Contrary to several previous posts, I do not believe Wes Clark is in dire straits. On the contrary, he, and now John Edwards, continue to do an absolutely masterful job of campaigning “above the fray”. They have both staunchly refused to engage in attack politics, and the few stabs Edwards took at Dean during some of the early debates a) made Edwards look bad, and b) were not duplicated in later appearances.
Kerry’s showing in Iowa could be attributed to similar methods. Prior to Iowa, and in preparation for NH, Lieberman played the biggest heavy, hacking at Dean until he finally lost it and hacked back. While Kerry did the same thing to a lesser extent - by the time he started showing up on Iowans’ doorsteps, he had shifted away from attacking Dean to promoting himself. See, even in saying “Dean is a schmoe”, Lieberman was still making it about Dean, not himself.
If I were a political strategist, I would find all this very interesting from a strategic perspective, and frankly playing out very well thus far for the Democratic party.
-raving northeast liberal whips the party into a frenzy, boosting interest, turnout, and grassroots fundraising. The contest is successfully defined most importantly as a way to get rid of GWB.
-raving northeast liberal goes too far, prompting questions of electability. The party base, though, is already energized by the drama of stark raving lunacy, attack ads, wacky debate antics, etc. High voter turnout during the primaries and the general election is seemingly assured.
-plodding centrist candidates, sensing opportunity, decide to engage in good old fashioned mudslinging at the raving liberal. They are so out of date they do not realize that it damages them just as much as their target.
-his ego stung by the attacks, raving northeast liberal whines and mudslings back, forgetting that it was anything but old-fashioned political tactics that made him the front runner. In the process, he looks like an ass.
-the less strident, more visionary, more progressive candidates at last become the hot topic of coverage. Having benefitted from the mobilization of the electorate by the catfight among the competition, people are now primed to focus on message over fist-shaking.
Lieberman did his job - he hacked Dean relentlessly until Dean-o took the bait and spit back. After a 5th place finish in NH, Joe calls it quits and publicly endorses Kerry.
Kerry proved (with the help of the Iowan citizenry) Dean cannot be elected. Kerry wins N.H.
Clark is one of the principal beneficiaries of the Dean Iowa loss. Dean backers will begin to flock to Wes, in large part because he has managed to tap into the same internet activist Clintonite constituency as the Mad Vermonter. It’s an easy transition, and Kerry’s pro-war Congressional vote will keep the anti-war crowd away (as it will for Edwards). Clark will try to shore up his anti-war credentials, despite earlier evidence he waffled a bit, as the principal differentiator between him and Kerry. Clark comes in 2nd in NH.
Dean takes 3rd in NH by default. Poor sap - spent all that time and money, and it all washes out in the span of two weeks. The guy is a good mouthpiece for the disgruntled Democrats - everybody likes to vent every now and then - but he refuses to chill. But it’s still a good tool to inspire voter turnout. Angry people are more likely to actually do something.
Edwards a very strong, very close 4th in NH, possibly even 3rd. Why? Because regardless of what they may think about the corn-sucking Iowans, NH voters got the message they need to think about who can beat Dubya. Edwards’ message and abstention from old-style attack politics will pay dividends.
Kucinich waits until SC to withdraw, where his endorsement of Edwards will pay off the most. This should secure the Green vote for Edwards throughout the remainder of the primary process.
Sharpton sticks with it throughout the South. I don’t know if he’ll ever formally withdraw - he might just stop showing up. However, I guarantee several rousing stump speeches in the Deep South will make headlines. If nothing else, he will continue to hammer Dean on minorities, further decreasing the Mad Vermonter’s electability.
It will come down to Kerry/Edwards voters vs. Clark voters.
Clark’s pluses are his outsider status, his antiwar stance, Southern origins, and military record. But his lack of liberal credentials will make it hard for him to stay on message. He is too vulnerable to the vicious mudslinging Karl Rove is sure to employ in the general election.
Kerry boasts the war record, the Democratic credentials, and the experience. Undeniably a good choice for President. But man, what a stiff. His pro-war vote on Iraq will hurt, as will his lack of appeal in the South (no charisma, patrician heritage, etc.).
Edwards, defying all conventional wisdom, takes the Democratic nomination. He’s been consistently vocal on anti-war, so people will willfully overlook his pro-war Senate vote. If Dubya takes potshots about his level of experience, all he has to say is “Governor of Texas?”. Plus a savvy choice of running mate (your guess is as good as mine, but definitely someone to offset security concerns - Bill Richardson was a good guess, or Max Cleland).
There is absolutely no comparison between John Edwards in a general election and George W. Bush. Put them both on a stage and ask them questions on TV? Puh-leaze. Edwards was a trial lawyer for heaven’s sake. No contest. I guarantee there would be JFK comparisons, too - young, photogenic, a visionary, positive message, but without the elitist New Englander baggage. This election will not turn on Dems stealing Pub votes, or Pubs stealing Dem votes. It will be who can get more of their 50% of the electorate to the polls on Tuesday. Edwards by 5-8% margin, all attributable to minority turnout and an epiphany among socially conservative dirt-poor Southern whites that the Bush family is actually a bunch of fat cats with a summer compound in Maine.