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Jewish World Review Feb. 6, 2004 / 14 Shevat, 5764

Michael Barone

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After February 3 |
So where do things stand after February 3? John Kerry, after winning Missouri and Arizona (the two biggest states up for grabs on Tuesday) plus New Mexico, Delaware, and North Dakota, has a clear flight path to the nomination. But John Edwards and perhaps Wesley Clark still have a chance to win, and Howard Dean evidently imagines he does. The problem with their strategies is that they all have as one essential step-Kerry screws up or is pummeled by the press. I have never liked such strategies, since they depend on something that is beyond your candidate's control. But that's better than nothing. Let's look at the situation from each candidate's point of view.

John Kerry will continue to follow the strategy he followed on February 3: Contest everything. As the front-runner, you pretty much have to, and with his standing in national polls, he racks up delegates even where he loses, as he did in South Carolina and Oklahoma. Kerry could have conceded South Carolina to Edwards and pumped more money and time into Oklahoma, where he probably would have overtaken Clark and Edwards. But he was probably wise not to. Edwards is a more dangerous opponent, and Kerry forced Edwards to pump lots of money and time into South Carolina. On election night, Kerry was in Washington state, where he has good reason to believe that he will beat Dean February 7, even in the state's traditionally left-wing caucuses. And he has good reason to believe he can win the firehouse primary in Michigan February 7 and the caucuses in Maine February 8.

Kerry may lose in Virginia and/or Tennessee February 10. But he can survive that and put resources into Wisconsin February 17. That may very well be a decisive primary. Everyone still in the race will have to compete there: It is Dean's target primary, Edwards admitted election night he will have to run there if he wins either contest February 10, and Clark will surely come to the same conclusion. After Wisconsin, there is a two-week period in which the only contests are in Idaho, Utah, and Hawaii February 24. So Kerry-provided he doesn't make mistakes or get pummeled by the press-is in good shape to clinch the nomination February 17. It's been a long time since Wisconsin has been a significant primary-at least since 1976, when the primary was held in April. But we may on election night be remembering how Wisconsin crushed Wendell Willkie in 1944 and Douglas MacArthur (a Wisconsin native) in 1948.

John Edwards, as this is being written, is facing the tough decision of whether to seriously contest Michigan. The state allows Internet voting, which means that many votes have already been cast-some even before Edwards's second-place finish in Iowa made him a serious candidate. It is a firehouse primary, with people voting not in the usual voting places, so organization (of which Edwards has very little in Michigan) is important and television ads are expensive (it is the nation's eighth-largest state) and will not necessarily produce votes. Kerry is evidently getting the support of the teachers' unions, and in Michigan the Michigan Education Association has become a force in Democratic primaries about as strong as the United Auto Workers. But Edwards's people attribute his win in South Carolina and near win in Oklahoma to his weekend ads attacking free-trade policies-they call them jobs ads. Kerry, who voted for NAFTA, is arguably vulnerable on this issue. There is division within the Edwards camp on whether to seriously contest Michigan; the decision is being made as I write.

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Whatever he does in Michigan, Edwards must seriously contest Virginia and Tennessee February 10. Here he has an advantage that, later, could become a disadvantage. The February 3 results make it clear he is a regional candidate: He does well in southern-accented America. He got about 50 percent of the vote in upcountry South Carolina and the Pee Dee region, heavily white areas; he beat Kerry among South Carolina whites by 50 to 28 percent (in the current exit poll numbers) but among blacks by only 37 to 34 percent. The good news for Edwards is that blacks, who accounted for 45 percent of the turnout in South Carolina, will be a much lower percentage February 10-about 30 percent in Virginia and 20 percent in Tennessee. The bad news is that in Virginia about 30 percent of the votes will be cast in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, which is not southern-accented territory. Still he has good prospects for outpolling Kerry in these states, as he did in South Carolina and, narrowly, in Oklahoma.

If he does, then he has to go beyond regional strength in Wisconsin. He proved in Iowa that he could do well with nonsouthern-accented voters. But there he got to meet them in person, and in-the-room-with-you is this trial lawyer's best medium. In Des Moines the day before the caucuses, he spoke to a crowd of more than 1,000-a significant percentage of the 8,000 or so who voted in Des Moines's Polk County and adjacent Dallas and Warren counties. In Wisconsin, he won't have this advantage. The tough question for him is whether, if he loses in Wisconsin, he will have the resources to survive for two weeks through the February 24 contests in Utah, Idaho, and Hawaii to reach the Super Tuesday contests March 2. And there the lineup is not favorable to him. The only southern state voting is Georgia. Also voting are hugely expensive California and New York, four New England states where he likely has no chance (Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut), and metropolitan Maryland, plus the Minnesota caucuses. He must stay alive there to survive to March 9, Super Tueday II, which is all southern: Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi (the latter two probably with higher percentages of black voters than South Carolina). Can he make it? Probably not without the help of Kerry mistakes/pummeling by the press. But that could happen.

Wesley Clark has a different problem: Where voters have gotten to see him, they end up not liking him much. The Platonic idea of a Clark candidacy is attractive; Clark in person, considerably less so. He spent three weeks in New Hampshire, almost alone with Joe Lieberman, and saw his standing decline. He started off ahead in Arizona, only to see John Kerry with his Iowa and New Hampshire bounces easily overtake him. In Oklahoma, the state he spent the most time and money in, he only eked out a (at this writing) 1,400-vote victory over a surging John Edwards. Maybe he will have an advantage in that Tennessee and Virginia voters will not see that much of him before February 10. It says something sad about a candidate that his best chance to win is that he will get little exposure. But there it is. If Edwards had beaten Clark in Oklahoma as narrowly as Clark beat him, Clark's staff would probably have talked him out of continuing in the race. He would have failed to win anything, and he would risk ending up as John Glenn did in 1984, spending 15 years paying off a debt incurred by a single week's futile campaigning. But Clark won in Oklahoma, and you can't talk a winning candidate into quitting. So he soldiers on. But the Kerry camp's judgment that Clark is less of a threat to their man than Edwards is surely correct.

And then there is Howard Dean. On election night Dean was in Seattle, facing a much smaller crowd than the 6,000 that greeted him late at night on his Sleepless Summer campaign push in August 2003. Dean failed to make the 15 percent threshold to win delegates in at least six of the seven contests February 3, and he says his strategy is to concentrate on Washington and Michigan February 7 and Wisconsin February 17. But his campaign is like a tire that has gone soft after you have raised the car up on a jack. Let the jack down, and it quickly becomes apparent that all the air has gone out of the tire. His crowd in Seattle, reported Major Garrett on Fox News, was small. His chances in Michigan seem remote. He will ignore Virginia and Tennessee and come rolling into Wisconsin after February 10. But will he be taken seriously? The chances seem dim. His best shot is if Kerry beats Edwards and Clark in Virginia and Tennessee and Dean remains the only live opposition, in which case he is positioned to be the remainderman if Kerry, on his by then very clear flight path, encounters turbulence. But Dean himself has high negatives among Democratic primary voters, and he may not even be a possible remainderman anymore.

So the question may very well turn out to be whether Kerry sustains damage when, as now, he is very much in the spotlight as the very likely Democratic nominee. Perhaps the answer is yes. Last weekend the Washington Post ran an article pointing out that this scourge of insider lobbyists (as he styles himself) was the No. 1 one recipient of lobbyist contributions over the past 15 years. Kerry is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which handles all sorts of heavily lobbied issues, and it would be interesting to track the relation between the position he has taken on heavily lobbied telecommunications issues, for example, and the campaign contributions he has received. Kerry has always eschewed PAC contributions, but there are very many people in the telecom industry who are capable of making and very ready to make the maximum contribution to Commerce Committee members. Interesting fodder for an enterprising press-or if not them, for the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign later. Will the press turn its steely eye on Kerry now? Or will it confine itself to, as it mostly has, the perfectly legitimate and, for Kerry, almost entirely positive stories about how he has turned this race around and made himself the favorite for the nomination? On the answer to that question hinges the chance that John Edwards or (much less likely) Wesley Clark or (much less likely yet) Howard Dean wins the Democratic nomination for president.

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Michael Barone Archives

JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.


©2004, Michael Barone