DECEMBER 5, 2003 – The story line
for the 2004 Democratic Presidential nomination has changed
drastically over the past few weeks. Unlike the mainstream press,
we cover the trends as they actually occur, not months afterwards
only when we finally decide to give up the preplanned story line we
have been running with.
All over the mainstream and right-wing
press (which are virtually indistinguishable at this point,) you
will see all Dean coverage all the time. He is the frontrunner, the
one who they deem will win. They write well about him, they write
badly about him, but, in unison, they write virtually only about
him. Gephardt is number two, and Kerry is trying to hold on to
number three, their story goes.
Well, men and women of the mainstream
press, sorry to break it to you, but the story is the rise of the
General and the death of the Kerry campaign.
Look first simply at the polls: Clark
is statistically tied for the lead in South Carolina, he is tied for
the lead in Florida, tied for the lead in Oklahoma. Most
significantly, he is tied now with Kerry for second place in New
For the people who only read the
mainstream press this may seem a shock – how did this man come from
the depths of nothingness to become a seemingly potent challenger, you might ask yourself.
But for anyone following the dynamics of
the campaign, you have seen this coming.
Make no mistake, Governor Dean’s
awesomely run campaign continues to run awesomely. Continued
innovations, such as a multi-state party, makes it convenient for
all excited supporters to attend fundraisers which Dean (via
conference call) will be a part of. More strategically, these will
be held in many of the second round of primary states. For
instance, one part of this mass party will be held in Tucson,
Arizona. It will attract caravans of supporters from all over the
western states to not only raise funds for the campaign, not only
keep supporters engaged and excited, but make a show in this
important, second round state.
Anyone who is paying attention has to
admit, this Dean team is an inspirational thing to watch and learn
And yet, General Wesley Clark is gaining
on the Vermont Governor – and quickly.
All of the excitement Dean generated at
first is now surging among Clark supporters. And what is working
for the General most is that he seems a reassuring embodiment of the
best three other candidates have to offer: Dean’s straight talking
and outsider status; Kerry’s veteran status; and Edwards’ southerner
status and personal charm.
In addition, he seems, to his
supporters, to bring the best of all three of these campaigns
together while leaving behind the negatives: Dean’s knack for
misspeaking and draft dodger status; Kerry’s sluggish campaign and
lack of ability to connect with people; and Edwards’ lack of
experience and gravitas.
The Kerry campaign believed Clark’s
entry would help their campaign. As a campaign insider said, they
thought people would start seeing the Democrats had military
experience, but notice Kerry brought the domestic experience and
diplomatic experience as well, and so see him as a more complete
version of the General.
However, they weren't expecting Clark’s
charm. Call it southern charm or just his nature, his supporters
are excited and very moved and inspired after they meet him; Kerry’s
supporters simply say, “He wasn’t so bad as they say,” yet don’t
truly feel he was speaking straight to them from the heart.
Indeed, the most compelling thing
General Clark seems to have done is present himself humbly.
Supporters tell how he looks them directly in the eye and says, “I
need your help – can I count on you?” Hearing this from a powerful
ex-General is enough to breed loyalty and enthusiasm. And so the
ranks of the General's volunteer base has been swelling, his standing
in the polls is elevating, and clearly – though the rest of the
press is not reporting it yet – the General is nipping at the heels
of Howard Dean.
Aiding this is the underlying fear on
the part of many of even the most fervent Dean supporters that he is
simply not charismatic enough to win the general election, and that
his draft dodger status adds to that. They had stuck with Dean
because the only other options were a poorly run Kerry campaign or
never-showed-he-can-do-it-over-two-decades Gephardt campaign. The
General's arrival has them beginning not only to eye his camp, but
beginning to join it. Indeed, even at the grassroots level, General
Clark is starting to outpoll Dean among Democratic clubs Dean once
On the other extreme is the complete
death and demise of the Kerry campaign.
The campaign chose to put all of its
eggs in the New Hampshire basket. That is a fine strategy, but in
doing so, they chose not to embrace their supporters in other
places. Tell me, what sort of campaign puts a cold arm’s length
between its supporters and itself? Right, a loser one, and that is
what the Kerry camp is finding out, even if they might not realize
The Kerry camp is running and old
fashioned operation. They are focusing heavily (if not solely) on
the first two contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, seeking big
political endorsements rather than grassroots support, and have not
at any point gotten their internet act in gear. Their operation has
been ineffective at best, amateurish at worst.
Why they couldn’t handle such simple
easy things comes down to one thing: the campaign’s attitude. It
is, dare we say, an aloof campaign. Like the candidate has been
criticized for years as not being able to connect with people, the
campaign, through very specific choices and a seeming fear of its
own would-be supporters, left an opening of alienation and
frustration it created within its base through neglect. And for a base that was
largely standing with Kerry due to his military veteran status, they
were prime for the taking when General Clark came around.
And, invigorated by Clark's excellently run
campaign, they are flocking over in droves. Just note the changes
in the latest New Hampshire polls: Kerry down 4 percent, Clark up 4
percent. That is not coincidence and should have been expected by
anyone who has been paying attention.
Indeed, Kerry is now polling in a number
of places, including South Carolina where he launched his campaign,
down with people who aren’t even running campaigns. In SC, he is
down with Mosley-Braun (significantly behind even Sharpton.) In
Iowa, he is barely ahead of Clark and Edwards, who are not even
campaigning there, according to one recent poll. More and more his
campaign seems to be becoming irrelevant. There is still time to
fix it, but it seems unlikely.
As for the other three near-top-tier
candidates, each has one real strength, but not much beyond that.
The Lieberman campaign truly has the
most winning focus of any campaign. Its relentless focus is on
“integrity.” The other campaigns are potentially setting themselves
up for a dangerous fall with their focuses on the Iraq situation and
the economy. What if the economy turns around and Saddam is caught
in October? The other camps seem to make the case that, well, then
maybe we were wrong and the President should stay.
Lieberman, on the other hand, makes
clear that, “It is the lack of integrity, stupid.” Even if the
economy was perfect and the country at peace, President Bush needs
to go, his line of attack says, because he lacks proper moral values
and basic integrity (read honesty.)
In fact, this is what underlies many of
the campaigns, but only the Lieberman camp is making this
event-proof issue its campaign frontpiece. For this, they should be
But Joe himself has not caught
traction. It is tough being a right-of-center moderate in a
Democratic primary, and we feel for Joe in this instance. But also,
he is not the most exciting speaker, and after all, this is
politics, and a political frontman should be inspirational, ala
Reagan, Clinton, and the current President Bush (his father wasn’t,
and that’s why he wasn’t re-elected.)
The Edwards camp's focus on presenting a
positive message is nice, but they haven’t actually presented one –
just the idea that they – or the others – should present one.
Unfortunately for John, in this post 9-11 world, he is not the right
man at the right moment. But the other camps would do well to take
his advice and put together a comprehensive positive vision. All of
the campaigns, except for Lieberman’s, are a hodge podge of
responses and specific issue stances. They talk of focusing on
renewable energy, but don’t paint themselves as the Sun President.
They talk of having a good plan for the future, but don’t talk about
leading the great nation of America into its Golden Era. And most
importantly, as Edwards' plea for positivity touches on, the
American people want nothing more than a candidate who will tell
them, “It doesn’t have to be this way. It doesn’t have to be war
and terror and slash and burn at home. It can be prosperity beyond
their wildest dreams (by harnessing the wealth generated by
alternative energy,) peace to last for generations, and a cleaner,
kinder, happier America that embraces freedom and democracy so fully
that it shines like it used to as a beacon to inspire the rest of
Then there is Gephardt. Issue man. He
is charming, strong, presents himself well, and has stands people
love on the issues. But by his campaign’s own admission, they act
like old-time plodding turtles. People don’t see the fresh ideas
campaign-wise and rapid-fire type action they are looking for this
year. And truly, his lack of military experience makes him seem a
lesser choice. Why this weighs on him much more heavily than Dean,
or even Lieberman, seems to be simply his nature and the focus of
his work in the Congress. Dean is a firebrand, Lieberman has been
very strongly involved in foreign affairs. Gephardt seems more
suited to be labor secretary than President in many people’s eyes.
A couple questions:
Mosely-Braun didn’t even manage to file
papers in time to get on the primary ballot in Oklahoma. With it so
clear she is not actually running a real campaign, why won’t she do
the party a favor a stop taking up space on the stage during the
Congressman Kucinich, we don’t need to
see you yell anymore. All you do at the debates is give angry,
insulting responses that aren’t gaining you support. So again, why
not help the party and remove yourself? (Video dating is not supposed
to work this way.)
Rev. Sharpton, please DO NOT drop out of
the race. You are truly the only master of rhetoric out there, and
if you stay around long enough, not only will you continue to keep
things entertaining, but you might rub off a bit more on whoever
becomes the eventual nominee, making the coming Presidential race
that much more fun for all of us.
In the end, the reality at this point is
this has become a three man race: Dean leading, Clark nipping at
his heels, and Gephardt presenting a still-strong third.
But if we had to predict what things
will look like a month or so from now, we at The Moderate
Independent expect to see General Clark move up to at least an equal
footing with Governor Dean, and, in the end, it is coming more and
more to seem the General is the one who Democrats will trust to take
their fight to the GOP in the end.
The coming debate this Tuesday in New
Hampshire is the perfect moment for this race. If the General makes
a strong show, he will solidify his move into second place there,
while Governor Dean can firm up his hold on first or leave open the
chance for a late charge from General Clark. Finally, a debate