Wednesday, July 23, 2003
Speaking of the latest TNR, why is there so much confusion about who Howard Dean is? His supporters and his opponents alike seem to think he's George McGovern: a down-the-line lefty. A few centrists who remember that he was a tightwad as governor and that he's pro-gun, and who are impressed by his grass-roots support, think he's John McCain. But he's neither of these guys. He's Jimmy Carter. He's obscure, self-righteous and mean-spirited, he was given no chance to win the nomination and is now a real contender, but he is profiting from a weak field and from his own genuine political skills. Dean has significant grass-roots support not because he's the only lefty in the race (Dick Gephardt?) nor because he's the only liberal in the race (John Kerry?) but because he's the only person anyone could possibly get excited about. Kerry is Al Gore without the charm; Gephardt is a retread; Edwards is a bimbo; Lieberman is your rabbi; and Graham is a loonie.
I still say Kerry gets the nomination because he's the only one in this race everyone in the party can live with. He has to screw up massively to lose. Gephardt has failed so many times in the last 15 years that failing has become part of his personality. Edwards is ridiculous; I can't believe he's still running. Lieberman is running a terrible campaign and will always be perceived as too right-wing for the party. I don't even know why I mention Graham. Kerry is distant, rich, condescending and a waffler. But Dean is a loose cannon who blacks, Latinos and union-members are not supporting. Peronality-wise and in terms of his positioning, he's Jimmy Carter, but his issues platform and natural base make him look more like Paul Tsongas or Dick Lamm: socially liberal (gay rights and abortion), fiscally conservative, pro-death (capital punishment and abortion) - he's an eat-your-vegetables candidate more than anything. They don't win, generally.
Iowa is a Dean-Kerry-Gephardt contest. New Hampshire is mostly Dean-Kerry; Lieberman will have to make an impression to stay in the game, but he's waiting for the Southern states to make his big move (a longer shot as his black support drains away). If Dean wins both Iowa and New Hampshire, and Kerry doesn't win a bunch on Feb 3 (South Carolina, Missouri, Arizona, Washington), then I agree, Kerry has a problem and Dean's the front-runner. But New Hampshire should be close either way, and Dean should have huge problems in South Carolina and Missouri with his tiny black support. If Lieberman continues to crumble, Kerry becomes clearly most-likely to win South Carolina and Arizona, with Missouri as a contest between Kerry and Gephardt (assuming he's still in), which leaves Washington as Dean's strongest state to make a play for. If he wins New Hampshire and Washington, this is a bit of a race. I mean, maybe I overestimate Kerry, but I think he's a tough campaigner, he's won a bunch of elections including against the smart and popular Governor Weld, he's got a strong team, he's raising money, he's solid in the polls . . . His only problem is that nobody actually wants him to be the nominee, much less President. But nobody wanted Bob Dole to be the nominee either; nobody wanted Michael Dukakis. Sometimes the only guy who can win the nomination wins it, even though nobody wants him to. Sorry, Mickey K.
Boy, I bet the Democrats'll be thrilled to have a long, drawn out primary battle between two liberal New Englanders defining their party for the next year.