Two Can Play That Game….Before the Democratic Convention, you may recall, Republicans played a little game they like to call “Inflating Expectations for Other People,” telling any reporter who would listen that they fully expected John Kerry to come out of Boston with a 15-point poll bounce. What’s been clear over the past six months to anyone who reads polls is that the country is not only firmly divided, but a good 90 percent or more of voters seem to have already made up their minds.

So the whole idea of a phantom 15-point increase in Kerry’s favor was ridiculous from the start. This campaign is going to move in increments of two or three points, with a final push at the end from those infamous swing voters who don’t start paying attention until they’re holding a butterfly ballot up to their face, and maybe not even then. (For a great take on swing voters, read this Alan Wolfe op-ed that appeared in the New York Times in 2000. As Wolfe puts it, “There is something wrong with a system that listens the most to those who care about the nation the least.”)

The Kerry campaign has now decided to join the same game, sending out a mass email from pollster Mark Mellman, who notes that, “Following their conventions, the average elected incumbent has held a 16-point lead, while winning incumbents have led by an average of 27 points.” Ooof.

Experience tells us that Republicans will prepare for the Convention (not to mention the debates) by implying that their guy will be lucky if he can walk to the podium without tripping over his untied shoelaces. It worked in 2000. But, to point out the obvious, Bush wasn’t president then. He now has to simultaneously project command of the office and a lack of confidence in his ability to match up against this John Kerry fella. Maybe they can still pull it off this time. But Democrats should keep the pressure on to raise the bar high.

Amy Sullivan

Amy Sullivan is a Chicago-based journalist who has written about religion, politics, and culture as a senior editor for Time, National Journal, and Yahoo. She was an editor at the Washington Monthly from 2004 to 2006.