The End of the Beginning Alas, it is now time to wrap up my Back Seat Driving column. The original idea for this column was to blast off to Mars so to speak and cover the alien yet oddly parallel universe of Democratic nomination politics from my experience in the GOP primary wars. With John Kerry now the presumptive nominee my work is over. I’m waaaay too far in the tank for the President to write on the general election. Of course, if the Kucinich Master Plan springs into action and he surges madly ahead, I’ll come back. Meanwhile, I’ll sign off with a few observations about the race that was and the election now to come:

1. Presidential re-elects are a referendum on the incumbent. It is vital that the Bush campaign understand this. While raising Kerry’s negatives by connecting the slippery Senator to his uber-liberal voting record — with spot welding gear if necessary — is an important part of a winning Bush strategy it is not the ultimate key.

2. Kerry won, but won lucky. Dean held the front-runner’s position all year and collapsed just in time for Kerry to easily trot away with the nomination. Kerry is still untested in a tough race and he needs a clearer general election message.

3. Both the Bush and Kerry campaigns can be a touch arrogant. They should be honest about their weaknesses and move ruthlessly to address them before the big show in the fall.

4. The economy, not Iraq, is the big driver of the campaign. Win the economic issue cluster and you will win the campaign.

5. McGovern ’72 staffer Milt Gwirtzman’s First Rule of Politics remains true 32 years later: “Nothing that happens before the first Presidential primary/caucus really has any relevance at all.”

6. John Edwards won’t be VP. Kerry would need a food tester. Forget all the happy talk: I’d bet a million that Kerry hates the guy for staying in the race after Wisconsin and forcing him to spend a bunch of money.

7. Missouri and Ohio will decide the race. The Democrats will reach into the Midwest with a VP who doesn’t upstage Kerry; probably Gephardt, maybe Bayh.

8. Bush wins Florida.

9. Theresa Heinz is going to get very, very famous.

10. Bush never dumps Cheney; it would be foolish and he would look weak.

11. Bush will have a comeback and wear down a stumbling Kerry over the summer. Kerry will have a comeback in October and close the race.

12. Joe Trippi will run for President in 2008.

13. Bush on his best game beats Kerry. But that game has been gone for two months and counting. The President needs to get it back by summer to win.

14. I’ve been quite wrong in this space before, so don’t take any of this too seriously.

Thank you to Chuck Todd my savvy and ever-patient editor and to John Fox Sullivan and the entire Hotline family for letting me run around and play journalist with a full set of dangerous grown-up power tools and valuable space in the famous Hotline. Thanks as well to all you e-mailers for your compliments, complaints and tips. It’s been a blast.