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Last Updated: Friday, 16 July, 2004, 09:04 GMT 10:04 UK
Campaign column: Is no news good news?

By Tom Carver
BBC correspondent in Washington

Cpl Wassef Ali Hassoun in a video broadcast Sunday 27 June
Corporal Ali Hassoun failed to dominate the US news
A curious thing is happening with Iraq.

It is disappearing from the front pages in the United States. I say this knowing full well that on the day you read this article, it may well not be the case.

But in general since Iraqis assumed control of their own affairs, its stock as a news story in this country has been in steep decline.

In fact, the only politically explosive headlines on Iraq in the past three weeks have been historical: the shoddy intelligence that led to the war and the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

American soldiers continue to be killed almost every day, but the news is usually relegated to the inside pages.

Even when Corporal Ali Hassoun was threatened with and then spared a gruesome beheading, it didn't dominate the news cycle - another soldier, Specialist Matt Maupin, is still missing after allegedly being executed, but you have to look very hard to find the any news on him.

Since the day of the handover from American to Iraqi control, the story has been morphing from a "war" to yet another peacekeeping mission involving American soldiers, like Afghanistan.

And because in this post-11 September world, Americans expect their troops to be patrolling in places they couldn't find on a map, peacekeeping is not news any more.

What does all this mean for the presidential race?

George W Bush at a campaign event
Democrats say the damage to George Bush has been done
The Democrats say it means absolutely nothing because the damage to George W Bush has already been done.

By going to war in the first place, by misusing the intelligence, by overblowing the threat, President Bush has already lost the trust of the American people. And once lost, it is impossible to regain.

The Republicans say it depends on what happens in Iraq over the next four months.

If it is peaceful, or at least no worse than the present, people's view of the occupation will change.

It'll be easier for Mr Bush to make the case that, even though he didn't find any weapons of mass destruction, the world is safer without Saddam Hussein. In other words, it's hard to argue with success.

Who is right? Out in the swing states, I have heard both views expressed equally passionately in recent weeks.

Democrats' conundrum

John Kerry has a pleasant problem he never thought he would have: too much money.

US election fundraising:
Who's giving, who's getting, who's spending

Some time before the Democratic convention at the end of July, he must decide whether to decline the public funds he is entitled to for fighting the election.

As soon as its convention is over, each party is given $75m by the taxpayer. In return they are not allowed to spend any of their own money. The idea is that there is a level playing field in the final weeks of the campaign.

But the problem for the Democrats is that the Republicans are holding their convention a month later than them, so they only need to stretch their $75m over two months - not three.

The solution, some Democrats say, is for John Kerry to opt out of the whole system.

He would not get the $75m but he would be free to raise unlimited amounts of his own.

Recently, the anger towards President Bush has generated about $30m per month for John Kerry, so it may well be worth doing financially.

However, he risks the ire of his own party, which is hoping to channel Mr Kerry's unused funds to cash-strapped congressional races. He would also have to spend precious time fundraising instead of campaigning.

It's a difficult conundrum, and certainly one that this time last year, no Democrat would have thought they would be in.

Previous campaign columns:


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