The Race’s Dynamics With Dean as the Front Runner
Adam Nagourney of the New York Times writes in Sunday’s paper that the Democrats see a daunting task in toppling Bush in 2004, given the money advantage that he will have, and the fact that the party is perceived as being badly split at the time. There is a lot of inside-the-beltway hand wringing in the article, and some cogent points, to wit:
Many prominent Democrats said that Mr. Bush might be vulnerable, given problems with the economy, and continued American fatalities in Iraq. But they said he could be unseated only by an aggressive, partisan challenge that built on Democratic anger lingering from the 2000 election, and by a nominee who somehow managed to survive a complicated nominating fight that was pulling their party to the left.
"There's at least a 90 percent likelihood right now that either Dean or Kerry will be the nominee," said Mr. Kerry's campaign manager, Jim Jordan. "And the race is as even as it can be. His advantages are purely stylistic. Kerry's are substantive and experiential."
Mr. Gephardt's advisers say he would almost certainly fold his second bid for the White House if he lost Iowa, his neighboring state, which he won when he ran for president in 1988. And many Democrats in Iowa say Dr. Dean would probably defeat Mr. Gephardt if the vote was today.
What is increasingly clear, several Democrats said, is that primary voters are not likely to choose someone who is promising to run a nuanced campaign against Mr. Bush. Dr. Dean has set the tone on that, as he made clear again today.
Harsh or not, Dr. Dean's attacks on Mr. Bush have heartened Democratic audiences, and the pitch of attacks on Mr. Bush by other Democrats has increased with each new sign of Dr. Dean's success.
From a horse-race point of view, I would argue that if Dean beat Kerry in New Hampshire and came in first in Iowa, both Kerry and Gephardt would be mortally wounded. Kerry’s people of course will deny that a loss in New Hampshire to Dean cripples them, but the truth is that fundraising will dry up after such a loss, and the momentum will all be with Dean if he bags the first two contests.
For Kerry, the only basis for him to be viable after a loss in New Hampshire would be to emerge as the leading “Anyone But Dean” candidate, as a favorite of the party insiders that Dean is running against. But that would end up as a campaign of the Washington insiders, with a strong DLC backing, trying furiously to hold off Dean and an energized base, and it is not at all clear that Kerry would be the choice of insiders to carry the ABD banner, when someone like Lieberman could claim it just as well and compete in the South more effectively.
Ron Fournier of the Associated Press writes a solid piece today on the challenges facing both Bush and Dean, with some interesting points. Aside from the usual “he’s liberal enough to get the nomination and lose the election” pabulum about Dean, a Dukakis comparison is drawn, which I think is laughable. Dukakis was more of an establishment candidate than Dean is, and showed no ability to counterpunch, whereas Dean has already demonstrated a “the best defense is a good offense” style. Dukakis based his campaign on “competence, not ideology” which lost for him because Lee Atwater then attacked without response Dukakis’ own competence. Dean on the other hand has a record and positions that are anything but down-the-line liberal, and can easily make Bush’s incompetence in many areas a campaign issue, as Michael Tomasky of the American Prospect points out. In addition, Donna Brazille makes the point in the Fournier piece that the GOP better be worried about Dean’s ability to get out and enlarge the Democratic base.
The truth is that Dean will have the other eight firing at him now, with varying degrees of intensity. He will have to hold up against that torrent and show he is a worthy frontrunner. Those opposing him with the most to lose (Kerry, Gephardt, and Lieberman) will have to decide if they want to play for the long haul and downplay Dean and concentrate on Bush to position themselves as an “Anyone But Dean” candidate later, or force hand to hand combat now and risk flaming out. My guess at this point is that Gephardt will be forced to go for broke and fight it out with Dean now, and to a lesser degree I think Lieberman will be pushed by the DLC to do the same, to keep their chips in the game. I am less sure about Kerry, whose campaign already seems to think they will be around at the end with Dean and therefore inherit the ABD mantle.