Wednesday, February 4, 2004

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)

Primary analysis continued

I was going to post some thoughts, but Will Saletan pretty much wrote what I was thinking (link via RealClearPolitics:

First Clark squashed Edwards' official campaign kickoff in September, leaking word that very day that he would get into the race. Then, a week ago, Clark beat out Edwards for third in New Hampshire by a fraction of a percentage point. That cost Edwards the ability to claim plausibly that he had continued his momentum from Iowa. Tuesday night, it happened again: Clark eked out a margin over Edwards in Oklahoma so narrow that the state election board will have to review the ballots before declaring an official winner....

I think Edwards would be the strongest Democrat in the general election. Nobody expected him to do this well in Oklahoma. But when the history of the 2004 race is written, my guess is that we'll look back at Oklahoma as Edwards' Stalingrad. He had to kill off Clark. The media were itching to write off Clark, and a no-win night would have given them license to do so. Now they can't. Clark will go on to Tennessee and Virginia, where he'll do what he did in Oklahoma: split the non-Yankee vote and keep Kerry in the lead. Maybe Edwards will win Tennessee and Virginia, and Clark will fade. But by then it may too late to stop Kerry....

Kerry's biggest achievement is that he's now the only candidate who's running strong everywhere. I winced when he claim to have finished "enormously close" to Edwards in South Carolina; I don't recall Kerry aides treating Dean's finish in New Hampshire, which was nearer to the top than Kerry's finish was in South Carolina, as enormously close. But Kerry legitimately pointed out that he's the only candidate who campaigned in all seven of the Feb. 3 states, and he won five of them. Who else can make such a claim?

John Kerry is doing well, and the candidate deserves some credit. However, he's also benefiting from some unbelievable luck. Richard Gephardt, in his last moment on the national stage, drags Howard Dean down with him. Now it looks like Clark will do the same thing to Edwards.

posted by Dan on 02.04.04 at 10:10 AM


I'm no political scientist, but I have to take issue with the thesis that Edwards and Clark are cancelling each other out. I don't see their appeal as being to the same voter (and yes, I know they are both "southerners", but I suspect that Clark's demographics are older, more staid, while Edwards has an appeal to younger, hipper voters). The problem with both guys is that they are not catching on everywhere, but the places they ARE catching on matter. Still, there's no reason to think that a Kerry could not pick up MOST of the support currently going to these guys in a general election, and every reason to believe that the reverse NOT true.

My Dad is always my favorite "man on the street"--not college-educated but interested in politics and pretty well-informed (well, reads the NYTimes on Sundays--that counts, right?). He says, Edwards seems kinda slick, Clark is not impressive (my Dad's an old Navy guy), but Kerry "looks like a president." There you go.

posted by: Kelli on 02.04.04 at 10:10 AM [permalink]

Nah, Clark will drop out after the next round.

Not to worry.

posted by: praktike on 02.04.04 at 10:10 AM [permalink]

Can anyone explain to me why it matters whether Edwards or Clark "won" in Oklahoma -- they're both getting the same number of delegates, and those are what really count. Apart from the media wanting to make everything a horse-race, does it make an actual difference whether Clark got a thousand votes more?

posted by: Sean O'Hara on 02.04.04 at 10:10 AM [permalink]

Clark may also be taking some of the war-hero vote from Kerry. If Clark had not run in Oklahoma, it's an open question whether Kerry or Edwards would have won.

posted by: Zev on 02.04.04 at 10:10 AM [permalink]

To Kelli's point:

One of the interesting things about this race is that the exit polls are showing that most voters for Kerry, Clark and Edwards don't have negative views about the others. This is likely because all three have very similar ideals and policy platforms about where America should be going. So people voting for them are doing so based on personal preference, not policy difference (as could be the case with someone voting for Sharpton or Dean). They are nonetheless likely to be almost equally happy to vote for one of the others in a general election.

Of the three though Kerry (because he is the most experienced and is the only one mounting a truly national campaign, and of course he "looks presidential") has convinced voters and the media that he is the frontrunner and is most electable against GW. In a three way race, where one guy has a leg up already, the other two want to get rid of the other so that they become the alternative to the frontrunner. When there are two generally acceptable alternatives, the vote will fragment between them and neither will usually have enough votes to challenge the frontrunner. I think that is what is meant by cancelling out the vote.

posted by: GP on 02.04.04 at 10:10 AM [permalink]

I wrote after New Hampshire that this race would either get nasty very quickly or be over very quickly, and I still believe that. I had thought Dean would be the first to go hard negative on Kerry. However, I reckoned with Dean's money problems, and so far he's been firing mostly BBs instead of bullets anyway.

Clark is done; Oklahoma was a blip. Edwards' problem is that the identity of his campaign is its sunny, positive theme. He jeopardizes that if he goes strongly negative on Kerry, but can't drive up Kerry's negatives any other way. He may be smart enough to figure a way out of that dilemma. But Kerry's pretty smart too; so far he's adopted every theme that seemed to be doing any good for any other candidate.

I can see Edwards winning a couple of Southern primaries, but falling steadily farther behind as Kerry cleans up the large northern ones. To top it off, Kerry will likely pick someone else as his Vice President, in spite of (more probably because of) the media's enthusiasm for Edwards' looks and charm.

posted by: Zathras on 02.04.04 at 10:10 AM [permalink]

Lucky me! I get to vote next week in Virginia. And now that "Joementum" has officially shut down, I'm free to vote for (probably) Edwards. Oh, plus I get to wake up at 4:30 am to work the polls! I'll have earned that beer by the time I leave at 8 pm. Be sure to thank your poll workers, everyone (we get paid like adjuncts--crappy).

posted by: Kelli on 02.04.04 at 10:10 AM [permalink]

I agree with this analysis, and I'm kind of bummed about it. It's unfortunate, but it's just reality that you can't trumpet an Edwards win in South Carolina without at least mentioning that Clark won Oklahoma. Even though the margin of victory was much different, a win is a win.

Edwards is forced to try and explain how he was generally competitive everywhere he campaigned, and in that sense much more successful than Clark. While that is true and perhaps a convincing argument, it's not the kind of story that's going to 1) kill of Clark quickly, and 2) make up lots of ground against Kerry.

But I strongly believe Edwards should stick to his current themes. It still could be a long race to the nomination, and his stump speech ("work vs. wealth", etc.) actually contrasts well against Kerry. He has to hope Clark gets wiped out this week, and there's enough delegates still to be had that he can make a comeback while facing Kerry alone. It won't be easy, but the longer it goes on the wackier things can get.

posted by: Mike on 02.04.04 at 10:10 AM [permalink]

Random comments:

Clark's win in Oklahoma, coupled with Kerry's coming in a distant third there, along with Edwards winning big in SC, means to me that Kerry won't win in more conservative states in the general election.

No argument that Kerry will win this nomination, barring Hillary leaping in, in an attampt to "save" the General election for the Democrats. Which may happen if this middle America rejection of him continues.

Meantime, as best I can see, Edwards was a lot stronger in Oklahoma than the numbers would suggest... he basicly phoned in Oklahoma, whereas Clark's been out there for a week and more drumming up support... Clark just barely pulled it off.. a few thousands votes.

And, Edwards won in SC.

On the basis of both those, it seems clear Edwards is selling better in more conservative states, at least among Democrats. Edwards would, therefore, be a reasonable choice as Kerry's running mate if carrying Oklahoma and the south was a numerical consideration....

Hmmm.....Well, I should qualify that....carrying the state at least among Democrats, I mean, since Kerry still trails Bush in that state by a wide margin. It still all comes down to the idea that no matter who the Democrats prop up, it really doesn't matter.

posted by: Bithead on 02.04.04 at 10:10 AM [permalink]


It's purely a media-perception issue. Clark looks to have beat out Edwards in Oklahoma by a tiny margin. Had that margin been reversed, the story would have been "Kerry takes 5 states; Edwards takes the other two"--the two-man horse-race everybody's looking for. But with Clark edging out Edwards, the story is "Kerry takes 5 states; Edwards takes one state; Clark isn't dead."

posted by: Sam Barnes on 02.04.04 at 10:10 AM [permalink]

That's right, but the story could be something different, and in some of the coverage it was.

Edwards is basically beating expectations everywhere. He dramatically beats whatever poll numbers he has going into a primary.

Look at this summation of the polls over at Kos. Edwards overperforms his poll numbers by 10 points in Iowa, 10 to 15 in South Carolina (depending on the poll), 3 to 9 in Oklahoma, and 5 to 10 in Missouri.

Why isn't the story "you can't hold this guy down", or something along those lines? Why doesn't the expectations game kick in and give him a boost for always managing to convince a chunk of voters on the eve of an election to switch to him?

I mean, that's a helluva power, for a politician.

posted by: William Swann on 02.04.04 at 10:10 AM [permalink]

I am a tad bit cynical about Drezner's suggestion he might very well vote Dem. if (in his view) a credible candidate runs. Am I wrong to suggest that he is doubtful that Kerry is such an individual, esp. given his faint praise? So, I'd rephrase it to say "if a credible candidate other than the one likely to run is the nominee, I might vote for him."

I'm not sure why he is so high on Edwards. OK is after all a Southern state, and Clark is not running a great campaign, so where would the anti-Kerry vote go? He has four years experience. The fact he didn't kill off Clark suggests a bit on how he succeed in the general election. Shouldn't he have said "I thought Edward would be the strongest?" It surely sounds like Drezner is writing in the past tense.

Still, I admit the guy has some strengths. I wouldn't mind him being the candidate. But, perhaps Drezner should bite the bullet and say one way or the other if he'd be willing to consider Kerry, the likely candidate.

posted by: Joe on 02.04.04 at 10:10 AM [permalink]

I was hoping to get someone's ideas on the Lieberman vote and it's significance in the general election.

Specifically, will the Lieberman vote stay in the Democratic Party?

His showings average roughly 5%, not much IF those votes stay Democrat. But on what basis would anyone think that to be the case?

Let's face it the guy has never been "Mr. Charisma". If you voted for him and, this is more true for him than for any other Democratic candidate, you did so on the issues. And what issue is Lieberman markedly different from the other Democratic candidates?

Answer; obviously WOT. Those democrats picked Lieberman despite the poor poll numbers, despite constant media predictions of withdrawal, because they wanted a candidate who supported an agressive prosecution of WOT,and were not satisfied with other Democrats almost all of whom were clearly ahead of Lieberman throughout this race.

As far as I know, no scenario that presents Kerry or any other Democrat as competitive against Dubya has ever taken this into account. So what do you guys think?.....Daniel?...

posted by: Rocketman on 02.04.04 at 10:10 AM [permalink]

I think the idea that Clark is somehow stopping Edwards comes from the misapprehension that there is an "anti-Kerry" vote. So far as one can tell, there is not, and one would imagine that Clark dropping out would probably help Kerry more than it would Edwards, simply because Kerry is going to win over most undecided voters simply by being the frontrunner.

The way for somebody else (most likely Edwards) to win this, is if Kerry goes down, either through some Deanesque gaffe (unlikely), through media attacks (considerably more likely), or through negative campaigning from the other candidates (Dean seems game, and maybe Clark. Edwards won't play hardball). If Kerry seriously falters, his support, which is weak, evaporates, and there's plenty of anti-Kerry vote for everybody. As it stands now, Kerry's negatives are low, so there's no reason to think that candidates dropping out hurts Kerry.

So even if Clark and Dean both dropped out today, I don't see as this particularly helping Edwards. Edwards will just do unimpressively against Kerry in various states, maybe win the south, and continue on his merry way until he runs out of steam on March 2. The only way that a not-Kerry is going to win this thing is if there's a Kerry misstep. And if there's a Kerry misstep, it doesn't matter how many guys are still in the race. (I suspect, though, that Edwards would be the big beneficiary of such a misstep, because he's clearly the only other one who's getting new people to support him. I would guess that most Clark and Dean supporters decided on their candidate a while ago)

posted by: John on 02.04.04 at 10:10 AM [permalink]

Regarding Kerry's "losses" in the South...he was definitely far behind Edwards in SC. But he was barely 5,000 votes behind Clark and Edwards in Oklahoma. He also won New Mexico and Arizona by comfortable margins.

None of this suggests to me that Kerry is going to lose every Southern or Southern-leaning state in the GE. If the economy and Iraq suddenly start shifting positive, or if Rove can convice all the voters that same-sex marriage is the only important issue, then Kerry will lose the whole South, but Edwards probably will as well.

Other than that, I think ABB and the right VP could get Kerry a victory in one or two Southern states.

posted by: James on 02.04.04 at 10:10 AM [permalink]


I'm pretty sure that nearly all of Joe's votes stay in the Democratic party, or if they defect it won't matter. A few reasons. First, his strength was concentrated in the Northeast. Assume Joe's backers go Bush or stay home. Is W going to win Connecticut? New York? Um, no.

But more fundamentally, remember that JL's backers are still Democrats. There's a deep, fundamental anger about Bush's domestic policies on this side of the aisle, one that most Lieberman supporters share. It would take a monstrous gap on the foreign policy side to make these people swing to W, and I doubt there is one. Kerry and Edwards both voted for war in Iraq, and I doubt it's going to be possible for the White House to portray either of them as squishy-soft on defense issues. Kerry will trot out the people he risked his life under fire to save; and Edwards, as a Southerner on the intelligence community, will be hard to tar, too. And, hell, they'll do what Bush did last time, they'll buttress their position with a shadow cabinet of hawks.

This is the kernel of the Democratic strategy in the general election, which I'll be interested to see unfold: neutralize the defense issue by choosing hard-headed, capable military leadership, so that Americans will feel comfortable voting on the domestic issues where Democrats are far closer to the American majority position. They don't need to show their better than Bush, only that they're not a big drop-off.

posted by: TedL on 02.04.04 at 10:10 AM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?