Control the storyline of the election. Many noted that Bush did as well as he did in the 2000 election by controlling the storyline: the question about Gore became his trustworthiness in the face of supposed fibs (e.g., "I invented the internet"), whereas the question about Bush was his intellectual competence. Thus, when Bush got through the debates without any serious gaffes, he'd put to rest the one question that dominated the coverage of his campaign.
Democrats can't afford to make this election rest on Bush's intellectual competence. It sets the bar too low, and makes it too easy for the Republicans to allay undecided voters' fears on that score. Democrats need to hammer home that the point of this election is one of Bush's trustworthiness. Thus, as The Economist notes in its recent Lexington column, "Poor George":
The most striking finding in a new poll by the Washington Post is that only 39% of respondents are willing to describe the president as honest and trustworthy, while 52% describe Mr Kerry that way. Republican optimists will argue that this is just an aberration. But there are grounds for thinking this finding is rooted in real political events: in the administration's confident assertion that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; in its insistence that the abuses in Abu Ghraib prison were caused by a few bad apples; in its claim that the cost of last year's Medicare reform bill would be $400 billion, not (in reality) $550 billion. Trust is essential for good government. It is also the quality Mr Bush stressed above others to distinguish his administration from Bill Clinton's. He is in danger of losing voters' trust.Of course, Bush clearly deserves to lose voters' trust. It's up to the Democrats to drive this point home to the voters.