Thoughts on Democratic Ticket Possibilities Next Year
Some of the fine comments I received from my post of late last night about the GOP's allegedly complimentary assessment of Gephardt's chances against Bush next year got me to thinking about our field and more specifically about how a possible ticket for next year may take shape.
First, a point of self-disclosure here. There is no secret that I am a Kerry supporter, although this is not a Kerry site and won't become one. Having said that, I want to be clear about this: not one of our current group of candidates to me is a complete candidate, nor are any of them to me giant killers for next year. I admit the limitations in a Kerry candidacy, and his campaign to date has revealed those problems.
But all of our candidates have flaws and weaknesses and there isn't one near-ideal candidate amongst them, IMHO. Those of you who support Dean of course disagree with me, as is your right. But there still is no evidence that any one of these candidates is seizing the public's attention and support yet, especially when there are still so many undecideds and not one candidate over 30% in any national poll. A contrarian position would be that all of the top six do at least reasonably well in head-to-head matchups against Bush, and the lack of clear national front-runners is a result of numerous choices.
This is not a masked plea for a Hillary Clinton, or even a return of Al Gore. And to be fair, I suspect that Democrats may have been in a similar state in late 1991 as well, but I would defer to CA Pol Junkie on that. The difference this time is that the incumbent will outspend us four or five to one, and will have the media and Ashcroft/Rove/terrorism at his disposal to manipulate events to his benefit. But no matter what each of us thinks about our favorite candidate, not one of the current group will keep Karl Rove up at night between now and next November as much as a newly-slowing economy, still-tanking job market, or ongoing deaths in Iraq will. We simply have no all-stars in the group. Of course, that is what was said in '91 when the A-list candidates stayed out and watched a Bill Clinton come in.
It is also true that the early conventional wisdom which said that the base wanted an anti-war candidate is now unravelling. The pundits who said that Dean surged to his early lead because he was anti-war may have had it wrong. Could it be that he surged to an early lead not because he was anti-war, but because he was proud to be a Democrat, and reminded the base what that meant? The new poll by Democracy Corps shows that Democrats in three key early states actually favor a candidate who supported the war resolution, but who now demands accountability from the Administration while continuing to support the troops. So although we may not have all-stars in the current group, we do have candidates who can appeal to a wide cross-section of the base and independents too.
It's not too early to think down the road towards how a particular candidate's strengths/weaknesses can be matched up with another's to form a solid ticket that gives voters a real choice and reason to dump the incumbents. Traditional ticket-balancing issues such as geography may not matter as much this time as personality and issues-based factors in this post-9/11 world. Also, as much as the party wants a ticket that appeals to, and gets out the base to vote in 2004, (since Rove is focusing almost solely on ensuring their base goes out as well,) any ticket constructed by the Dems needs to not only be a winner with the base but also appeal to the swing voters and their security concerns.
With that in mind, and knowing the possible animosity that some of these candidates have already demonstrated against each other so far (which has really been somewhat tame), if you were to think about possible ticket combinations, and were limited at this point to the candidates in the field now, what ticket do you think would have the best shot against the incumbents? Later on, I plan to ask this question again by opening the discussion up to include those outside the process now (like Bill Richardson for example.) For discussion purposes, I would like to put three combinations out there for you to comment on and counter with your own suggestions.
Dean/Clark: To some, maybe a dream ticket given each's background and possible holes, geography, and their approaches to campaigning. There is also a geographic balance here that can help Dean. It would be fun to watch Dean go after Bush and Clark go after Cheney in the debates. But given the Democracy Corps poll, how would Dean do in the general election if nearly sixty percent of the party's base in early states supported removing Saddam?
Gephardt/Lieberman: Since I don't see either of these guys hooking up with either of the two above, Gephardt's union backing and collateral support throughout the Midwest could be coupled with Lieberman's urban support into a quasi-DLC, pro-invasion ticket. Gephardt could handle Bush just fine in the debates, but would Lieberman fold again this time against Cheney?
Kerry/Edwards: There is an obvious geographic benefit here to such a pairing, and such a ticket would appeal to the youth vote. Kerry's detached style but well-rounded experience would be matched by Edwards' ability to connect and southern appeal. And although I think Kerry would tear Bush a new one in the debates, the question is how would Edwards do against Pacemaker Dick?
There are of course other variations of the pairings above. But please weigh in with your thoughts on possible pairings amongst the current group, given the challenges we face next year. And also please state in your comments what you think the likelihood will be of a contested convention next year.