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Jewish World Review Jan 6, 2004 / 12 Teves, 5764

John H. Fund

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Unintended Consequence: How Terry McAuliffe and James Carville created Howard Dean | A year ago Democratic leaders were convinced a key to winning the White House was to minimize internal bickering and settle early on a nominee. That candidate could then speak for a united party against President Bush. The party has gotten its wish--a jammed early primary schedule virtually guarantees the Democratic candidate will be known by early March--but party leaders now seem to be having buyer's remorse. The nominee will be either the mercurial and error-prone Howard Dean or someone who may have a hard time exciting fanatic Dean supporters.

James Carville, the razor-tongued Democratic strategist, was among many party leaders who were certain of a cure for the Democrats' blues: "We've really got to get a presidential nominee," he said in February. "And the quicker the better." Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe listened to this siren song and helped engineer a change in the party's 20-year-old rule that no state other than Iowa and New Hampshire could vote for delegates before March.

Iowa and New Hampshire promptly moved their voting dates to Jan. 19 and Jan. 27, respectively. That meant holiday-distracted voters would have only a few weeks to pay attention to the actual race once the New Year's bubbly wore off. That meant that for all of 2003, liberal party activists were in the driver's seat when it came to deciding who would raise the most money and be anointed the front-runner in media coverage. That turned out to be Mr. Dean, who tapped into activist rage over the Bush administration's war in Iraq and lingering anger over the disputed Florida recount in 2000.

But while "Bush loathing" is almost universal among Democratic partisans, it resonates with only about 20% of the electorate. Many of the people who don't approve of Mr. Bush's handling of his job are turned off by bitter attacks against him.

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So the problem for Democrats worried about Mr. Dean's electability and tempted to derail him is that only two weeks remain before Iowa Democrats attend their caucuses. The only candidate who has a real chance of defeating Mr. Dean in Iowa is Richard Gephardt, who hails from neighboring Missouri and who won the Iowa caucuses in 1988.

But the money-starved Mr. Gephardt isn't a contender in New Hampshire. He will have to count on either John Kerry or Wesley Clark to slow Mr. Dean down there and therefore allow some Democrat a shot at stopping him in the Southern states that vote on Feb. 3. If Mr. Dean wins both Iowa and New Hampshire it's hard to see how--short of a political gaffe of megaton proportions--he will be stopped from getting the nomination.

Such a gaffe is certainly possible. But what worries Democrats is that if he is the nominee Mr. Dean will make that megagaffe in the long eight months between the selection of a nominee and Election Day. "Reporters tend to put candidates into stereotypical boxes," says political analyst Stuart Rothenberg. "If someone gets a reputation for outrageous statements everything they say is viewed as a potential gaffe. Al Gore had the same problem when he developed an image as a serial exaggerator in 2000."

Mr. Dean's gaffes during just the last two weeks of December prompted party leaders to worry that a public impression of him as an undisciplined candidate was starting to set in. First, Mr. Dean said that America was no safer after the capture of Saddam Hussein. He followed that up by saying he couldn't prejudge Osama bin Laden's guilt before a trial. After he was attacked for such statements he asked Mr. McAuliffe to call on other Democrats to stop criticizing him. He then implied that if he didn't win the nomination his most fervent supporters would take a walk in November since they are "certainly not going to vote for a conventional Washington politician."

All of these led Democrats to worry that Mr. Dean was turning himself into a piņata for Republicans during the fall campaign. "I know Howard Dean is the doctor, but I have a prescription for him: He doesn't need to answer every question," said Donna Brazile, Al Gore's 2000 campaign manager.

It was Mr. Carville who sounded the most worrisome notes. "It seems like he's come down with a case of 'mad mouth' disease," he said of Mr. Dean last week. "He may be candid, but there is the glory of the unspoken thought here." Later on CNN, he elaborated: "I'm scared to death that this guy just says anything. It feels like he's undergone some kind of a political lobotomy here."

Democrats find themselves in this fix--either nominating an unelectable candidate or alienating his core supporters--in large part because they endorsed a quick rush to judgment through an early and hurried primary schedule.

There's no way to be sure that a more leisurely and conventional primary process would have produced a different or more thoughtful result. But it's safe to say that those who thought a lightning-fast selection of a Democratic nominee would leave their party better positioned against President Bush are having to relearn the law of unintended consequences. One has to ask, who's the real political blunderer: Mr. Dean, who has brilliantly used the party's new rules to his advantage, or the party leaders who made it all possible?

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09/03/03: The Anti-Dean: Why Hillary opposes the Democratic front-runner
06/27/03: The California jurist who may replace Justice O'Connor
06/02/03: Clinton the Hoover: Bill, Hillary and the Dems' political vacuum
05/27/03: Nerd Nirvana: Students are to the right of the faculty even at the U of Chicago
05/16/03: GOPers gain in the land of Humphrey and Mondale
04/28/03: With the war won, it's time for Bush to master the Senate
04/04/03: Is "diversity" on campus even a goal worth pursuing?
03/05/03: Sunday morning with the BBC
02/28/03: Shut Up, They Explained: If you can censor this, thank a teacher
02/21/03: Unmitigated Gaul: Saddam isn't the only dictator with whom Jacques Chirac is cozy
02/18/03: Growing number of black officials breaking ranks by calling for a more honest approach to race relations
01/31/03: Half and Half: Republicans have achieved parity among American voters
11/11/02: Sobering Thoughts: The GOP's cup runneth over? No, it's half empty
10/31/02: Blue Gray: California's governor answers a Nobel Prize winner with obscenities
10/14/02: Bad Hair Day: Did Montana Dems exploit antigay prejudice?
10/11/02: The kill-everything senate
09/30/02: Schroeder did what it took to win--but at what cost to Germany?
08/22/02: Buh-Bye Bob, So Long Cynthia : No amount of shouting could've saved Barr or McKinney
07/29/02: GOP: Get Over Panic --- Dems are vulnerable on corporate scandals, too
07/17/02: Not Just an Average Joe: A black GOPer may give Rep. Eliot Engel a run for his money
07/15/02: The McCain Mutiny-II
07/01/02: Opening the Schoolhouse Door: The politicians can't stop school choice now
06/20/02: The Body' Bows Out --- American politics will be duller without Jesse Ventura
06/06/02: It's time for President Bush to stand up to California's senators
05/16/02: A Court Intrigue: Procedural funny business in a racial-preference case
05/14/02: Thin moral ice: New revelations from a skater's Stasi files recall an oppressive era
05/09/02: Newark, Zimbabwe!?
05/02/02: Will Terror Leave Us No Choice? Teachers unions try to use Sept. 11 as an excuse for bad schools
04/23/02: The New Nixon? Al Gore plots his comeback
04/16/02: 'I, Uh, I Have No Comment': A union plays dirty in opposing an antitax initiative
03/31/02: Don't Just Do Something, Stand There!: Filibusters can help the Senate GOP get things done
03/14/02: Red-Light District: It's time to draw the line on gerrymandering
02/21/02: Slippery Slope: Can Dick Riordan beat California's Democratic governor?
02/14/02: Reform School: The Shays-Meehan incumbency protection act
02/07/02: Arizona Highway Robbery: Politicians make a grab for campaign cash
01/31/02: Disfranchise Lassie: Even dogs can register to vote. We need election reform with teeth
01/17/02: Dr. King's Greedy Relations: Cashing in on a national hero's legacy
01/10/02: Oil of Vitriol
01/04/02: The little engine that couldn't--and the senators who don't want it to
12/24/01: E-mail and low-cost computers could be conduits for a learning revolution
12/13/01: How Gore could have really won
12/07/01: Let our students keep their cell phones
12/04/01: Why the White House gave the RNC chairman the boot
11/12/01: A Winsome Politician: She won an election in a majority-black district--and she's a Republican
11/01/01: Bush Avoids Politics at His Peril
10/30/01: Cocked Pit: Armed pilots would mean polite skies
10/24/01: Chicken Pox: Hardly anyone has anthrax, but almost everyone has anthrax anxiety
10/11/01: Will Rush Hear Again? New technology may make it possible
10/04/01: Three Kinds of pols
08/24/01: Lauch Out: Who'll replace Jesse Helms?
08/08/01: Tome Alone: Clinton's book will probably end up on the remainder table
08/03/01: Of grubbing and grabbing: Corporation$ and local government$ perfect "public use"
07/31/01: Affairs of State: The Condit case isn't just about adultery. It's about public trust and national security
07/14/01: The First Amendment survives, and everyone has someone to blame for the failure of campaign reform
07/12/01: He's Still Bread: Despite what you've heard, Gary Condit isn't toast --- yet
07/12/01: Passing Lane: Left-wing attacks help boost John Stossel's and Brit Hume's audiences
06/25/01: Man vs. Machine: New Jersey's GOP establishment is doing everything it can to stop Bret Schundler
06/15/01: A Schundler Surprise? Don't count out "the Jack Kemp of New Jersey"
06/06/01: Memo to conservatives: Ignore McCain and maybe he'll go away
05/29/01: Integrity in Politics? Hardly. Jim Jeffords is no Wayne Morse
05/22/01: Davis' answer to California's energy crisis? Hire a couple of Clinton-Gore hatchet men
05/07/01: Prematurely declaring a winner wasn't the networks' worst sin in Florida
04/23/01: How to fix the electoral process --- REALLY!
04/11/01: A conservative hero may mount a California comeback
03/30/01: Can the GOP capture the nation's most closely balanced district?
03/09/01: Terminated
03/06/01: Leave well enough alone
02/22/01: Forgetting our heroes
02/15/01: In 1978 Clinton got a close look at the dangers of selling forgiveness
02/12/01: Clinton owes the country an explanation --- and an appology
02/06/01: How Ronald Reagan changed America
01/16/01: Why block Ashcroft? To demoralize the GOP's most loyal voters
01/15/01: Remembering John Schmitz, a cheerful extremist
12/29/00: Why are all Dems libs pickin' on me?
Dubya's 48% mandate is different than Ford's
12/13/00: Gore would have lost any recount that passed constitutional muster
11/13/00: The People Have Spoken: Will Gore listen?
10/25/00: She's really a Dodger
09/28/00: Locking up domestic oil?
09/25/00: Hillary gives new meaning to a "woman with a past"
09/21/00: Ignore the Polls. The Campaign Isn't Over Yet

©2001, John H. Fund