Sunday, January 25 2004
It is becoming increasingly clear as the week has progressed that Dean was not the only loser coming out of Iowa. On Wednesday I had suggested that Clark was running in second place in terms of who was likely to be the eventual Democratic nominee. However, the strategic rationale for how Clark was going to actually win the nomination appears to have depended on Kerry's demise and Clark's ability to be the sole anti-Dean candidate available to Democrats. With the inverse taking place in Iowa, in Dean's demise and Kerry's rise, Clark's appeal to Democrats seems to decline with every passing day. His debate performance on Thursday did little to change that dynamic, and in fact appears to have further marginalized his campaign.

Excluding Kerry's miraculous comeback for a second, Edwards appears to be the real surprise candidate here in the race. I had not given Edwards much of realistic chance of winning the nomination, primarily because of his youth, relative inexperience and boyish looks. All issues that might have been less significant in 1992, 1996 or 2000, but factors that I thought would be rather important in the first presidential election post 9/11.

However, in the latest ARG tracking poll Edwards continues to show momentum and is only two points out of second place. Now granted most of the other polls show Edwards further behind, but after his performance in Iowa I would not dismiss the possibility of him pulling out a strong third or even another upset second place finish.

Dean appears to have handled his pathetic showing in Iowa and his "scream" debacle about as well as possible, and looks to have bottomed out and may in fact be turning it around, Zogby has him only trailing Kerry by seven points, 30% - 23%. However, most of the other polls show a much bigger lead for Senator Kerry.

Political prognostication has been rather dangerous these last three weeks, but the odds seem to favor a Kerry win on Tuesday, with the potential "surprises" being: 1) Dean makes it a lot closer than the current polls indicate and 2) Edwards pulls out another strong performance. I would not rule out either one, or both, of these scenarios occurring on Tuesday.

Lieberman's campaign has always been hopeless, and New Hampshire's final results should make that clear to the Senator himself. Clark looks to be stalled and I would think a fourth or fifth place finish will be the end of any legitimate chance he might have had. However, given his potential appeal in the South and his money, he can't totally be written off.

At some point one has to think that with a win in Iowa, and a win in New Hampshire John Kerry is going to be awfully hard to derail. Had Dean had more than a week to regroup in New Hampshire I suspect he could have come back and beaten Kerry. But while he may be able to make it close and thus keep his candidacy alive, second is not going to be enough to stop Kerry's momentum. Unlike Bill Clinton in 1992, Dean is not moving on to states that are more favorably disposed to him. It would be a different story if he was the former Governor of Georgia or Colorado.

At this stage, Edwards appears to be in the strongest position to provide the only real challenge to Kerry. So today I would rate Kerry as 60% likely to get the nomination, Edwards 25%, Dean 10% and Clark 5%. And you would have to think that the most likely ticket right now is Kerry/Edwards or Kerry/Gephardt.

While Dean and Clark are the obvious losers post-Iowa, the other loser is President Bush. Had Iowa been just three weeks earlier and Dean won and then gone on to win in New Hampshire, Dean probably would have been unstoppable and George Bush would have been a lock to win a second term. There is no question that Kerry is going to be a much more formidable challenger to Bush, and it his perceived electability and Dean's perceived unelectablity that is in fact the driving force behind the seismic shift in the race for this nomination.

The White House obviously would have preferred Dean, but they can deal with John Kerry and they have a pretty standard and probably effective playbook they can run against him. The wild card here is John Edwards. I'm not suggesting that Edwards would necessarily beat President Bush, only that in many ways he could be the biggest obstacle for Karl Rove and a Bush win.

In short, Iowa appears to have been good news for Kerry, Edwards and the Democratic Party and bad news for Dean, Clark and President Bush. We'll see what New Hampshire brings on Tuesday. J. McIntyre 1:03 pm
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Friday, January 23 2004
There are now 6 overnight tracking polls in New Hampshire. That's right, six. And that doesn't include the Boston Herald/RKM poll which is now coming out weekly. It's absolute madness. If I were a voter in New Hampshire, I'd probably unplug my phone and my television for the next week until the storm blows over.

Before we go any further, a few quick words on tracking polls. They are extremely volatile, use small sample sizes, and have large margins of error. One of the reasons we like to average the latest polling data is that it helps smooth out some of the up and down swings that show up in various polls.

Even with all those caveats, it's clear there is a sea change going on in New Hampshire. Right now Kerry leads Dean by an average of 6.6% and it's going to get worse today as four more of the tracking polls coming out this morning will have samples that fully register Dean's "rebel yell" in Des Moines on Monday night.
UPDATE: ARG & Zogby added, Kerry lead now 8.3%. ARG has Dean dropping into 3rd place behind Clark.
CNN/USAT/Gallup added, Kerry lead now 9.3%.

I know voters in New Hampshire are notoriously independent, but it's hard to see where the surprise is going to come from. Kerry is moving up while Dean is sinking and Clark is static. Edwards is the only other candidate on the rise, but it seems unlikely he'll be able to surge 20 points in 4 days to catch Kerry. And Lieberman? Sorry, Joe. Nice guys always finish last.

NEW HAMPSHIRE DEBATE MADNESS: I've never seen Al Sharpton flail like that before. He looked like a boxer who'd just been hit with a Mike Tyson upper cut. Give Peter Jennings credit for asking a question that forced Sharpton completely outside of his race-baiting comfort zone. The result was not pretty.

The rest of the debate was, well, pretty much like all the other debates - minus Gephardt and Braun. Everyone wanted to see whether Dean could pull a rabbit out of his hat and salvage his sinking candidacy. I don't think he did. Nor was he able to effectively challenge Kerry, who waltzed through the debate without taking so much as a single serious blow.

PROTECTING THE LEAD: Dean is now left hoping that Kerry suffers his own "Muskie Moment" in the next four days. It's probably not going to happen. Kerry is an experienced politician and even though it took him a long, long time to get going and to find his voice, he's smart enough and disciplined enough to protect a lead.

It's the absolute opposite of Dean. Dean found his voice early and roared ahead, but his campaign completely lost its moorings when faced with the prospect of being the frontrunner and protecting a lead. The message fell apart and Dean proved to be simply too inexperienced and too undisciplined of a candidate down the stretch in Iowa.

From the beginning, everyone had the impression that Howard Dean was one sentence away from disaster. It was part of his attraction, part of the fun. For many voters it's not so fun any more.

You don't get even the slightest hint of that from Kerry. He's a model of stability. In fact, the danger for Kerry, should he win the nomination, is that he's too stable and too boring to win in November.

The other problem for Dean is that he's now fighting to win back voters he originally took from John Kerry last year. Like a spouse returning to her husband after a nine month affair, New Hampshire Democrats and Independents are going home to Kerry. How does Howard Dean convince these voters in four days to have another fling? - T. Bevan 7:51 am | Link | Email

Wednesday, January 21 2004
Two weeks ago my rough odds on who would get the Democratic nomination were 65% Dean, 25% Clark, 5% Kerry, 4% Gephardt and 1% Edwards. Well, two weeks is a long time in politics.

The speed with which the Dean campaign has fallen apart is truly astonishing. While there is no question the capture of Saddam Hussein took a great deal of punch out of Dean's attack on the war, his melt down can not solely be pinned on Hussein's capture.

At the time Hussein was captured the Dean campaign had already reached a point where most of the good news was" priced in", so to speak. The inevitable nature of the process was going to create a closing effect as the Iowa caucuses approached.

Dean had three powerful forces working against him. First, when it comes to elections the media always wants a contest and not a coronation. They had a stake in playing up a close race and not a Dean runaway. Second, the liberal elements in the press who want to see President Bush and Republicans lose this fall had never completely bought in to Howard Dean. They were (and remain) very skeptical of his ability to beat the President and worried of the damage he might do to the Democrats in the fall. Third, the most powerful force in the Democratic Party, the Clintons, were against him.

These forces and the consistent drip, drip, drip of public gaffes finally reached a tipping point where many Democrats in Iowa who were leaning toward Dean decided to take a hard second look. It's as if they got three-quarters of the way down the aisle and decided that this marriage might not work out after all. More than anything, I suspect the electability issue is what drove Kerry's rise and Dean's decline among most voters.

Dean's background as a combative New Yorker and liberal New Englander wasn't compatible with the nice Midwestern state of Iowa and worked to his disadvantage. Dean's negative commercials in the final ten days helped move people away from him and towards Kerry and Edwards. There was also the mixed message of how he was the outsider running against the "Washington establishment" while standing at event after event with another member of the establishment.

All these things, combined with Gephardt's utter collapse, are the cocktail that produced Kerry 38%, Edwards 32% and Dean 18%. To add the final exclamation point to one of the worst months any political candidate has ever had, Dean finished off his total flame out with his completely un-presidential soundbite on election night. It is not an overstatement to suggest that could very well slam the door shut on his national political career. Quite simply, people in both parties don't want a President who acts like that.

Given the volatility of the last two weeks and the surprising nature of this entire Democratic campaign, it would be a mistake to write Dean off completely. But quite frankly, I just don't see how he comes back from this debacle. Anything less than a win in New Hampshire and he is finished, and right now I don't see him winning New Hampshire.

My rough odds today on who would win the Democrat nomination are Kerry 40%, Clark 30%, Dean 15%, and Edwards 15%. We'll see how much that changes after New Hampshire next week.

STATE OF THE UNION: Maybe it was because I wasn't that fired up for the President's speech last night or wasn't expecting that much, but I quite liked President Bush's State of the Union address. Fred Barnes seemed to pan it last night on FOX and Andrew Sullivan describes it as Bush's worst State of the Union to date.

I guess if you've given four SOTU's, one of them has to be the "worst," but I thought the speech was just fine and in many ways, the perfect opening salvo for this year's election:

Our greatest responsibility is the active defense of the American people. Twenty-eight months have passed since September 11th, 2001 -- over two years without an attack on American soil. And it is tempting to believe that the danger is behind us.....

When I came to this rostrum on September the 20th, 2001, I brought the police shield of a fallen officer, my reminder of lives that ended, and a task that does not end. I gave to you and to all Americans my complete commitment to securing our country and defeating our enemies. And this pledge, given by one, has been kept by many.

You in the Congress have provided the resources for our defense, and cast the difficult votes of war and peace. Our closest allies have been unwavering. America's intelligence personnel and diplomats have been skilled and tireless. And the men and women of the American military -- they have taken the hardest duty. We've seen their skill and their courage in armored charges and midnight raids, and lonely hours on faithful watch. We have seen the joy when they return, and felt the sorrow when one is lost. I've had the honor of meeting our servicemen and women at many posts, from the deck of a carrier in the Pacific to a mess hall in Baghdad.

Many of our troops are listening tonight. And I want you and your families to know: America is proud of you. And my administration, and this Congress, will give you the resources you need to fight and win the war on terror.

I know that some people question if America is really in a war at all. They view terrorism more as a crime, a problem to be solved mainly with law enforcement and indictments. After the World Trade Center was first attacked in 1993, some of the guilty were indicted and tried and convicted, and sent to prison. But the matter was not settled. The terrorists were still training and plotting in other nations, and drawing up more ambitious plans. After the chaos and carnage of September the 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers. The terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States, and war is what they got.

This is why President Bush is going to be very hard to beat in November.
- J. McIntrye 6:53 am | Link | Email

Tuesday, January 20 2004
Charlie Cook reports on Iowa:

  • John Edwards "demonstrated raw political talent that obviously made up for what his operation lacked."
  • John Kerry's "operation appeared to be quite solid, though his own performance on the stump was pretty uneven, and generally less impressive than either Edwards or Dean."
  • Dean "peaked too soon" and "didn't take a punch well."

Finally, regarding Dick Gephardt, Cook writes:

"Although few observers expected Gephardt to win in the closing days of the caucus campaign, virtually all were stunned by his poor finish. In the convention center press room, as reporters were gathered around television monitors watching Gephardt address his supporters, there seemed to be a genuine, heartfelt sadness that his career ended on this note. The biggest losers of the night were members of organized labor, many of whom turned their backs on Gephardt, one of their best friends on Capitol Hill, and allowed their support to be split between Gephardt and Dean, ensuring that neither would win."

I've always rather liked Gephardt. Even though I don't agree with his politics and I sometimes cringed at the rhetoric he used, Gephardt has shown himself to be an honorable guy, a decent public servant, and, above all, a real patriot. - T. Bevan 1:33 pm | Link | Email

WHO IS BILL'S MAN?: From Doug Waller's piece in Time:

"Kerry’s turnaround began largely unnoticed back in mid-November. With advice from outsiders like former President Bill Clinton, Kerry had sharpened his populist message on the stump, delivering shorter, less rambling speeches with snappier bight lines that connected with audiences."

Isn't Wes Clark Clinton's man? So why on earth would Bill be giving advice to Kerry, whose revitalized campaign now represents the most serious threat to Clark in New Hampshire? Just asking....

MISSOURI IN PLAY: The biggest and most obvious consequence of Gephardt's withdrawal is that Missouri is now in play. Eighty-eight delegates just went up for grabs, making the Show-Me state the prime prize on February 3.

Clark and Edwards have already deployed significant resources in South Carolina. John Kerry, on the other hand, still has the flexibility (we'll have to wait and see about the resources part) to make a bold move into Missouri. Who knows what Howard Dean may do.

This late in the game, with no one having spent any time or effort in Missouri, a Gephardt endorsement will make all the difference in the world. Will he give it? To whom? - T. Bevan 12:40 pm | Link | Email

IOWA POSTMORTEM: So what did we learn last night, other than the obvious lesson of never trying to predict the unpredictable?

First, we learned that in the end Howard Dean literally scared the pants off of Iowa voters. When it came time to line up there were simply too many questions left about Dean's anger, inexperience, and electability for caucus goers to stomach. They turned away.

Joe Trippi blamed the defeat on Gephardt:

"What happened here is that we got in a dogfight with Dick Gephardt. Dick Gephardt was in a fight for his life in Iowa. We got out there and got in his way, by getting into a lead, and they just hammered the living daylights out of us … while John Kerry and John Edwards just floated up, the only guys with positive messages."

There's certainly a good deal of truth to this, but it also oversimplifies the dynamic that led to a defeat for Dean pretty much across the board. He lost the youth vote to Kerry. He even lost to Kerry among the 75% of voters who opposed the war.

It turns out there might still be - at least in Iowa - a sensible center to the Democratic party. Okay, maybe not sensible, but at least pragmatic.

Perhaps more ominously for Dean, even the hard left wing of the Democratic party seem to have arrived at the caucuses last night somewhat disenchanted with his siren song:

Voter ID on Political Issues
Very Liberal
Somewhat Liberal

Big numbers of Democrat voters remain rabid George W. Bush haters. But it's as if many of these voters looked in the mirror over the past few days at the hatred and anger embodied by Dean and recognized just how poorly this would play among the general public. David Yepsen captured the sentiments of one of these voters in today's column:

"I'm in a hell of mess. As you know, I have been with Dean from from the start . . . but I have come to look upon Kerry and Edwards as possible winners over Bush. I hate Bush so bad that I will hate myself for the rest of my life if I pick the wrong guy."

By the look and sound of his speech in Des Moines last night, Dean doesn't get it. At least not yet. As one political analyst put it:

"What he may have done in the end was reaffirm some of the concerns that people have had with him. . . . People don't expect a real president to do that."

It's not the kind of imagery you want splashed all over the place as you head into what has now become a make-or-break primary for your campaign - especially when there are only seven days to turn things around.

MEANWHILE IN BUSHLAND: I'm sure the White House wasn't thrilled with last night's outcome either. John Kerry or John Edwards would pose more of a serious threat than Dean in the general election.

The Washington Post has new numbers on the President as he prepares to deliver a very important SOTU address tonight.

MEDIA ALERT: For all you RCP fans in the New York City area, I'll be on The Kevin McCullough show today at 2:20pm Eastern to talk about Iowa. There's no stream via the Internet but you can catch it on the dial at WMCA 570 AM.

Also, tonight I will be on Milt Rosenberg's program, Extension 720, from 10-12pm Eastern to provide analysis of President Bush's State of the Union address. You can listen to the program live by clicking here. - T. Bevan 8:56 am | Link | Email

Monday, January 19 2004
Well, well. The results out of Iowa are surprising to say the least. No one expected Kerry to do as well as he did tonight, winning not just a squeaker but a decisive victory. His surge in the polls - as well John Edwards' - was real and he didn't suffer at all from what most considered to be an inferior ground game.

Perhaps the bigger story lies more in the losers than the winners. The collapse of Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt have totally changed the dynamic of this race. Gephardt's embarassing finish leaves his presidential bid in tatters and his political career effectively finished. (Egad, in the midst of this short entry I've just learned that Dick Gephardt has already dropped out of the race altogether. Talk about your Feiler Faster Thesis.)

Anyway, Dean will soldier on in New Hampshire, but he's already losing steam. In two out of the last four polls taken Dean has slipped below 30%. One month ago nearly every poll had him in the mid-40's. You can almost bet the next poll out of New Hampshire will have Kerry at or very near the top, probably ahead of Clark and maybe ahead of Dean.

The question is how Dean will react. How will he retool his campaign and his message? What lessons will he learn from Iowa and how fast will he learn them.

Dean should start by taking a quick scan at the exit polls. The number that should get his attention is this one:

Which ONE candidate quality mattered most in deciding whom to support tonight?

Cares about people like me
Takes a strong stand on the issues
Has the right experience
Can beat George Bush

Dean has eight days to figure out how to convince voters in New Hampshire that he has more to offer than just anger. Another drubbing in the Granite State by Kerry and/or Clark would leave Dean reeling, and facing an even bleaker situation on February 3. - T. Bevan 10:51 pm | Link | Email

HEY, HEY IT'S CAUCUS DAY: Finally. Since we're home for fellow political junkies all around the country I know I'm probably not supposed to admit this, but all I can say is "Thank God it's almost over." I think I would keel over if I had to read another "Gephardt Relies on Union Support for Last Stand" story or another "John Edwards is Mr. Nice Guy" profile.

On the other hand, the good news is that we've got some race on our hands. People have asked what our predictions are for the caucuses and I can tell you this morning that we don't have any. Not officially. Trying to speculate on how things will shake out today is a fool's errand. It's just too close.

Still, I've been accused of being a fool before, so if you put a gun to my head I'll say that I suspect the Deaniacs are going to come through on the ground and that Kerry's rise in the polls among undecideds isn't going to translate into enough hard support tonight.

Whatever the result, it's likely to be close and that means Kerry will ultimately leave Iowa the biggest winner. He continues to rise in New Hampshire and even with a close second or third-place finish tonight he's right back in the thick of things. Not bad for a guy who was left for dead a few short weeks ago.

BRAUN REDUX: I ripped Carol Moseley-Braun pretty hard last Friday for being a suck-up and a sellout for her last minute endorsement of front-runner Howard Dean. That afternoon I had a few post-blog pangs of regret: Had I been too harsh? Would people take it the wrong way? After all, I came within a hair's breadth of calling Braun a political welfare queen.

Turns out I may have been too kind. The Chicago Tribune reported on Sunday:

Appearing on CNN, Trippi denied as "absolutely ridiculous" reports that the Dean campaign was paying former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun a salary following her announcement Thursday that she was dropping out of the contest and endorsing Dean.

Trippi said the campaign had budgeted $20,000 a month for travel expenses for Braun and a staff aide in her role as a surrogate for Dean in future state contests. While he said no deal was made to retire her campaign debt, Trippi said a "huge unity dinner" would be held after the nomination is decided to pay off the debts of unsuccessful contenders.

It's hard to see how any right-minded person doesn't view this as a quid pro quo. Political endorsements (especially ones of this magnitude) don't just "happen", they're carefully planned and negotiated events between two parties. Clearly there was a deal in the works for some time and Braun's endorsement was contingent upon the parties coming to some sort of agreement as to when, where and how it would occur.

But even if you suspend disbelief and accept the premise that Braun's receipts will be scrupulously audited and she won't receive a penny more than what it will cost her and an aide to travel each month, the deal still looms an act of gross incompetence on the part of the Dean campaign for not recognizing the appearance of impropriety.

You simply can't receive an endorsement one day, then turn around the next and essentially put that person on staff at the rate of a quarter million dollars per annum - not to mention the promise of a "unity dinner" (wink, wink) to pay off campaign debts - and not set red flags waving over ethics.

Need we even ask what Democrats would say if the Bush campaign openly bought the endorsement of a prominent African-American in the same way?

COULD GLENN REYNOLDS BE PRESIDENT?: No, probably not. I'm not sure he's given any indication he wants to be President, either. But it's an interesting thought experiment on how blogs - and by this I mean real opinion blogs - could serve as a tool to launch political careers.

We've all heard endless stories about the potency of Howard Dean's blog and how he's used it to efficiently mobilize support and raise money across the country. But if you take a look at NZ Bear's traffic rankings, you'll see that Instapundit gets almost three times the number of visitors that Blog for America gets on a daily basis.

Two quick caveats: It's tough to tell whether these numbers represent "unique" visitors on a daily basis or not (I probably visit Instapundit three times a day and therefore may be registered as either 1 "unique" visit or 3 total visits). Either way, the numbers we're looking at are apples to apples.

Obviously, though, the types of visitors to the two sites are different. The vast majority of people visiting Blog for America are fervent Deaniacs looking for their marching orders, while Glenn's visitors are probably much more casual and less motivated by any sort of personal allegiance.

Still, I'd be willing to bet the majority of Glenn's audience is pretty loyal. Blogging is a very personal medium and the best bloggers are able to establish a dialogue with readers that connects on a personal (and in some cases almost intimate) level. Glenn is no exception, which is why his audience continues to grow.

But back to practical politics. Howard Dean's campaign started from scratch. His internet effort took nearly two years to build. Many bloggers have also been steadily building their own audiences over the past two years, some faster than others.

As it happens, Glenn is someone who has built a huge, loyal visitor base and also garnered a modestly high profile in the media from blogging that could give him an automatic advantage as a political candidate.

If he were to announce a run for, say, Governor of Tennessee, it's not unthinkable that he'd be able to harness the power of his blog to raise a sizable amount of money from all over the country as well as generate a decent grassroots campaign effort that would make him a legitimate candidate, probably as a third-party Independent (I'm just guessing).

What am I saying, you ask? That bloggers are going to rule the world? Chaos theory reigns! Kevin Drum, Governor of California! Dan Drezner, Senator from Illinois! Bill Hobbs, Congressman from Tennessee!

Not at all. I'm just observing the trends. If blogs simultaneously continue to become more popular as outlets for personal opinions and more effective as political weapons for raising money and organizing volunteers - and there is every reason to expect both of these things to happen - I wouldn't be surprised to hear of some blogger making a run for something in the not so distant future. - T. Bevan 10:10 am | Link | Email

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