Kerry, the Happy Warrior, vs. the Defensive Smirk

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Maybe John Kerry should visit home more often. Thursday night's speech showed a swagger many Americans hadn't seen in the usually staid senator. There was a sense of confidence. And as he gave President Bush backhanded semicompliments, and even took outright slaps at him, Senator Kerry wore an almost knowing smile.

The biggest image to emerge from Boston last week was John Kerry as happy warrior. He didn't just accept the nomination - he grabbed it greedily with both hands. The desire that filled the Fleet Center during the convention seemed to fill him, and it has stuck with him since on the inevitable bus tour that followed.

It would be easy to write it all off as posing and some of it probably is. How one carries oneself before the cameras and the crowds is more than half of selling oneself as a candidate. But in Kerry's case, there's more to it than just appearances. He's feeling pretty good, because considering how close this election is likely to be, Kerry is in a good position.

As the next batch of polls emerges, campaign surrogates will debate the bump Kerry did or didn't get, but it will be largely moot. The Massachusetts senator did well for himself last week by positioning himself smartly for the race ahead: hawkish on military matters, concerned about those struggling economically and, most important, comfortable in his own skin.

Meanwhile as the Bush campaign tooled through the same states on its bus tour, confidence seemed to be flowing this weekend. The president was more emphatic on the stump. He sometimes leaned so far over his lectern into the crowd that it looked as if he wanted to go body surfing. And the smirk was back.

But it's not clear exactly what the president has to be confident about. The dynamics of this race should be troubling to him.

The nation's economic downturn is not all his fault, but any pickup in employment figures probably will come too late to help him now.

The violence in Iraq continues. Outside Kabul, Afghanistan is a mess - last week Doctors Without Borders left the country.

At home, the federal deficit just climbed to a new record.

For now at least the divided electorate is keeping things close, but for how long and to what end? …