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Jewish World Review Nov. 11, 2003 / 16 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764

Roger Simon

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Dr. Superman

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | One of the things I look for in a presidential candidate is his ability to take a punch.

Some candidates can do it. They can take a body blow that might stagger them for a day or two, but eventually they bounce off the ropes and come back to fight on.

Bill Clinton could take a punch. During his first primary campaign in 1992, he got hit with everything from accusations of adultery to accusations of draft dodging and he just kept coming back. (That his chief defense was to lie about these accusations is another matter.)

Many candidates cannot take a punch. Gary Hart in 1987, who fled the race after accusations of adultery and Joe Biden in 1988, who dropped out after accusations of plagiarism, are two examples.

One of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's biggest weaknesses is supposed to be his penchant for speaking before fully thinking. And he does do that. But it isn't turning out to be much of a weakness.

Back in September, speaking to a small group of supporters, Dean said "it's not our place to take sides" in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Joe Lieberman, among others, jumped all over Dean, saying Dean was abandoning "a 50-year record of support for Israel."

But Dean took the punch. While it might come back to hurt Dean in the general election (if Dean gets that far), it sure doesn't seem to have derailed his primary campaign.

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And take his recent comment about wanting the votes of people who display the Confederate flag. There was a huge dust-up over that one. (And Dean was forced to semi-apologize.) Dean has also been accused by his fellow Democrats of wanting to dismantle Medicare, of having an "anti-black agenda" and a host of other charges, none of which have slowed him down.

In fact, Dean has emerged stronger than ever. He is expected to get the endorsement of two huge labor unions - - the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees - - and also will opt out of matching funds, freeing him to spend as much as he can raise in pursuit of the Democratic nomination.

So who is talking about the Confederate flag controversy now? Nobody. And even what could have been bad news contains a glimmer of good news for Dean this week: A new poll has come out in Iowa, showing U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., with a substantial seven-point lead over Dean. This is definitely good news for Gephardt, who has been undergoing something of a resurgence (at least in the media) lately. But there is a troubling figure in that poll for Gephardt: While 49% of Dean's supporters say they definitely will go to the caucuses, only 27% of Gephardt's supporters say that.

Telling a pollster whom you favor is a whole lot easier than spending 2-3 hours on a cold January night in Iowa voting for that candidate in a caucus. To win the Iowa caucuses, you need committed voters. And Dean, at least according to that poll, seems to have them.

Last week, ABC News' electronic political newsletter, The Note, which was one of the first media outlets to pick up on Dean's potential earlier this year, listed 18 "truths" about Howard Dean, almost all of them complimentary. I won't list all 18, but here are a few:

"1. Dean will raise more money in the year before the election than anyone else seeking the Democratic nomination, and that historically in the modern era is (with one exception) the iron-clad predictor of who wins in both parties.

"2. Beyond money, this year Dean has dominated in message and media, two other fabu[lous] things to have.

"3. None of the other candidates can overtake Dean in the fourth quarter - - they can theoretically do damage to him (although, outside damage with the Chattering Class, we doubt that, too), but they can't cripple him. There just aren't enough people paying attention yet.

"4. What doesn't kill Howard Dean only makes him stronger.

"10. Most Washington Democrats who are scared out of their wits about Howard Dean as their nominee have never been to a Dean event and don't have a genuine understanding of WHY he has succeeded this year."

I'll be writing more about this later, but make no mistake: Howard Dean is this year's political Superman. And nobody has found the Kryptonite to stop him.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate