Sunday :: Nov 9, 2003

Kerry's Uphill Battle: Did the Iraq Vote Do Him In?


by Steve

Facing a life or death struggle he will lose in New Hampshire and no spade work done yet for any firewalls later in the cycle of primaries, John Kerry finds himself the latest in a series of early frontrunners who will probably fail to make the finish line. Despite having the best resume for the job to deal with both the domestic concerns facing the country after three ravaging years of Bush’s War on America and voters’ concerns in a post 9/11 world, Kerry looks into the abyss of having no state contest where he can hope for a win next year outside of his home state.

There are many reasons for this, beginning with Kerry’s style and manner on the stump, his campaign’s ineptitude in going to sleep and having Dean blow past him with the Angry Democrat approach, the continual tug between appealing to the base and the middle, uncertainty over how to deal with Dean, an inability to terminate the Dean bashing and begin focusing on the long haul as the steady moderate left standing in the end, and of course the vote to give Bush the blank check last year on Iraq. It is this last act that the media and activists on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire keep hammering Kerry with. Two interesting pieces this weekend about the problems Kerry faces stemming from that vote come from Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and this well-written piece from Matea Gold of the Los Angeles Times.

Political professionals can debate this issue years after this contest as to how Kerry could have voted for the resolution knowing he was already running and not be able to effectively explain his rationale for doing so. It would not have taken a political rocket scientist to know that such a vote would cause problems for the more liberal folks in Iowa and New Hampshire, and an anti-war position by someone outside of Washington would always have been an easier sell to the activists. Of course, what people dismiss is that Kerry may very well have voted the way he did for the exact reasons he has said: he wanted Saddam to comply or be removed, and couldn’t bring himself to think that Bush would lie to the world and Congress to get his war.

Either way, unfairly or not, according to the conventional wisdom Kerry is going to fail this time because primarily of that one vote. I tend to think there is more to it than that, namely the ineptitude of Jim Jordan and the staff assembled around Kerry, and the effectiveness of Howard Dean and his operation, especially when the Kerry folks should have known that their whole base of inevitability would rest on winning neighboring New Hampshire. As such, the only candidate that they should have had in their sights from the spring on would be Dean, the only one who could plausibly also make a claim for neighboring New Hampshire. Yet Kerry and his folks kept working like they were the inevitable ones playing for the long haul as Dean stole the Angry Democrat mantle and New Hampshire at the same time.

But is the conventional wisdom correct about the Iraq vote being Kerry's downfall? The recent Democracy Corps poll done in early October shows that Democratic voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina want a nominee who supported the war, is against how Bush went in without international support, and is against the $87 billion aid package. Kerry fits that profile. The same survey also showed that they support a nominee who would keep the middle class tax cuts and repeal the tax cuts for the upper class. In all these cases, Kerry fits that profile. Yet in all of the first three states, Kerry is lagging. His only hope now is to beat expectations in New Hampshire and run a strong third in Iowa.

Is the Kerry message getting through, or is it simply the messenger?

Steve :: 7:00 PM :: Comments (24) :: Digg It!