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Inside Politics

A strong showing, but long road ahead

Bush lays out agenda, energizes base

Bush's speech energized his conservative base.
Watch for Carlos Watson's analysis on CNN during the RNC. He's on the air in the 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and noon hours ET, and in the 8 p.m. hour as well.
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CNN's Carlos Watson offers the "Inside Edge'' on the final day of the RNC.
Carlos Watson
The Inside Edge

NEW YORK (CNN) -- President Bush needed to give a good speech, and he did.

His tone was confident and relaxed, and he nimbly handled several hot topics -- including his own shortcomings, from his grasp of English to his "swagger."

Politically, Bush hit each of the three goals he needed to meet entering the convention: make terrorism the race's dominant issue and depict Kerry as too risky to protect the nation; reframe his record on the economy and the Iraq war; and convince voters that he has a new and compelling agenda.

The president clearly energized his conservative base and, all in all, capped a generally solid Republican convention. (Special report: America Votes 2004, the Republican convention)

The lone discordant note, perhaps, was Georgia Sen. Zell Miller's fiery address Wednesday (then again, one's judgment of that speech likely depends on their political leanings). Democrats will also point out the lack of mentions of (still at large) al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the conservative stances Bush made on social issues.

With Sen. John Kerry jumping into the fray right away -- he and running mate Sen. John Edwards staged a midnight rally in Ohio moments after Bush's speech ended, calling the incumbent "unfit to lead this nation" -- a possible Bush bounce seems even more likely to be limited and/or brief. (Full story)

As much as a 3 to 5 percentage point jump is possible, with both campaigns focusing intently on any movement in key swing states such as Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania.

Kerry's fresh push and Friday's unemployment report may further challenge the president's post-convention momentum.

In any case, there is both a long and short campaign ahead. With only 61 days remaining before the election, each week could feel like a month and mark a new phase in the campaign.

Multiple players will help determine the campaign's flow, including Congress, hot Senate candidates, "527" groups (like "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" and the "Media Fund") and, notably, each side's surrogates. Unpredictable events -- whether weather or terror -- could also impact the election.

International events may also influence the terrain, and not just in Iraq. For example, the tense situation in Russia or either a drop or rise in oil prices may have an effect. The Australian elections in October could help or embarrass a key Bush ally, Prime Minister John Howard, and alter voters' perceptions on the war in Iraq.

And, of course, there's the prospect of another terrorist attack and the bin Laden wild card. (Notably, when U.S. forces captured ex-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Bush got a boost in the polls.)

So stay tuned. This is likely a very intense election, with multiple poll swings, big policy differences, high turnout and $1 billion worth of very personal political campaigning.

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