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Inside Politics

How Bush can sustain his momentum

Three goals for GOP at national convention

Watch for Carlos Watson's analysis on CNN during the RNC.
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CNN's Carlos Watson previews President Bush's coming speech to the convention.
Day One: Monday

Theme: 'A Nation of Courage'

10 a.m. ET: Call to order, RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie; business session to 2:30 p.m.

7:45 p.m to 11:15 p.m. ET: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg welcomes delegates. Speakers include Ron Silver, Lindsey Graham, Bernard Kerik, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain

Highlight: A tribute to former President Gerald Ford
Carlos Watson
The Inside Edge
America Votes 2004

(CNN) -- President Bush enters the Republican National Convention on a bit of a roll.

Three new polls, including a CNN/Gallup poll, suggest that the recent swift boat controversy has hurt Sen. John Kerry and helped to propel Bush to a narrow lead (albeit still within the margin of error) -- Bush leads 50-47 among likely voters.

And though Bush is not doing as well as recent winning incumbent presidents at this point (Nixon, Reagan and Clinton had double-digit leads in late August), the president may still get a post-convention bounce.

To get that post-convention bounce, Bush needs to achieve three things. (Special report: America Votes 2004, the Republican convention)

First, he and other Republican speakers like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani must make terrorism the dominant issue in the election, and make Kerry seem too risky as a viable protector of the homeland. Terrorism is the president's strongest issue in polls, but voters rate the economy and the Iraq war as equally important deciding factors.

Second, to continue his recent momentum and attain even a modest bounce, Bush and speakers like Sen. John McCain of Arizona must reframe his record on the economy and the war.

In a recent poll, Americans were largely split about whether the economy was getting better or worse and whether the war in Iraq was worth the cost.

Although Bush may never convince a majority of voters that his record is strong in those areas, he needs to try to convince a solid majority that he has performed as well as possible given a variety of challenges: the stock market bursting and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in the case of the economy, and bad intelligence in the case of Iraq.

Finally, Bush needs to convince voters -- especially undecided voters -- that he has a new and compelling second-term agenda. In 1992, the president's father suffered not only from a bad economy, but also from a perception that he did not have a broader agenda of affirmative things that he wanted to achieve in a second term.

To rebut that image and make an affirmative case for the undecided voters, Bush is likely to lay out ambitious plans for health care reform, social security reform and tax simplification.

If Bush achieves those three goals, he will likely secure not only a modest national poll bounce, but also bounces in specific swing states.

To stop Bush from catching fire, Kerry will need to be as successful as the Republicans were during the DNC in getting a strong counter-message into local as well as national media. Indeed, one of the little-noticed reasons that Kerry did not get a bigger bounce from the DNC was that day after day and night after night, Republicans got out their message into both national and local media: that he was avoiding a liberal Senate record and is a waffler.

Although Kerry has thus far not been as effective in the presidential campaign at counterpunching and redirecting the conversation, he may once again get some help in doing that. Rather than just the 527s, Kerry may also get important counterpunching help from protesters, high-profile surrogates and even bloggers.

We'll watch to see if this happens as the Inside Edge offers daily analysis of the 38th Republican National Convention.

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