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Saturday, January 03, 2004

By the way, if you think I'm exaggerating TNR's Dean hatred, you should take a look at TNR's main page, which prominently features Jonathan Chait's "Diary of a Dean-o-Phobe." Here's how he justifies his decision to start a blog on TNR's site exclusively devoted to bashing Dean:

It's not entirely clear to me why I've taken such an intense dislike to Howard Dean. Yes, I find him arrogant and frequently dishonest. Yes, I'm certain his nomination would lead to a political disaster of historic, and possibly biblical, proportions. And, yes, I'm continuously dumbfounded that a number of highly intelligent people I know have convinced themselves that his nomination is a good thing, or at least that it's not an unambiguously bad thing. But somehow the whole of my loathing for Dean is greater than the sum of its parts. So I've decided to start a blog on TNR's website to indulge that loathing.

I realize that there is a certain irony here. Earlier this year I wrote a piece for TNR that defended hatred of President Bush. (I argued that hating Bush may lead to irrationality--rooting against the capture of Saddam Hussein, or, say, nominating Howard Dean--but it's not irrational in and of itself.) But recently I'm finding that Dean hatred is crowding out Bush hatred in my mental space. It's not that I think Dean would be a worse president than Bush--he'd probably be better, although that's extremely faint praise given that Bush is the worst president of the last 80 years. Bush is like the next-door neighbor who lets his dog poop on your lawn and his kid shoot bb's at your house and who says something irritating to you every day on his way to work. Dean, on the other hand, is like the ne'er-do-well who's dating your daughter. You realize the neighbor is a worse person than the boyfriend, but the boyfriend (and the frightening prospect that he'll become your son-in-law) consumes more of your attention.
Chait goes on to reject the notion that TNR's main goal is to get Lieberman nominated, and he says that "Lieberman is not even close to being in my top three favorite candidates." Fair enough. But whether TNR is pushing Lieberman, someone else, or no one in particular, it obviously has warmer feelings for the centrist candidates--particularly Lieberman and Edwards--than for Dean. If Dean wins the nomination, it will be interesting to see whether he or Bush gets treated more harshly in the pages on TNR. If Chait's analogy is any guide, it will be a close call.
--Posted at 1:08 AM | link

The New Republic can't get enough of Edwards; he won December's "TNR Primary" by an overwhelming margin. Edwards has won this monthly popularity contest among TNR writers four times, compared to three times for Lieberman, once for Graham, and never for the rest. TNR's staff really wants Edwards or Lieberman to win this thing. They will probably be disappointed.

The main page of TNR Primary proudly displays a quotation from Howard Kurtz: "When you've lost the New Republic, you've dug yourself a hole in the Democratic primaries." Given Dean's success and the struggling campaigns of Edwards and Lieberman, this is starting to seem like a bad joke at TNR's expense. How relevant is TNR to Democratic voters today? The blog Daily Kos has a trio of posts on this subject (here, here, and here). For years, TNR has had a conservative streak for years that has turned off liberal Democrats (and pleased conservatives who could claim "liberal" support for their ideas), and it looks like this trend will continue. Two-thirds of TNR is owned by two financiers who launched the conservative New York Sun. One of them, Michael Steinhardt, recently donated the maximum amount to Bush-Cheney '04. The other, Roger Hertog, is a contributor to several conservative organizations. See the Kos links for more about the people controlling the finances of TNR.

TNR is not a magazine for the general public; it's a magazine for activists, politics junkies, and policymakers. And in today's polarized political climate, perhaps there's not much demand among activists and politics junkies for a magazine that positions itself in the center (and sometimes veers into center-right territory.) TNR can support whichever candidate it wants, of course, but I think it's fair to say that it doesn't have the relevance to Democratic politics that Kurtz claims on its behalf. Obviously, the kind of people who agree with TNR's politics are not influential enough among Democrats to stop the rise of Dean and Clark, or to give a boost to the struggling campaigns of TNR favorites Lieberman and Edwards.
--Posted at 12:35 AM | link

Friday, January 02, 2004

You might as well cancel the election now. God has already decided that George W. Bush will win in a landslide. Or so Pat Robertson says:

"I think George Bush is going to win in a walk," Robertson said on his "700 Club" program on the Virginia Beach-based Christian Broadcasting Network, which he founded. "I really believe I'm hearing from the Lord it's going to be like a blowout election in 2004. It's shaping up that way."

Robertson told viewers he spent several days in prayer at the end of 2003.

"The Lord has just blessed him," Robertson said of Bush. "I mean, he could make terrible mistakes and comes out of it. It doesn't make any difference what he does, good or bad, God picks him up because he's a man of prayer and God's blessing him."
Robertson did not tell us whether God would cause another terrorist attack on American soil to punish the ACLU and People for the American Way.
--Posted at 2:44 PM | link

The Washington Post describes the various strategies that Democratic candidates are using in their efforts to catch up to Dean. At the risk of oversimplification, I'll summarize them as follows:

  • Clark will skip Iowa and focus on coming in second in New Hampshire. If he can do this, he'll be in a strong position to take some of the February 3rd states. He's still trailing Kerry in NH, but Kerry's campaign seems to be falling apart, and Clark could beat him. If Clark comes in third in NH, his campaign could still take off with a respectable showing on February 3rd.

  • Lieberman also plans to pull off a strong finish in New Hampshire that will give him a bump on February 3rd. His basic strategy, at least as far as state focus is concerned, is similar to Clark's, except that he doesn't have as much money.

  • Gephardt must win Iowa. If he loses to Dean there, he'll have nothing to help him win any other states, and he'll quickly run out of money. If he wins, he'll be the first candidate with the distinction of taking down Dean, which could bring him a lot of attention and money.

  • Kerry's campaign is in sad condition. Apparently, it raised only $2.5 million in the last quarter. (Compare this to Dennis Kucinich's estimated $1.5 million.) Thanks to Kerry's personal wealth, the campaign won't die for lack of cash. But Kerry needs a strong showing in both Iowa in New Hampshire. At this point he has little chance of winning either state but perhaps second place in both could give him some momentum. It's hard to say. He's devoting nearly all of his attention to these two states, so it's unlikely that he can rescue himself with a miracle on February 3rd.

  • Edwards won't win Iowa or New Hampshire. He's hoping to win South Carolina and move on from there. Although he has a geographic advantage in this state, his victory is not certain, and he'll face strong competition from several other candidates. Even if he wins, it's not clear that his campaign will promptly take off.

  • Dennis Kucninch, Al Sharpton, and Carol Moseley Braun are in no position to win anything. They could draw votes away from other candidates though, before they run out of money and drop out.

Dean has built such high expectations for himself that any slip in the early primaries could be an opening for another candidate. All of this "inevitability" stuff could blow up in his face if he loses Iowa to Gephardt, or faces a close race in New Hampshire, or loses most of the February 3rd states. Even if Dean's performance is disappointing in all of these primaries, I don't expect him to leave the race. Dean has the money and support to be in this thing until the end. The question is whether he'll face a difficult fight, and this won't be clear for at least another month.
--Posted at 2:37 PM | link

Clark is making no secret of his desire to become the only alternative to Dean:

"It's now clear that I'm one of only two candidates in a position to win the nomination," Clark, a retired general, said in a statement issued Thursday. "And I'm the only candidate positioned to actually win the election because I am the candidate best able to stand up to George W. Bush and win the debate about who will best be able to make our country secure over the next four years."
Clark's in a good position to make his assertion about the nomination into a reality. He's the only Democratic candidate with fundraising numbers that rival Dean's (an estimated $10.5 million, with an additional $3.7 million in matching funds, compared to slightly over $15 million for Dean). Centrist Democrats might be uncomfortable with Clark's stance on the war, but they'd probably prefer an antiwar Southerner with a military background over an antiwar Northeasterner with no military experience. Appearance can become reality; if Clark looks like the only serious Democratic alternative to Dean, people will begin to support him for that reason.

The order of the primaries will also have an impact on who is seen as the Dean alternative. If Gephardt wins Iowa, he might have a shot at the "anti-Dean" role. Kerry could pull off a respectable performance in New Hampshire and recover to become Dean's main rival (although I wouldn't bet on it). The February 3 primaries will give a clue of what voters are thinking in the West, Midwest, and South. If anti-Dean Democrats are still undecided after these primaries, then Dean is in a strong position to take the nomination.
--Posted at 1:44 AM | link

The Washington Post reports that much of Howard Dean's early support came from gay activists who supported him because of his stance on civil unions:

With just one exception, every fundraiser Dean attended outside Vermont in 2002 was organized by gay men and lesbians, as were more than half the events in the first quarter of 2003, according to Dean advisers.

"The early foundation of Governor Dean's presidential campaign -- both in fundraising and organization -- was built by the support of the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community around the country," said Dean finance director Stephanie Schriock.
Of course, if Dean has a good image in the gay community, he'll have a bad image among anti-gay types for the same reasons. But these people would never vote for Dean (or any Democrat) anyway. It's the moderates that Dean has to think about, but as long as he supports "civil unions" instead of "gay marriage," he'll be on the safe side.
--Posted at 12:59 AM | link

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

The fourth fundraising quarter of 2003 is nearly over, and Howard Dean once again dominates the Democratic field. According to Dean's website, he has broken through the $15 million barrier, and he still has a few hours left in the quarter. This is still far below George W. Bush's total, but it puts him well ahead of his fellow Democrats. Wesley Clark is likely to be in second place, with somewhere around $10-$12 million. Six Democrats will get federal matching funds after the start of the new year, which should help them make their numbers look more respectable compared to Dean's. The AP gives the matching funds numbers as follows:

Clark, the retired Army general from Arkansas who entered the race in September and months after his rivals, will get $3.7 million, followed by $3.6 million for Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, $3.4 million for North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and $3.1 million for Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt. Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich will get $736,000 and perennial presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche will get $839,000.

Those are just the numbers for the first payments; Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton might get something eventually too. Dean, Kerry, and Bush have all opted out of the public financing system, and won't receive any payments. Dean and Bush are doing fine at this point with contributions alone, but Kerry is relying on his own financial resources to keep his campaign afloat.
--Posted at 7:54 PM | link

Monday, December 29, 2003

Most of the Democratic candidates have used the mad cow incident to criticize George W. Bush on food safety. Bush's spokesman says that he is considering additional safety measures, but Democrats can argue that such measures should have already been in place. If this is an isolated mad cow incident, the issue will die, and Democrats will not make any significant gains from it. If it is not isolated, this issue could be harmful to Bush. Republicans are usually viewed as hostile to safety measures that would damage the interests of big business. If the Democrats can frame the issue to make it seem like the Bush administration put the beef industry's interests above those of consumers, then they could have an effective attack against Bush.
--Posted at 1:51 AM | link

Bob Graham might be positioning himself to be a running mate on a Dean or Clark ticket:

Though his supporters staunchly deny it, the push by Graham bears characteristics of an organized campaign designed to rehabilitate the image of a once-mythic figure whose short-lived presidential campaign this year exposed political mortality for the first time since he entered the Florida Legislature in the 1960s.

Besides his prominent speaking slots at the state party convention with the major presidential candidates and at last week's Democratic National Committee dinner with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Graham, 67, has performed three of his patented "workdays" this month.

At the state party convention, he met privately with Dean and retired Army General Wesley K. Clark, another war critic who has said he would consider Graham as a running mate.

In his DNC speech, carried live nationally on C-SPAN, Graham called Dean's foreign policy agenda "visionary" -- a clear rebuke to Dean's rivals, who have been questioning his strength as a challenger to the president in the wake of the capture of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

The speech publicly crystallized the growing affinity between Florida's retiring senior senator and the unlikely Democratic presidential front-runner -- a closeness derived from shared opposition to the war in Iraq.
I recall people saying, when Graham entered the race, that he would make a lousy presidential candidate but a much better vice-presidential candidate. Graham's Florida connection is tempting for Democrats, who would love to carry the state not just for its votes, but also as a bit of revenge for the fiasco in 2000. His antiwar position would be compatible with those of Dean and Clark, and he would help balance Dean's perceived weakness on foreign policy and his New England background. Clark's military credentials and Southern background make such balance less necessary for him, but as Clinton/Gore proved, there's nothing wrong with having two Southerners on a Democratic ticket. Although antiwar Democrats might have loved to see a Dean/Clark or Clark/Dean ticket, this is looking less likely as the race becomes more heated. A Dean/Graham or Clark/Graham ticket might be an acceptable alternative.
--Posted at 1:43 AM | link

Edwards has some new supporters:

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Hootie & the Blowfish have endorsed Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards, who hails from the state where the rock band got its start.

Members of the band, who are University of South Carolina alumni, will join Edwards on Saturday when he officially files for the South Carolina Democratic primary.
I haven't heard from these guys for years. Apparently, they released an album recently. Maybe their political activities will get them a little attention.
--Posted at 1:30 AM | link

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