I don't have time right now for the long entry I'd like to write on this subject, but I think we're going to be looking back on the last two weeks as the moment that the Kerry campaign jumped the shark and started sliding down the Mondale/Dukakis/Gore road.
This opens me entirely to being slam-dunked into the Dustbin of Stupid Presidential Campaign Predictions. It's a long time until November and fresh events and revelations can change things drastically. Anarchists could run riot at the GOP convention, get beat up by Republican delegates on camera, and win the sympathy vote for Kerry. Bush could lose his sanity in the middle of his speech and start babbling like an ayatollah on acid. Dick Cheney and Colin Powell could be revealed as child pornographers.
LOTS of things can happen to change the dynamics of a race, and this one still has over 60 days to go. But I believe that barring such events and revelations, the current indicators say that Kerry is on his way down. Of course, I'm the guy who took Gephardt in the Veepstakes immediately after Iowa, so take the prediction with whatever amount of salt grains you prefer.
The major factor in my calculations is Kerry's insistence of using Vietnam as his campaign keystone. I think it's rapidly becoming a millstone, and for many more reasons than just the Swift Boat ads. Frankly, I think it was a tactical and strategic blunder of enormous proportions, and will sink him. Vietnam is still an open wound in the American psyche, and poking it with a sharp stick does not win many hearts and minds. Especially in wartime.
Among other things, Kerry's insistence on trying to own both sides of Vietnam plays into the flip-flopping meme the GOP has managed to hang on him. And it doesn't play in a good way. Consider that Kerry is proud of his service to the country, and his medals won in committing what he himself called war crimes and atrocities...cognitive dissonance. Irreconcilable images.
Having put so much of his weight onto the Vietnam issue, Kerry is left without too many other tools to effectively use at this late date. He's on the defensive now and is likely to pretty much stay on the defensive right through election day. And challengers don't win playing defense. If Kerry can't change the momentum (and the subject) back into his favor, and quickly, he's done.
HINT: If you're a Kerry supporter, "Vote John Kerry for Another Vietnam!" is NOT a good subliminal message to have floating around the country right now. But that's the message that is getting out. And it won't win the election.