Jewish World Review Dec. 8, 2003 / 13 Kislev, 5764
Bottom line: Dean's supporters are intense, but there aren't many of them
Howard Dean might stand a better chance of winning the Democratic nomination
for president if he loses the Iowa caucuses to Rep. Dick Gephardt than if he
beats Gephardt there.
Dean's supporters are intense, but there aren't many of them. Polls indicate
that nationally, fewer than one Democrat in five supports him.
Dean's greatest asset is that the first contests are in Iowa and New
Hampshire, which are wildly unrepresentative of Democratic sentiment in the
rest of the country.
In the most recent Gallup Poll, retired Gen. Wesley Clark tied Dean for the
national lead, with 17 percent support each. Gephardt and Connecticut Sen.
Lieberman were next, at 13 percent each.
But Clark and Lieberman are nowhere in Iowa and New Hampshire, and though
Gephardt is competitive in Iowa, he's an asterisk in New Hampshire.
By winning in Iowa and New Hampshire, Dean hopes to project an aura of
invincibility for the bunched contests to come. Within two weeks of the New
Hampshire primary Jan. 27, Democrats will hold primaries in 7 states,
caucuses in 4 more.
If Dean beats Gephardt in Iowa (where he has slight leads in recent polls),
Gephardt is toast. Gephardt is from neighboring Missouri, and won the Iowa
caucuses in 1988. He's expected to win there.
In New Hampshire, Dean is leading Massachussetts Sen. John Kerry, his
closest competitor, by awesome margins. If Dean clobbers Kerry there, Kerry
probably will have to drop out, because there is no other primary - not even
in his home state of Massachussetts - that he is likely to win.
If both Gephardt and Kerry are out of the race after New Hampshire, that
could make the South Carolina primary Feb. 3 an elimination bout between
Clark and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, with the winner anointed the
But if the field narrows to two on Feb. 3, that could be too soon for Dean.
There still will be a month before Mar. 2, when 12 states - including
California, Texas, New York, and Ohio- will hold primaries or caucuses.
As long as the opposition to Dean is fragmented, he can win with less than
half the vote. But there aren't many primaries where Dean could win if he
were running against just one of his major rivals.
Suppose Gephardt wins in Iowa. That'd keep his campaign alive at least
through Feb. 3, where he would compete for the un-Dean vote with Clark,
Edwards and Lieberman. The fragmentation of that vote could give Dean
victories in states he's not now expected to win. It's better to have
several weak opponents than one strong one.
If no single competitor to Dean has emerged by Feb. 4, Dean's second big
advantage - his immense bank account - kicks into overdrive. Dean will be
able to dominate the airwaves in the Mar. 2 primaries while his rivals
scratch to meet staff payrolls.
Two Democratic party rules make it theoretically possible to deny Dean the
nomination even if he wins most of the primaries and caucuses.
Democrats will allocate convention delegates in proportion to the votes
candidates receive, after a 15 percent threshhold is reached. This means he
who wins a primary by a plurality wins little more than headlines. Narrow
victories will not produce a windfall of delegates.
Second, Democrats automatically make all of their U.S. senators and
congressmen delegates. If they fear Dean would drag the ticket down, and
turn on him en masse, that could be decisive in a close race.
But even if Dean doesn't win a majority of delegates, if he is the clear
front-runner going into the Democratic convention, denying him the
nomination could doom Democrats in November. More than a few angry Dean
supporters likely would defect to Green Party candidate Ralph Nader if a
"pro-war" Democrat is nominated. If Nader gets 4 or 5 percent of the vote
nationally, that pretty much would guarantee Bush a landslide in the
So if Dean finishes a clear first in the Feb. 3 primaries, he probably
can't, as a practical matter, be denied the nomination. And Dean may be more
likely to finish first Feb. 3 if he finishes second in Iowa Jan 19.
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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a
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