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Jewish World Review Feb. 3, 2004 / 11 Shevat, 5764

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A Southern love affair | COLUMBIA, S.C. — Primary campaigns are like love affairs: They can be long; they can be messy, but in the end everybody kisses and hates each other for the rest of their lives.

Take Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt. Please. Used to be buds. Dean worked in Gephardt's 1988 presidential campaign and there was even talk of a Dean-Gephardt ticket, when people still entertained the thought that Dean might be forming a ticket. (Seems like an awful long time ago, doesn't it?)

But today the relationship is in ruins, as both sides blame each other for their twin disasters in Iowa, which drove Gephardt from the race and reduced Dean from the front-runner to just another member of the scrambling pack.

"It was a murder-suicide in Iowa," a Gephardt aide said.

"It was a murder-suicide in Iowa," a Dean aide said.

Translation: the negative ads of one side killed the other side but then also killed the first side. Get it? Doesn't matter. Blood over the dam. But the John Kerry-Wesley Clark feud, now that has real possibilities.

Same dynamic: Some think a Kerry-Clark ticket could go places wedding the vote-getting potential of the Massachusetts liberal with the strong-on-defense appeal of the Arkansas general. It would be the All Warrior ticket with two Democratic Vietnam vets opposing Republicans Bush and Cheney, who managed to avoid active military service.

But in New Hampshire, Clark pointed out that he had risen to four-star general while Kerry had been only a lowly lieutenant in Vietnam. "He's a lieutenant, and I'm a general," Clark sniffed. (And please note his use of the present tense.)

To which Kerry later replied, "That's the first time I have heard a general be so dismissive of lieutenants, who bleed a lot in wars."

At which point Clark pointed out that he had bled in Vietnam, too.

Reportedly the joke in the Kerry campaign was that when Captain Kangaroo died, Clark told everyone that he outranked him.

Kerry has yet to lock up the nomination, of course (a small detail) and one of the people working hard to stop him has been John Edwards. After a debate in Greenville, S.C. last week, Edwards' aides predicted that the race would get down to Kerry and Edwards and it would not be decided until March 2, when the "Super Tuesday" states including New York and California hold their primaries.

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But as Edwards plans for the future, he can't stop thinking about the past. Especially one day last May when he stiffed a powerful figure in South Carolina politics, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn. Clyburn's endorsement was much sought-after by all the presidential contenders. Clyburn originally endorsed Gephardt, which was no surprise considering Clyburn and Gephardt had worked together for many years in the House. But when Gephardt tanked after Iowa, the big question became who Clyburn would endorse before the South Carolina primary this week. John Edwards was the logical choice.

After all, Edwards was born in South Carolina and is the senator from North Carolina. But — surprise, surprise — Clyburn endorsed Yankee John Kerry, instead. Why? Joe Erwin, South Carolina Democratic Party chairman thinks he knows why. "The Edwards people thought they were going to get Clyburn," Erwin said in an interview. "But there was that Fish Fry. Jim Clyburn does not forget. People still talk about it here. It was a real slap in the face."

Back in May of 2003, Clyburn staged his annual Fish Fry in a parking garage in downtown Columbia (you had to be there) following a Democratic debate. All the candidates were there to press the flesh of the nearly one thousand people in attendance. People ate deep-fried whiting on white bread with mustard and hot sauce as the deejay spun the Charleston Shuffle and the crowd got down.

It was one of those all-too-rare, feel-good evenings in politics. The other presidential candidates in attendance worked the crowd and then took the stage with Clyburn to say a few words to the voters. But Edwards — the only candidate who really had to win South Carolina — ducked out of the Fish Fry. And Clyburn was left to call plaintively from the stage: "Sen. John Edwards? Sen. John Edwards? We need you here. We need you here."

Edwards was not to be found, however. And when Clyburn said, "The next president of the United States is on this stage tonight!" some thought there was an ominous edge to his voice.

An Edwards spokesperson said the next day that it "diminishes" Edwards to be on the same stage with the other candidates and that is why he took a powder.

But eight months later, when Edwards tried to get Clyburn's endorsement, Clyburn found another fish to fry.

Although the press made a big deal over the South Carolina primary, largely because it was the first state where African-American voters played a significant role in the outcome, the state has not gone Democratic in a presidential election in nearly three decades (Jimmy Carter 1976) and the Democrats have no serious hope to win it this year.

Picking up Southern states is going to be difficult for the Democrats and because Al Gore demonstrated in 2000 that a Democrat could become president without winning in the South — if Gore had won New Hampshire or West Virginia, two winnable states, he would have become president — some in the party now say the South will simply drain resources to no benefit and that time and money should be poured into the battleground states of the Midwest instead.

Needless to say, South Carolina party chair Erwin disagrees. "I don't think it's a realistic strategy to write off the South," he says. "Yes, we're a red (i.e. Republican) state, but this primary has so energized us, that it is rebuilding the party."

OK, we said, so where does the Democratic nominee win in the South this November?

There was a long pause. "Florida," Erwin said. "If you call that a Southern state."

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