Tuesday, January 20, 2004
You know, I've been thinking a little more about my scenarios below, and I wonder if the real battle shaping up in New Hampshire is for third place . . . between Clark and Edwards.
Dean's not going to drop below 20%. Kerry is at 20% and rising. Clark is at 20% and falling. Edwards is suddenly credible, and it's not like he was polling at zero in New Hampshire before Iowa (he was at 8%, in fact).
Once again, I reiterate that I think Edwards is in the best position to pick up Gephardt voters, for cultural/regional and personal chemistry reasons. He's also potentially in the position to pick up Lieberman voters should any of them decide not to throw away their votes. Why? Because Lieberman voters are surely voting primarily on Iraq, and Edwards is the only other consistently pro-war voice in the primaries (Kerry's a waffler and Clark and Dean are outspokenly against). Edwards isn't going to adopt Lieberman's rhetoric or strategy, but if he's perceived as the "electable hawk" he could pull a little from Lieberman.
If the dynamics of the race don't change dramatically (which, of course, they could in about 15 minutes), we could see an Edwards pop as well as a Kerry pop, and we could be looking at Edwards and Clark each fighting for spot #3 and each fighting to stay above 15% (the threshold to win delegates).
Moreover, this is the kind of development that could have a bandwagon effect. Edwards' biggest problem has been getting anyone to pay attention to him; from the beginning, lots of folks assumed he was running for Vice President. (I was one of them.) Well, if he picks up in the New Hampshire polls, that'll get more people to pay attention to him. And if more people pay attention to him, I suspect he wins votes.
The guy with the most to gain and the most to lose from New Hampshire now is Wesley Clark. He can recover from a third-place finish if he does well on Feb 3rd (wins Arizona, wins Oklahoma, places in South Carolina after Edwards). If he comes in second, after Dean or Kerry, he'll get a boost, and he'll be very likely to do well on Feb 3rd, after which he's really the front-runner. But if he comes in fourth . . . I don't know how easily he could recover from that. It would be a tremendous come-down from expectations, and Clark's whole candidacy is premised on electability. The air could come out of that balloon very quickly.
The guy with the most to lose (apart from Dean, of course) is Kerry. If he doesn't come in second, he's toast; he has no resources to fight on in the Feb 3rd states. Ideally, he needs to win; if he comes in a close second to Dean, that's pretty good, and enough to keep fighting. If he comes in third, it's over, Iowa notwithstanding. Expectations are now enormously high for Kerry in this state. And he's fighting both Dean and Clark, 'cause if Dean gets a big enough lead (say, if he comes in above 30%), *he's* the comeback kid.
And the guy with the most pure upside is Edwards. There are no expectations that he'll even get delegates in New Hampshire. It's much more important for him to win South Carolina plus some other state (Missouri, for example). If he comes in third and wins delegates in New Hampshire, that's positive momentum going into Feb 3rd. The guy he's competing with for that momentum isn't Kerry or Dean. It's Clark.