More From the Campaign Trail
Facing an almost certain endorsement of Howard Dean by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the campaigns of John Kerry, Dick Gephardt, and John Edwards have talked to each other about whether it was still possible for them to jointly stop the SEIU endorsement. And this story some how made news. Am I missing something here? Is this really a big deal? So what. The three losers are making it look worse than it is by admitting that they are playing David to Goliath. To me it would be refreshing if just one of these guys just came out and said, “It appears that Governor Dean will win the SEIU endorsement. I think that SEIU is making a mistake and given my record of years of work on behalf of organized labor, I am saddened that the union is moving in this direction. But I will continue to focus on appealing to all Americans and building the broadest possible coalition to unseat George W. Bush and will not be captive to any group.” It would be nice, but it won’t happen with these three. Given the push by Gephardt to capture as much of the AFL-CIO umbrella as he can and the role that organized labor can play in Iowa and New Hampshire, Gephardt has the most to lose by seeing Dean grab the largest prize. But for Kerry and Edwards to make a big deal out of this when they had no real shot at this compared to Gephardt or Dean is just daffy.
Matthew Dowd, one of Bush’s cadre of pollsters that Bush claims he doesn’t listen to, has a habit of inoculating Bush from bad political developments by continually playing down expectations. Dowd, who predicted the obvious early in the spring by saying that Bush’s poll numbers post-Iraq would fall (wow, there’s rocket science for ya!) in an effort to set the table for the fall that occurred, is at it again. The White House released Dowd’s comments today that the 2004 race would be tight, and that Bush would fall behind his Democratic challenger initially. But remember, Bush doesn’t listen to, or have any need for pollsters.
As for Kerry, with Dean’s recent lead of thirteen points this late in the game in New Hampshire, I think there is little hope that Kerry can do in New Hampshire what Gephardt may do in Iowa. Kerry is obviously banking on coming in a sound third in Iowa and beating expectations in New Hampshire by coming in a close second. This is a fine strategy as long as you also have a firewall strategy in development for later contests. It is also a fine strategy if you can show voters that you are something other than the anti-Dean.
But in trying to go after possible Dean voters by running down Dean at every opportunity, Kerry minimizes himself all the more. People who are planning to vote for Dean are not going to switch and vote for Kerry no matter how much mud Kerry slings. Dean voters who have second thoughts are far more likely to consider Clark than Kerry, who for his part needs to stop running away from what he is in an effort to be like Dean. The opportunity to do that evaporated in the spring. Kerry cannot repeat Gore’s mistakes and try and make himself into something he isn’t. Rather, he needs to proudly sell what he is, which is a Washington insider and a man of battle-tested honor and competence, with Washington knowledge about to deal with a complex world.
He should be telling a story about how he is smack dab in the middle of the Democratic electorate, who is a dry and somewhat boring war hero that can lead real change in Washington by working within the system in a bipartisan manner. He isn’t going to out-Dean Dean, so stop trying on clothes that don’t fit. He should be selling what he can, which is that he is a better version of Gore, who knows how to fight Bush and win. He should be making the case that he would never place our soldiers into a shooting gallery due to incompetence or allow our troops to be lab rats for the right wing’s fanatical desire to remake the world to fit its image. Kerry can lay out a vision for how to give our children and their parents a better world through shared sacrifice and fiscal responsibility, and show how he will not leave our seniors or the poor behind. He should promise that he will lead the country to international respect and leadership once again, through toughness with terrorists when necessary and multilateral effort. And he needs to sell that he is the best equipped of those running to push for this in a polarized Washington and a world that no longer respects or trusts us.
But slamming Dean for confederate flag remarks, pandering to black voters, and running away from your strengths relative to Dean while failing to work on firewall targets later in the primary season only serves to remind some of us that this late in the game Kerry and his team have no clue how to survive over the long haul. It gives the appearance that Kerry’s whole campaign centers on responding to or attacking Dean, and that is no substitute for a campaign.