Weekly Political War Gaming
Regardless of your candidate preference, this has been a significant week in the course of the race for the Democratic nomination. Due to the great traffic and dialogue from all corners this week, and a successful concept we launched several weeks back when we asked for your suggested VP pairings, I want to initiate a series of “political war gaming” with this post. The idea behind this post and others like it from me or our other editors in the future is that we will toss out a scenario or a set of scenarios linked to each other set in the coming months of this campaign. Your job will be to tell this community how you analyze such a scenario(s), and as a strategist-to-be, how would you advise your candidate of choice to deal with it or maneuver around it. If you would rather stay away from acting as a strategist, you can simply comment on the plausibility of the scenario and engage the other commenters in responding to their analyses.
Here’s our inaugural scenario and related questions:
It is mid-February 2004. Iowa has gone for Dean, and Kerry has pulled a surprise by finishing only a point behind Gephardt for a strong third; Gephardt has finished only four points behind Dean. These three were the only ones in double figures.
In New Hampshire, Dean cruised to a comfortable ten-point win, but Kerry beats expectations and Clark finishes only four points behind Kerry. The national media, which began its usual horse-race tear-down of the leader after Dean didn’t meet their expectations for large margins in both contests, starts talking up the idea of a closer than expected contest, although they are still treating Dean as the clear front runner.
In the February 3 contests, Clark squeezes past Edwards for his first win in South Carolina. Gephardt, as expected, picks up Missouri as well as North Dakota. Joe Lieberman takes Arizona, and Clark takes New Mexico and Oklahoma.
But in the February 7 contests, Dean’s organizational strengths and money advantages led him to a victory over Gephardt in the Michigan caucus and over Clark and Gephardt in Washington. Kerry, who finishes a better than expected third in Michigan but fourth in Washington, is facing pressure to exit, but still has more money on hand than all except Clark and of course Dean.
Lieberman and Edwards are hanging on to see if they can make noise in Virginia and Tennessee, but both are out of money and are seeing Clark’s money advantage allow him to run TV in both states that they cannot match.
While this is going on during the first half of February, Bush has begun multi-state media buys starting in the South and key swing states running on the “daddy protector” theme and how Bush has kept us safe from terrorism. A second set of ads paints a glowing picture of a growing economy and jobs to come, and why it is ill advised to return to the policies of high taxes favored by his opponents. At this time, there is growing evidence that the economic “recovery” has been less than anticipated, with Christmas sales being lower than expected and sluggish job growth in January. Dean decided to begin ignoring his opponents and cleverly started his own national media effort in the two weeks before the SOTU, trotting out several issues to set the negatives on Bush in an attempt to neuter his possible arguments in the SOTU.
As a result and at this point in time, Dean is still the clear front runner, with primaries in California, New York, and Ohio still ahead on March 2. Clark is now viewed more and more as the Dean alternative, and has money pouring in from what the media is describing now as the Clinton wing of the party. For Clark, several southern primaries are coming up in the second week of March, but he hopes to pull one or two strong seconds in either California or New York.
If you are Clark, what is your remaining strategy and do you entertain discussion openly about linking up with one of your opponents to form a team to oppose Dean, or do you go into the convention and roll the dice with how it turns out? Do you entertain talk of being a VP to Dean or reject it out of hand?
If you are Dean, do you feel you have the race for the nomination in the bag, and begin to focus more and more of your media dollars on the national air wars against Bush on the assumption that these dollars aren’t needed any more to fight for the nomination? Or are you worried about Clark’s ability to hang around and rack up enough delegates to keep you from getting over the top? Do you pursue Clark behind the scenes as a possible VP, or begin seriously considering alternatives outside of the current race for VP? And whom?
If you are Gephardt, do you cash in and throw your support to Clark, or do you hang around to gather whatever delegates you can to be a player at the convention?
The same question as above for Kerry, Lieberman, and Edwards.
Do any of these others talk about alliances amongst themselves as possible alternate tickets to Dean and his choice for VP?
And at this point in the race, with Clark in desperate need of a boost to cement him as the Dean alternative of Washington insiders, does Bill Clinton come out and endorse Clark?
OK, your turn. What say you?