1. Nominate the Southern guy. Tomorrow when I write "Five things we did right," I'll talk about things Kerry did well -- there definitely were some. But next time we absolutely have to nominate a Southern or border Democrat for president if we want to win. There's an automatic suspicion that red-staters have of Massachusetts types that makes them immediately willing to listen to the right-wing spin machine. Any spin that attempts to connect the Democrat to stereotypes of the effete liberal Northerner will be unduly successful, however hard we try to dispel it by having our candidate go hunting and talk about his military service. But if we nominate a Southern or border-state Democrat whom red-staters can identify as a normal guy like them, they'll be more charitable in assessing his character. He'll also be less threatening to those dreaded "Moral Values" voters, and some of them might not go out in the rain to vote against him.
2. Run a convention that actually accomplished something. Whatever the polling results showed (and I don't know what they showed, since they were all different), we failed to establish any of the things we needed during the convention. I wish Kerry had given a convention speech where he laid out the foreign policy narrative of the previous years, including Bush's failure to capture OBL, the lack of focus on al-Qaeda, the rush to war on Iraq, and the bad decisions that the administration made in running Iraq. We ended up not getting any of the facts we needed into play. I wish Obama had given a speech that had done something other than elevate his rock-star status in the Democratic Party. The sole thing that got established for the Kerry campaign during the debate was that Kerry was a veteran who had pulled Jim Rassmann out of the water. (Here I ignore Clinton's wonderful speech and the funny hamster story.) Then the Smear Boaters came along and damaged whatever we gained...
3. Hit back quick and hard against the Smear Boaters. These guys should've been instant laughingstocks. Schachte had claimed to be on a boat with 2 other guys and Kerry, and that Kerry wounded himself with a grenade launcher. The two other guys said he wasn't there and that nobody used a grenade launcher. The stories were more transparently false than the much-ballyhooed CBS memos, and yet they hung out there in the media for a month.
4. Do some straight-up Osama-bashing. Kerry talked about Osama more than Bush, which was right. But he should've pushed this to the point of saturation. Bush couldn't talk tough about Osama, since he hadn't caught Osama. Kerry should've been invoking 9/11 and talking about how disgusting it was that the perpetrator was still running around. Continued sincere expressions of anger about this would've eaten up some of the Bush lead. The major flaw with this strategy is that early on, there was no guarantee that Bush wouldn't catch Osama by election time. But in the last two months, it would've scored plenty of easy points.
5. Don't let the GOP stack the ballot-initiative calendar. I'm assume a portion of the reigning conventional wisdom -- the GOP won this election in large part by loading ballots in 11 states with ballot initiatives to deny gays the right to marry. Did this really increase Ohio Republican turnout enough to let Bush win? I don't know. But it seems to have added to GOP turnout wherever it came up. If at all possible, Democrats should've let Republicans pass these measures through legislation rather than as ballot initiatives. (Of course, stopping the initiatives with a majority vote is preferable, but letting them become turnout-boosters is a disaster.) For all our 527s, there's an ancient and powerful organizational advantage that the GOP has over us. On the Sunday before the election, they can get a sizable percentage of their people to sit through an hour of moral indoctrination that culminates in the imperative to go out and vote. Giving them salient ballot initiatives to rant about just makes their job that much easier.
6. Run a "I'm not concerned about Osama" ad mocking Bush's earlier comment. Where were we with this one? Running the ad would've gotten Bush's gaffe onto the TV-talk-show docket after the last debate, and stole some of the spotlight from the Mary Cheney issue. By itself, the ad wouldn't have changed things too dramatically, but combined with an earlier emphasis on antiterrorism and the Osama-bashing mentioned above, it would've hit Bush quite hard.