FEB 01 - 15, 2004




Clark Takes On "Republican Mean Machine"

by Betsy R. Vasquez


FEBRUARY 2, 2004 - This round of primaries is turning out to have much more of an open dynamic than the New Hampshire race.

There are seven races set to take place on Tuesday, and the outcome could be anything from an all out sweep by Kerry to a loss of lone frontrunner status.

One scenario has Senator Kerry winning all seven states, which is possible but doesn't seem all that likely.  It seems at the very least that Edwards has a solid shot in South Carolina.

However, as Edwards has admitted, South Carolina is do or die for him, so a loss there and he is gone.

As for General Wesley Clark, as many as four states are in play for him:  Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, and North Dakota.

Notice that number:  4 out of 7 states.

While some people have pulled back in interest from following the primaries as the story being told is that there is just one man, Senator John Kerry, running away with the nomination, by all reports these four states are all Clark/Kerry battles which could realistically tip either way.  If Kerry some how pulls out wins in all four, the race could be all but done.  But if Clark were to take all four, or even three of four, he could easily win as many states as Kerry Tuesday evening, or even more with Edwards very possibly taking South Carolina, and catapult undeniably into equal frontrunner status with the Massachusetts Senator..

As Wes Clark's son Wes, Jr. told a New Mexico crowd on Friday, as reported by the Santa Fe New Mexican, "We need New Mexico big time...  If we win New Mexico, Arizona and Oklahoma, nobody will remember New Hampshire."

North Dakota, according to the Bismarck Tribune, is "hard to call" and Clark is among the favorites.  As many as 40 percent of North Dakotans remained undecided in a poll taken last week, and Kerry and Clark are the two who have a shot at this one.

In Arizona, Clark led just a few weeks ago.  Now Kerry appears to have the advantage, but there too it is still an open and fluid race.  The latest polls have the spread barely outside the margin of error.  However, the large number of undecideds mean it is clearly an open race.

As ABC News reports, "Kerry's focus Monday was on New Mexico and Arizona, completing a one-week blitz of the seven states currently in play... surveys around the country detect a huge group of undecided voters, clearly large enough to sway the outcome."

Clark will be campaigning in both states as well - even if ABC doesn't bother to mention it.

In New Mexico, according to Governor Richardson, much of the Latino vote, which makes up 55 percent of the likely primary voters, is still in play.  Again, Kerry and Clark are the two candidates fighting for the lead there, with Dean, the former frontrunner in the state, on the way down.

"Kerry has a lot of momentum," Richardson said in a television interview this week. "Clark is very popular here. Had he visited more, I think he'd be up in the polls."

A recent Albuquerque Journal poll has Kerry riding his momentum into the lead, but showing Clark moving into a tie with Dean for second and fully 27% of voters still undecided - and none of this takes into account the tens of thousands of absentee ballots already cast before the Iowa caucuses occurred.  About 50,000 people are expected to participate in the caucus, while almost 25,000 absentee ballots have already been returned. The largest number of these will likely go for Howard Dean and Wesley Clark, who were the two favorites back then while Kerry was barely a blip on the radar.

"I already voted for Gen. Wesley, Clark because I feel he's the most qualified to be our next president," one voter told the Albuquerque Tribune.

In addition, this poll chose to leave out a large number of voters, including only voters "who voted in the last two primary and general elections, according to voting records."  In other words, people who are voting for the first time, or even the second time this year, or even people who voted the last two times but not in the primaries, were not included.  They did this because there was a change in date for the primary this year from June to February, but that is a large group of people not to include.

In Oklahoma, Clark has a slight advantage over Kerry, and Edwards has inserted himself into the race there.

At this point, what these four races will come down to is whose supporters get out to the polls in the largest numbers, whose volunteers can win over the large number of undecided voters with last minute phone calls, and whose ads and last campaign stops kick the last bit of momentum their way.

For the Clark camp, it seems imperative they put their supporters on notice that Tuesday the possible fate of the election is directly in their hands.  Forget the media calling Kerry the frontrunner.  If the Clark people turn out to the polls in Oklahoma and Arizona and are passionate in the caucuses in New Mexico and North Dakota, they can propel their candidate into solid frontrunner status.

If, on the other hand, the push and enthusiasm are bigger from the Kerry camp, Clark could lose all of the races and be in dire straits.  The race is that dynamic and those four states truly that much of a tossup.

Missouri seems solidly Kerry country, as does Delaware.

Look at that again.  Only Missouri and Delaware seem to be locks for Kerry.  The other six he could lose all of.  Or, of course, win all of.  Kerry is in position in each of the seven races to pull of victories.

But truly Tuesday night we seem to have a window of opportunity, for General Clark in particular.  The best case scenario for Edwards seems to be wins in South Carolina and a surprise win in Oklahoma.  While the best case scenario for Clark is winning three or four out of the seven races.

The two biggest states are Missouri and Arizona.

In the meantime, the absolute media assault - much of it through simply ignoring his existence - continues.  As a typical example, today's Washington Post does stories on Kerry, Edwards, and even Dean - who is not in position to win anything on Tuesday.  Clark, who is in far better position than both Edwards and Dean, is entirely, again, ignored.

However, the Clark camp no longer is taking this without response.

At a rally in Oklahoma City this weekend, General Clark vowed to take on what he called, "The Republican Mean Machine," according to one supporter who attended the rally.  By this he meant, this supporter said, the right-wing domination of the media and the hatred this machine spews.

Labeling it "The Republican Mean Machine" was a very smart maneuver, as it makes it a battle of him versus the Republican Party rather than versus the media, an easier battle for people to understand.

And yet, Clark is clear that by "The Republican Mean Machine" he means not just the ultra-baised FOX News/talk radio Axis Of Bias, but also the rest of the media, which is no different at this point.  He in particular, according to this supporter, referred to MSNBC, saying that such networks were "trying to take him down," as the supporter put it.

This is the throwing down of the mantle that Clark had to commit if he was going to have any chance in this election.  By not just vowing to fight "a long hard" battle against against the media machine, but making clear he means the whole media - even supposed mainstream stations like MSNBC - the Clark camp sent forth the battle cry that, at the very least, makes clear he will not go down without a fight.  For Clark supporters, there has no been no better news this primary season.

Remember, the Zogby polls that MSNBC uses are the ones that were dubbed unworthy of use by both ABC and AP, as reported by the Washington Post, and, of course, by us last week.  Clark's reference to MSNBC as part of the Republican Mean Machine possibly refers to this - the absurd polls pushing Kerry over Clark all week long.  For instance, today's MSNBC/Zogby poll has Kerry leading Clark 36% to 24%, while other polls have the difference barely beyond the margin of error.

"Zogby International, does all kinds of controversial things to produce its headlines-grabbing tracking poll," the Post reported.

Among them, Zogby takes the results he gets - gotten by questionable methods to begin with - and simply alters them as he feels like.

"Zogby also adjusts his sample based on historic trends and his judgment of "what is happening on the ground" in a particular race, and it is this imposition of his own judgment that disturbs many pollsters.

"He will, for example, reduce the proportion of 18- to 24-year-olds in his sample of self-described likely voters if he suspects on the basis of past voting history and the "lay of the land" that a sample contains too many younger people. He also, on occasion, adjusts the religious composition of his sample if he suspects he has over or under-represented one faith. "

Nice little trick, huh?  People with credibility don't think so.

"Zogby is not a reputable pollster," said Warren Mitofsky, who is co-directing the media exit polls this year for the major television networks and the Associated Press," and one ABC expert called Zogby polls, "crack for the weak."

This primary season MSNBC has teamed up with Zogby and Reuters and has been putting Zogby's polls front and center.

The main thing to note about Zogby polls is that by many accounts he comes up with results that push his agenda - which happens to be the Bush/Limbaugh Republican agenda.  For example, as we detailed in this story, right before the New Hampshire primary he released a poll that claimed Dean had gotten within 3 points of Kerry even though, as we reported, he clearly knew this was not the case.  The idea was to give Dean a sense a momentum, and so to push him higher in the polls so that he was not wiped out entirely and so Clark didn't have a shot at second place.

It has been one of many things that has driven Clark supporters crazy, to have to sit and watch polls that have been called disreputable nonsense and see virtually the entire media report his results above all others.  Now, Clark has made clear he will not be putting up with this game any longer.  And, according to the account we were given, he made the RMM comments directly in front of a rolling FOX News camera.

In any case, with one day of campaigning left, the simple reality is that it is up to the people on the ground.  The battle is wide open.  Any event over the next day could shift the balance.  Most importantly, the Clark camp needs to make sure its supporters are not put off by a sense of doom driven by the media's anointment of Kerry.  If they realize that their man truly can vault to the top on Tuesday night, they might just be able to follow their leaders charge and stick one in the eye of the Republican Hate Machine that has been doing everything possible to drive Clark out of the race.









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