Blogger Chris Bowers (now at OpenLeft, formerly of MyDD) has been repeatedly comparing the 2008 Dem nomination contest with that of 2004, expecting this year to ultimately behave like 2004, and (as of yesterday) asking why it’s not behaving much like 2004 so far.
My answer, which I’ve shared there, is that the Dems’ 2004 race for the nomination was an anomaly, one that, if they’re lucky, they won’t see a repeat of again for quite some time. But I thought my reasoning might be of interest over here as well, because it constitutes an overarching theory of Democratic nominating contests in the post-Watergate era.
Our text today is from yesterday’s Meet the Press:
The basic idea here is that a Dem nomination contest in the current era has two main players, which we’ll call the Old-Shoe Democrat and the Good-Government Reformer.
The former does well amongst blacks and working-class whites, who are reasonably comfortable with him and trust him not to shaft them. The latter does well amongst college-educated voters. The Old-Shoe candidate has all the advantages, because there are lots of blacks and working-class whites, but college-educated voters are a minority.
As Brownstein says, Obama’s in the Reformer tradition, the heir to Hart, Tsongas, and Bradley, which almost automatically makes him the underdog. The classic instance of an Old-Shoe v. Reformer campaign would be Mondale-Hart in 1984. If Jesse Jackson hadn’t been running as well, siphoning off large quantities of African-American votes that would have normally gone to Mondale, it wouldn’t have even been close.
We see this division again with Clinton-Tsongas in 1992 and Gore-Bradley in 2000. Clinton, only having marginally been a national figure before 1992, needed to audition for the Old-Shoe role, but he won the role, and the nomination.
In 1988, I’m not sure if anyone quite managed to grab the Old-Shoe role. Between that role’s getting fragmented, plus Jesse Jackson’s having his best Presidential run, not only grabbing black votes but making inroads amongst working-class whites, the leading Reformer, Dukakis, was able to pull off a win.
In 2004, this structure collapsed: the contenders for the Old-Shoe role either didn’t stir any confidence in anyone (Lieberman, Gephardt) or were all wrong for the role (Kerry). And the Reformer role was fragmented as well, amongst Dean, Clark, and to some extent Edwards. Eventually Kerry won because somebody had to, and Kerry cleans up well.
This time around, we’re back to normal. Hillary’s the Old-Shoe Dem. Obama’s got the inside track on the Reformer role. I don’t expect this year to look anything like 2004. If they’re lucky, the Dems will never see another Dem primary season like 2004; 2004 was a complete anomaly. IMHO, it wouldn’t have happened like it did if the party hadn’t been in such bad shape, and if the field hadn’t been so weak.
If you want a model for 2008, it’s not 2004 but 1984.
The one advantage Obama has over the traditional Reformer is that, as Todd points out in the MtP transcript, Obama has a much better chance to pick up a serious chunk of the black vote than the traditional Reformer candidate does. The problem, of course, is that while he’s made inroads, they’re still limited: Hillary’s still doing better amongst blacks than Obama is.
How about Edwards? He may be a reformer, but not of the good-government type. His campaign is not about budget-balancing, campaign finance reform, or any of the traditional ‘above politics’ fodder. (Except for some stands on telecom issues that few political non-junkies will notice.) He’s running as an updated version of a traditional Democrat: universal health care, a more progressive tax code, continuing to raise the minimum wage. Unless he can knock Hillary off her perch as the heir apparent to the Old-Shoe role in the race, he’s got nowhere to go.
But this is why the volatility in the 2003-04 polls isn’t repeating itself this year: 2004 was the anomaly. As long as Hillary is wearing the old shoes, so to speak, she’s going to have the biggest single chunk of the primary votes. And Obama’s got a firm hold on the Reformer niche. There’s no reason for a lot of movement.