Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
January 6, 2003
POLITICS: Early Predictions On The 2004 Democratic Race
The New Republic, desperate for a fresh New Democrat voice, thinks Florida Senator Bob Graham will be a strong presidential candidate in 2004. I have to say, his argument that we shouldn't limit the fight to Iraq makes a heck of a lot of sense. TNR makes a few good points in his favor.
Graham at least has a rationale for running ("Floridian serious about foreign affairs"), as do Lieberman ("centrist hawk"), Edwards ("champion of Regular People"), Sharpton (I don't have to explain this one), Dean (pure leftism, undistilled), and to some extent Kerry ("He'll Keep Us Out Of Vietnam - war veteran who speaks as voice of multilateral diplomatism"). The guys who don't are Daschle, Gephardt, and some of the darker horses like Biden. It's what killed Bob Dole; the leaders of the party in congress have to keep their lips simultaneously planted on so many behinds, and spend so much time immersed in procedural tangles, that it's impossible to distinguish themselves as unique spokesmen for any point of view.
Graham running would pull votes about equally from Edwards, as the electable southernor, Kerry, as the Master of Gravitas, and Lieberman, as the hawk, and most of all would destroy the dark horse Gary Hart and Wesley Clark ideas.
OK, it's time for the pundits, amateur and professional, to start handicapping the Democratic primary race. At the end of the day, the winner will need to be at or near the top in (1) raising money, (2) winning over the the African-American vote; (3) endorsements from AFSCME, and (4) endorsements from the teacher's unions. If one candidate takes all four, they win automatically, no matter their electability, charisma or press notices (See Mondale, Walter).
Here's my power ranking:
1. Edwards. The Kennedy/Clinton youth/electability thing, the populism. Needs to avoid the Big Gaffe and prove he can raise the big dollar, although he should do well raising money from the plaintiffs' bar. Left-wing voting record will reassure the unions.
2. Kerry. Fairly well embodies the party line. Deeeep pockets. Looks presidential. Kwise Mfume of the NAACP thinks Kerry will get the nod.
3. Gephardt. Has run before, knows the ropes. Many people owe him, will raise money effortlessly, and nobody has stronger ties to labor. Not to be underestimated for his lack of charisma, but pro-Bush Iraq vote was seen as treason by party faithful and undercut many of the Senate Democrats who wanted to tie the issue up in procedural knots.
4. Graham. Boring, neurotic, no name recognition, and Democratic primary voters won't go for the guy who sounds like a unilateral hawk. But he can win South Carolina and everyone knows he'll be competitive in Florida, which would give him serious momentum.
5. Dean. Governors still have some advantages, especially when the base thinks the DC establishment has sold them out, and the whole establishment is running. New Hampshirites know him and love quirky guys. Prepare for the Goldwater/McGovern/Mondale comparisons: Dean would strip the party down to the base. A Dean candidacy would be the worst outcome for Hillary '08, since it would create a backlash against northeastern liberals and pressure to try a Southern centrist.
6. Lieberman. Technically the front-runner, I guess, but urban African-Americans just won't go for him, and neither will the tye-dye Leftist types who think he's a puppet of Generalissimo Bush. Sharpton will kill him, because he will go after Lieberman relentlessly if he looks like he's going to pull ahead.
7. Field (includes the total chances of Hart, Biden and numerous others, including a draft-Hillary movement, a Gore reversal, Wesley Clark, Chris Dodd, Gray Davis, Jerry Brown (he's more likely due to run again in 2008), Tom Vilsack, Evan Bayh, and Lord knows who else). Hey, you never know.
8. Daschle. I still don't think he'll run; he's everyone's favorite scapegoat, and he doesn't stand for anything or anyone in particular. Gephardt will KO him in Iowa if he runs.
9. Sharpton. Will create havoc and will win a primary somewhere with 27% of the vote, I suspect, but the Democrats aren't this stupid.