Whos Up, Whos Down Among Democrat Candidates
February 10, 2004
by Joseph P. Tartaro
The state of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by late Summer and early Autumn may have a significant impact on the outcome of the elections. So too will the state of the economy, or at least the publics perception of the economy. And there is a long legislative session ahead in Congress, with thorny issues that can turn supporters into opponents and opponents into supporters. Political careers are built on shifting sands.
The gun issue will be a key factor during the entire 2004 campaign, with some pretending to be pro-gun but supporting measures that could be fatal to their chances in November, such as a renewal of the Clinton gun ban which is due to sunset in September. A vote on that issue could come any time between February and November, and there are other related matters. Perceptions and statements are important, but when actual gun votes are counted, or new gun bills signed, voters who place the Second Amendment first can switch or even stay home.
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) overpowered Howard Dean to win New Hampshires primary on Jan. 27, scoring his second-straight campaign victory to establish the four-term senator as the current Democratic Partys presidential front-runner.
Kerry shaded Dean by 13%, winning 39% of the vote to Deans 26%.
Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark were in a distant race for third, both with 12% of the vote. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut took a dreary fifth place with 9% of the New Hampshire vote.
Lieberman rejected advice from some advisers that he abandons his bid for the presidency as did Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-MO) after a poor finish in the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 19. Gephardt conceded the Democratic presidential nomination to one of his rivals, acknowledging after a disappointing fourth-place finish in the Hawkeye State that this didnt come out the way we wanted.
Gephardt, who was alleged to have major union support in Iowa, and who had won the caucuses in earlier campaign years but failed to win his partys nomination, was expected to do much better in Iowa.
However, Gephardt has not yet announced if he will ask his supporters to back one of the other candidates, a campaign year activity that can have dire consequences for high-profile politicians. When the candidate they support does a pratfall, they also suffer. And if the candidate washes out entirely, some of the starch comes out of the big name endorsers. For example, if Dean does go down to defeat, so too, by association, do people like Al Gore and Jimmy Carter, who have endorsed him.
Gephardt and Dean had the strongest organizations to turn out supporters in Iowatraditionally the key in the complicated caucus system. But Kerry and Edwards had the momentum in the races final week, finishing first and second respectively.
The news media was filled with conjecture and comment about the surprising finish, given that the almost continuous polling of voters before the caucuses had Dean and Gephardt way ahead of Kerry and Edwards, the eventual winners.
The talking heads of TV news quickly began to write off Dean and trumpet Kerry after Iowa. They suggested that Dean was finished, in part because of his unusual television concession speech after the caucuses, and expected to count him out in New Hampshire. But while Kerry won again in the Granite State, Dean bounced back much more significantly than some expected.
Both have vowed to continue their campaign for the nomination and were shifting South and West for a seven state primary contest day on Feb. 3. How the two New Englanders will fair in states such as South Carolina, Missouri and Arizona, among the Feb. 3 primary states, will reveal whether or not they are truly candidates with national potential.
The important finishes of Kerry, Dean and Edwards, the latter largely because of a silver medal in Iowa and decent New Hampshire showing, will boost the prospects for all three to secure more donations of campaign funds. Clark if he doesnt do well in South Carolina and Arkansas particularly, is unlikely to be able to stay in the race since his fund-raising prospects are likely to shrivel.
Most of the so-called scientific polls were way off base in the case of the Iowa caucuses; they were somewhat closer in New Hampshire, but well outside the margin of error. This led to many surprise type headlines. The biggest problem may lie in poll methodology, but it may also be a measure of the publics early disinterest or permanent fickleness.
Well know a little more as the candidates shift upward and downward during presidential primary season.