Sunday, January 25, 2004

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The dynamics of the Democratic race

Josh Marshall -- who's giving his readers their money's worth in New Hampshire -- introduces a complicating factor to the race after Tuesday:

[T]he two candidates with the most wind at their back -- Kerry and Edwards -- are also the ones who have the fewest resources in place to contest the primaries which will come rapidly, week after week, after next Tuesday.

Dean, of course, has spent the last couple months using all those Internet dollars to build up organizations and infrastructure in states across the country. And Clark, though to a lesser extent, has done the same.

Here's the thing -- I'm not sure how much organization matters. The Internet has made it very easy for candidates to translate monentum into contributions and volunteers (though not top-shelf organizers). Organization matters for get-out-the-vote efforts -- but this time around, the horse-race dynamic is boosting turnout anyway.

Once the race reaches the multi-state primaries phase, what matters more than organization are free media and paid media. The former goes to the candidates with momentum (though the Dean obsession this week could prove me wrong on that one). The latter goes to the candidates with money, which helps Dean and Clark. However, if both Kerry and Edwards do well in the Granite State (and Jonathan Cohn argues that Edwards will do much better than expected in New Hampshire) then the margin of that advantage will shrink dramatically as new money rushes to both of those candidates.

UPDATE: Via DailyKos, The ARG polls in three February 3rd primary states (Arizona, South Carolina, and Oklahoma) highlight the fluidity of the race, but they also support my argument. Dean, for all his vaunted organization, is running no higher than fourth in all three states, and is only polling in double-digits in Arizona. Clark's numbers are relatively strong -- but if he doesn't do well in New Hampshire I can see that support fading. Meanwhile, Kerry is leading in the Arizona poll and second in South Carolina. Edwards is leading in South Carolina and second in Oklahoma.

posted by Dan on 01.25.04 at 12:55 PM


Don't forget that eveyone was poo-pooing the chances of Edwards and Kerry in Iowa for months, because they had no organization there (unlike Gephardt and Dean). Well, we all know how that turned out.

posted by: Dadist Hand Grenade on 01.25.04 at 12:55 PM [permalink]

On the other hand, a number of the primaries after New Hampshire occur in states, like South Carolina, where the Democratic vote is concentrated in minority communities whose turnout is generally low but also somewhat volatile. In other words, if a modest number of South Carolina black Democrats find a reason to get excited about one of the candidates they could swing the primary his way. A good organization would be awfully useful in enabling a candidate to translate a good impression among these voters into primary votes.

posted by: Zathras on 01.25.04 at 12:55 PM [permalink]

Organization is overall more important in primary elections than general elections, because of lower turnout. And it will be more important on Feb 3. and beyond in the campaign than it was in Iowa and New Hampshire, because it will play a stronger role in states where the candidates themselves haven't campaigned extensively.

The relative importance of organization vs. media driven "momentum" is hard to judge in advance. It'll be interesting to see what happens.

posted by: N V on 01.25.04 at 12:55 PM [permalink]

Organization does matter, but it doesn't win by itself. Momentum and media buzz can generate a good showing, but organization is needed to "take and hold ground,". Organization can't lead the charge however. What happened in Iowa is that Dean was savaged - partly by his own pratfalls and partly by unrelenting criticism. Gephardt allowed himself to go negative when he got desperate and realized that his org wasn't reaching the public. When both fell apart, John Edwards got most of the defectors from Gephardt. Kerry however won big because he got the votes that might have gone to Dean instead.

In NH it's an entirely different story. There are plenty of candidates. No one has (yet) self-destructed, though Dean still needs better advisers and ads, and people can vote for who they want without meeting the 15% caucus limitation. That's why Lieberman is still "viable". In an arena where people can vote for their first choices, being the favorite second choice is pretty useless.

I predicted earlier that Edwards would stall as organization and money started hitting him. That seems to have happened. Some polls show him gaining, and some show him losing. No one can say right now that he's gaining rapidly.

In Iowa Edwards' and Kerrys' surge wasn't a "surpise" though it may have been an upset. Polls for days had shown them climbing on Dean. On the ground, the hottest talk in my door to door canvassing was Kerry and Edwards. The polls didn't lie and neither did on the ground facts - the reporters just weren't paying close attention.

Reading the tea leaves in NH, one can see no corresponding surge for Edwards. Kerry is progressing. I have to attribute at least part of that to organization and money, which Kerry has to capitalize on from his Iowa win and Edwards' doesn't. This is exacerbated by the Granite State's reputation for their voters wanting to be personally wooed, something a good organization and money can help deliver. I wouldn't expect a late upset by Edwards at this point. Right now, Lieberman may have more momentum than Edwards does. With a wide field, no minimum viability threshold, and no one blowing up, people will likely go with their first choices.

posted by: Oldman on 01.25.04 at 12:55 PM [permalink]

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