Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Thoughts as Primary Season Kicks Off

Yesterday was DC's non-binding and utterly meaningless primary which Dean won 43% (or so) to 34% for Sharpton, Mosley-Braun's 12% and Kucinich's 8%. The Iowa Caucuses are Monday followed by New Hampshire's Primary a week later. As positions and preferences now become serious and start to count for something, my read on the state of play:

Dean. Not many people were excited about Dean before me (tuned into him since June of 2002 at the latest, thank you very much). I certainly have not become a "Deanie" and have never committed myself to "he's got/ gonna get my vote" status. That said, my interest in him for the time being at least has peaked. I simply have not been feeling the energy from his campaign this past month or so. The concern with Dean is his organization- namely keeping them motivated for the nominee, in the case that it isn't Dean. The problem for Dean is the front-runner's problem. He's no longer defying expectations (which is all the press gives a shit about) which leaves him with only two outcomes: failing to meet expectations or doing what he's supposed to do. Neither one produces surges of support though meeting expectations over time is a challenge that will say something about the strength of his organization.

Kerry. Apparently coming back from the dead. He entered the race as the front-runner. He slipped badly and currently sits third in current New Hampshire polls. A third place finish in NH for the Massachussetts Senator would almost certainly be fatal. Which is why he retooled his strategy and has spent the majority of his time in Iowa of late. A strong showing in Iowa (an almost 2nd or better that could involve knocking off either "local boy" Gephardt or "front-runner" Dean) which reenergizes the campaign in New Hampshire propelling him to a strong enough finish there (strong second or a win) to keep turning "energy" victories into strong showings in the subsequent wave of primaries. For Kerry, a powerful bounce out of New Hampshire will be very important to creating desirable results in the February 3 primaries. If he doesn't create enough magic in Iowa, the whole she-bang could fall apart quite rapidly.

Clark. I initially strongly disliked Clark's decision to skip the Iowa Caucuses. If you feel you can't show well in a state during the primary season (particularly one which the Democrats can carry in November), do you have any business being the party's general election candidate? But Clark faced special circumstances from his late start and the importance of an established organization in the caucuses. I still dislike the strategy, but he earns points for consistency (he has skipped the ensuing Iowa debates) and executing the skip Iowa strategy masterfully. He's busy running around New Hampshire passing Kerry in the polls and eating into Dean's formidable lead. If nobody comes out of Iowa hot and Clark keeps his momentum he's in a great early position.

Gephardt. I think Gephardt is in trouble. He's poised for a dogfight in Iowa from both Dean and Kerry (with Edwards moving up just enough that he could be a player in the volatile caucus system). If he does not win Iowa, there is not much momentum to be gained and he does not sit in a strong position in New Hampshire right now. Gephardt looks like he needs the other candidates at this point to keep the race jumbled with several viable candidates in the race into March if not later.

Edwards. Edwards is where the action is. From the Des Moines Register endorsement last weekend to enough growth in the Iowa polls to pull him into feasible striking distance of the leaders, Edwards is picking up the most favorable coverage. This seems particularly appropriate to me. Edwards, policy wise and vision wise, has been the most articulate candidate. He flashes details and specifics with his platitudes, an art the other candidates do not possess (His history as a trial lawyer certainly serves him well in this regard). A strong showing in Iowa (which currently seems very likely) followed by a similar finish in New Hampshire (currently the longer shot but Iowa's momentum may change that) places Edwards in a great position as primaries move to the South. There is, as always, a danger here if he doesn't win South Carolina. If I were picking a candidate right now (I've got more than a month before my time comes), I'd be hard pressed not to pick Edwards. I've said before that there is just something missing from his campaign but that may have changed.

Sharpton, Mosley-Braun, Kucinich. Not really relevant but also not really going anywhere (i.e. away). They had their high points in DC I imagine which is sad since it didn't count for anything.

Did I forget anyone? Oh, right. Lieberman. The one clear loser in all of the Democratic manuevering is Joe Lieberman. He's not running in Iowa (even though he's been in the race for over a year). He's not showing strong in New Hampshire. All along Liebeman has relied on the February 3 Southern primaries as his launching pad so these developments are not terribly troubling. Certainly, Lieberman would prefer to do well in New Hampshire to make things easier down south. But that does not seem to be happening. More troubling for Joe would be the momentum that Kerry, Clark, and Edwards (in no particular order) are building. Particularly if two of them come out of New Hampshire "hot" along with a still strong Dean. That would seem to be real trouble for Lieberman. My overriding concern with him is his negativity. When he goes negative, he drops personal bombs which, I think, dampen the support for both the target and for Lieberman. As appealing as he may be come general election season (I don't see it), he strikes me as a better candidate for next to drop out than for the nomination at this point.

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