SEPTEMBER 25, 2003 - In Iowa, Rep.
Dick Gephardt (D-MS) has retaken the lead. While back in July he was
basically tied with Governor Dean (D-VT), he now leads Dean by 7
If you look at the numbers, they tell the
story. Gephardt's support has not grown at all in the state. Dean's
has dropped by six percent. Not coincidentally, Clark - not included
for the first time - is garnering exactly six percent of the voter
support in Iowa.
This is to be expected. Initially many in
the press asserted that Clark's entry would hurt Senator John Kerry's
(D-MA) campaign the most, as Kerry's biggest selling point was his
military experience. Clark, as a retired four star general and the
former commander of NATO forces not only matched Kerry's greatest
strength, but trumped it, the argument went.
Dean stood the most to gain, as Kerry was
one of his main rivals, and Clark might siphon off some of his
However, the opposite turns out to be the
While throughout the campaign so far Kerry
has gone around touting - in no subtle manner - his wartime
experience, the press had largely ignored him and not gotten the
message that there was a decorated veteran in the Democrats' midst.
All the press covered was that there was a "Northeast liberal,"
someone who they claimed tried to have it both ways on Iraq, and
someone who was something called "aloof."
In seeming frustration, Kerry touted his
own military background ad nauseum, to the point where he was over
selling it and making himself seem to be an otherwise devoid candidate
who was exploiting his veteran status.
In the meantime, Dean surged as the
straight talking, take no prisoners, down to earth candidate who spoke
about all issues and promoted himself on his traits and policies. His
boldness, clarity, and an excellently run campaign won him many
Suddenly, the press has started paying
attention and giving major coverage to the Democratic race. Wesley is
their choice of the moment, and so numerous front page stories and
much network coverage has been devoted to him.
However, almost grudgingly, the press has
had to mention Kerry alongside Clark. The storyline with Clark has
been that he is the man who might actually be able to beat Bush, since
his military background allows him to take Bush on without having his
courage questioned, due to his military background. Just to seem
somewhat professional, the press has been forced to mention Kerry and
his veteran status as well. Suddenly, the decorated Democratic
veteran who had been ignored all along is being mentioned in large
But rather than making Kerry look second
rate in comparison to the General, Kerry has come to look like someone
who has the same upside as Clark - the decorated veteran background -
but also who has experience in economics and politics. Clark, at this
point, seems one dimensional, and as someone who has admitted voting
for Nixon and Reagan, of questionable appeal and allegiance to
In the meantime, unexpectedly, Clark has
hurt Dean's momentum. He is the new renegade, the freshest face, and a
bold straight talker as well. To people who wanted the straight talk
of Dean with the military status of Kerry, they seem to have found the
hybrid they were looking for.
The biggest concern for many Dean
supporters has been electability. In addition, Dean supporters are
fiery and excited by Dean's outsider status. Clark background gives
people a sense that he is electable, and he has sold himself as an
outsider as well, casting himself, in essence, as Dean with four
So while the opposite was to be expected,
Clark has drawn support directly from Dean, taken a bit of the wind
out from the sails of Dean's campaign. At the same time, his candidacy
has brought attention to Kerry as a version of Clark with experience
and more of a true Democratic background.
This is early yet, and things will play
out differently over time.
However, for the moment, the Clark Effect
has been paradoxical, helping where it was expected to hurt, hurting
where it was expected to help.