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Kerry's 2004 post-debate surge and how it fizzled

October 11, 2012|By James Rainey
  • Former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kerry answers a question during the presidential debate in Tempe, Ariz.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kerry answers a… (Ron Edmonds / Associated…)

When John F. Kerry clearly won his first debate against President George W. Bush in 2004, the Democrat felt his campaign finally lift off the ground.

A bunch of polls showed him surging. “Most concerning” to President Bush, said one wire story at the time, was a Gallup poll that showed Democrat Kerry had moved into a dead heat with the Republican incumbent.

President Bush would remain locked in a virtual dead heat with the challenger for the rest of the race, but push ahead enough, in the end, to win a second term. The recollection of that Republican “comeback,” if it can be called that, now comes as an ironic tonic to jittery Democrats.

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With President Obama slipping in the polls after a weak debate showing last week, they like to hear stories about another distracted incumbent who fumbled on the public stage, yet went on to win a second term.

The Bush recovery did not become apparent immediately. Even after their second debate in 2004, polls still showed Kerry with a fractional lead.

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll three weeks out from that election had Kerry 1% ahead among likely voters. But Bush wound up winning the election. In the popular vote he had an advantage of 3 million, taking a second term with 50.7% to Kerry's 48.3%.

Does that have any bearing whatsoever on what will happen in 2012? We cop out on that one. Stay tuned.

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