamed “Democratic strategist,” a “former aide,” and “an advisor” saying as much.

Is the Republican National Committee wounding Kerry with its well-staffed, lightening-quick opposition research operation? Signs point to yes. The Atlantic’s Joshua Green delivers an absorbingly detailed piece on all things opposed, which, he writes, “will be the key, and hidden, factor in the campaign” for both sides. Green concludes ominously that “the portrait Republican researchers are painting of John Kerry is the one they painted of Al Gore.”

Jeffrey Toobin recently “had a conversation [with Kerry] about his legal career” and is kind enough to share the fruits of that discussion with New Yorker readers. Has Kerry’s six-year stint practicing law in the ’70s and early ’80s - first as an assistant prosecutor in the Middlesex (Mass.) County D.A.’s office, and later in his own practice - helped him in his long-unfolding quest for the White House? It is certain.”For a politically ambitious young lawyer like Kerry,” Toobin writes, “especially one who was known only as a protester, it… made sense to earn a law-enforcement credential.” Moreover, Toobin writes, Kerry - like Clinton - “has used tough-on-crime positions to offset an otherwise predictably liberal profile.”

And finally, no need for Magic 8-Ball forecasts in Ben McGrath’s “Talk of the Town.” McGrath introduces one Kathryn Cason, a founder of the Requisite Organization International Institute, who “scientific[ally]” predicts - with, she says, “one hundred percent” confidence - this election’s outcome: John Kerry will beat George Bush. It all has to do, Cason contends, with the candidate’s “serial/conditional processing on the campaign trail.”

Analysis of “serial/conditional processing” or a black, plastic sphere containing a floating icosahedron?

It’s a toss up.

Liz Cox Barrett

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.