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Jewish World Review Jan. 30, 2004 / 7 Shevat, 5764

Michael Barone

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After New Hampshire |
John Kerry won a handsome victory in the New Hampshire primary January 27, and it is far likelier than not that he will be the Democratic presidential nominee. But nothing in politics is inevitable. Other outcomes are possible. And Kerry's progress toward the Democratic nomination will probably not be entirely smooth.

For one thing, Kerry in the next few weeks will be subject to the scrutiny that inevitably falls on the front-runner. There is plenty of tension between his various statements and stands on issues to provide ammunition for his opponents and for the working press. His personal life and his medical history will be examined in some depth. His opponents may not want to take him on, given the negative response by voters to negative attackers in what is still a multicandidate field. But the press will be probing him closely, and most working reporters have no particular affection for him, certainly less than most reporters have for most Democrats. And he, like Howard Dean, can make mistakes while under the spotlight. The other candidates (with the possible exception of John Edwards) may not be able to beat him. But he can be beaten by the press or by himself.

Kerry has chosen to go on offense. He will compete in all the six primaries and one caucus to be held February 3-the only candidate to do so. It looks as if he will have the field mostly to himself in Missouri, the largest February 3 state. It is the most expensive state: You must buy TV time to cover 11 congressional districts (nine in Missouri and one each in Illinois and Kansas), and Howard Dean has made it clear he will not do so. Neither will Wesley Clark, John Edwards, or Joseph Lieberman; they can't afford to squander resources there. Kerry may turn out to have mostly to himself the airwaves of the second-largest state, Arizona (eight congressional districts); Clark and Dean have bought time there, but Kerry led in all three post-Iowa, pre-New Hampshire polls. His New Hampshire showing will probably ramp up his numbers in Arizona.

Then there is the third-largest state, South Carolina (six congressional districts). This is the must-win state for John Edwards, Kerry's most dangerous rival. In New Hampshire, Edwards emerged with, according to the Mitofsky-Edison exit poll, favorables/unfavorables as positive as Kerry's. The difference was that only one sixth of those favorable to Edwards voted for him, while half of those favorable to Kerry voted for Kerry. A one-on-one race between Kerry and Edwards in the southern states and even in the big northern states does not automatically produce a victory for Kerry.

So Kerry has adopted a strategy to eliminate Edwards on February 3. Edwards led Kerry in post-Iowa, pre-New Hampshire polls in South Carolina, by 21 to 17 percent in one poll and 32 to 13 percent in another. New Hampshire will probably improve Kerry's numbers. Kerry has chosen to spend more time there-the equivalent of two full campaign days of the six between New Hampshire and February 3: Wednesday night, Thursday (including the Thursday evening debate in Greenville) and Friday morning. That gives Kerry three in-state media nights out of six. And Kerry will probably pump money into advertising the next three days, unless his tracking polls show it is a lost cause. Edwards was born in South Carolina and represents next-door North Carolina in the Senate. His stump speech dwells on his supposed ability to beat George W. Bush in the South. If Kerry beats him in South Carolina, his candidacy is done. Kerry seems to have decided to spend the time and money to eliminate him now.

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He seems also to have decided to spend less time and perhaps less money in the fourth-largest February 3 state, Oklahoma (five congressional districts). There is good reason for this. His chief opponent there is Wesley Clark, who leads Kerry in the two post-Iowa, pre-New Hampshire polls, one by 23 to 17 percent, the other by 32 to 17 percent. In these polls John Edwards was also a factor, winning 18 percent and 23 percent. But Edwards is not in a position to spend much money and is in tough shape to raise more: His fourth-place finish in New Hampshire will not attract contributors, and his early contributors-trial lawyers-have already contributed the maximum $2,000 (as have their wives and law partners and paralegals). Given the choice of spending a dollar in Oklahoma or in South Carolina, Edwards must choose South Carolina.

Clark seems to have some money left and has already spent a fair amount in Oklahoma. But Kerry can risk a Clark victory more than an Edwards victory. Clark (and Lieberman) had most of the first three weeks of the year in New Hampshire to themselves, since they didn't compete in Iowa. Clark, despite his dazzling credentials, didn't do well. He rose to 22 percent in the tracking polls but never came close to beating Howard Dean. Then, after Iowa, Clark plummeted. His inconsistent statements (starting with whether he opposed or supported the Iraq war), his refusal to dissociate himself from his supporter Michael Moore's charge that George W. Bush was a deserter, his bizarre insistence that abortion be legal until a minute before birth-these unforced errors pushed him lower and lower in New Hampshire tracking polls until he ended up at 12 percent of the vote. His favorables/unfavorables in New Hampshire were 62 and 33 percent-a pretty high negative among Democratic primary voters. Kerry may take him out in Oklahoma, or Clark may survive to compete elsewhere. But it is hard to see Clark taking Kerry one-on-one in the big states that will be voting on March 2 and March 9.

Then there is Joe Lieberman. With Clark, he had New Hampshire mostly to himself from New Year's until Iowa. But he ended up lower in the tracking polls and on Election Day-9 percent-than he was earlier in the cycle. With great creativity, Lieberman portrayed himself on election night as tied in a three-way race for third. He promised to go on to Oklahoma, South Carolina, Arizona, and Delaware (one congressional district, but to buy TV time you have to buy the extra 11 districts in the Philadelphia media market, which none of these candidates is going to do). Lieberman said that he has enough money to go on to February 3. He pointedly did not say that he has enough money to go beyond. His dignified candidacy, leavened by his genuine good humor, does not seem likely to go beyond February 3.

Lieberman is in some sense a movement candidate: a supporter of strong defense and liberal programs at home. This was the politics of Henry Jackson, who won the Massachusetts and New York primaries in 1976, and of John Kennedy, who campaigned for more defense spending in 1960 and installed Jackson as chairman of the Democratic National Committee that year. But it is a waning force in the Democratic Party. Three quarters of Iowa caucusgoers and two thirds of New Hampshire primary voters were opposed to military action in Iraq, even after the capture of Saddam Hussein. Lieberman's brave statements that we were better off with Saddam in prison than in power rubbed raw the hackles of most of the Democratic voters in these contests. The February 3 electorates will probably be less leftish on this issue-but not enough for Lieberman to establish himself as a viable candidate.

Which leaves the other movement candidate, Howard Dean. His movement, of course, is the left wing of the Democratic Party, which believes unequivocally, as Dean does, that the military action in Iraq was wrong and that we are no safer with Saddam captured. Dean has done a brilliant job of building a movement-a cult, some of his opponents' operatives call it-which is an important part of his followers' personal lives and which responds to embarrassment or defeat with more commitment. Dean's contributions spiked after an embarrassing appearance on Meet the Press; he has collected since Iowa at least $600,000 in small contributions. His campaign manager, Joe Trippi, insists Dean will soldier on. Kerry's victories may give him smart money; Dean's defeats will produce committed money. None of the February 3 contests is on ground particularly favorable to him (the one I have not yet mentioned is the caucus in North Dakota, one congressional district, which Kerry plans to visit the morning of Super Bowl Sunday). So Trippi points to targets like the Michigan firehouse primary and the Washington caucuses, both on February 7, and, skipping over the Virginia and Tennessee primaries February 10 (a natural target for Edwards and Kerry, if they are still in the race), the big state contests on March 2 and 9 and even the Illinois primary on March 16.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe issued a ukase on New Hampshire primary day that no one who hasn't won a victory by February 3 can be considered a serious candidate. Trippi not particularly politely disagrees. The Dean campaign can continue to contest primaries as long as money is coming in. And, if Edwards and Clark and Lieberman are eliminated, perhaps even after. Victory seems unlikely. Dean's favorables/unfavorables in New Hampshire were 59 and 37 percent-dreadful numbers among Democratic primary voters. But Dean will be in there ready to profit if Kerry is, by mistakes of his own or by reporting in the free media, damaged or disqualified. If his labor support from AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees) and SEIU (Service Employees International Union) continues steadfast (which it may or may not), he stands to be competitive in New York and California, where those unions are strongest. Clark, Edwards, and Lieberman were not content to go gentle into that good night after New Hampshire. Dean does not seem content to do so after February 3 or long after. Dean's fundraisers and volunteers may or may not stay active after a series of defeats. But it is at least possible that they might and that John Kerry could have a rockier road to the nomination than seems likely from the historical precedent-based, after all, on only a small number of cases-that no one who has won the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary has been denied the nomination of his party.

In the meantime, the contest between the Democratic nomination will be between, as one Republican consultant puts it, a "silly governor from Vermont and Michael Dukakis's lieutenant governor" (which Kerry was between 1982 and 1984). John Kerry is in good shape to win the Democratic nomination. But he is not in ideal shape to win it in a way that maximizes his potential as the Democratic nominee.

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Michael Barone Archives

JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.


©2004, Michael Barone