“…And down the stretch they come!”

Looks like the Democratic Primary Campaign is turnign into a donnybrook, after all.

I’m out here in Balad, Iraq, so I’m not surrounded by the normal amount of wall-to-wall coverage
that I’d ordinarily see. But, luckily, I have the Internet. It’s just a matter of separating the wheat from the chaff.

[A word about comments and posting. I’ve decided to turn comments off, because it’s something I don’t use. Also, I’ve been busy–y’know, helping to establish democracy where they don’t even know the meaning of the word.]

Anyway, here’s what’s on my mind…just a few things.

The Kerry Surge

I don’t know how real this surge is. That’s to say, I don’t know if this is the beginning of the Kerry wave that
takes him to the nomination that everyone (save yours truly) said was his for the taking before Dean took off. I’m inclined to say that that’s dependent on how he does in New Hampshire. I know, it’s a hedge, but there’s way too much uncertainty in the race to say one way or the other. I thought it was that way last month, when Dean was blowing everyone out in New Hampshire, and seemed to be surging in Iowa.

TNR has a great new article on the surge by Michael Crowley. Basically, it says that the credit belongs to Michael Whouley, who was the architect of Gore’s comeback against Bradley four years ago. It’s a good article–read it.

The latest Zogby poll shows this:

Zogby, 1/13-15, 503 likely, +/-4.5% (1/12-14 in paren):

Kerry 24 (22)
Gephardt 19 (21)
Dean 19 (21)
Edwards 17 (17)

And here’s the latest ARG New Hampshire poll:

American Research Group, 1/13-1/15, 616 likely, +/-4% (1/9-11 in paren):

Dean 28 (36)
Clark 23 (19)
Kerry 16 (10)
Lieberman 7 (10)
Edwards 6 (3)
Gephardt 3 (4)

Two things become clear, at least to me:

1. There are five contenders: Edwards, Gephardt, Kerry, Clark and Dean. I’ve listed them in order from lowest probability to highest. Each has a plausible shot at winning the nod; each can look at themselves tomorrow morning, in the mirror, while shaving, and tell themselves that they have a shot at this thing. Call them the Furious Five.

2. Whatever shot Lieberman had at this thing, it’s gone. Looking at the ARG daily poll, he’s gone from 10% in the January 9-11 track to 7% in yesterday’s track. Meanwhile, Edwards has been steadily growing, from 3% Jan. 9-11 to 6% yesterday. Incidentally, he’s already passed Gephardt, which only confirms to me the conventional wisdom: if Gephardt finishes second or worse, he’s done.

The Next Withdrawal: Joe Lieberman

Carol Moseley Braun withdrew yesterday, throwing her support to Dean. That made the field eight men strong. I think it’s the start of the culling process. So who’s next?

“Fighting” Joe Lieberman. And yes, I am being sarcastic.

Looking back on it, Lieberman really wasn’t ever going to be the choice of the party faithful. True, he had the advantage in name recognition and money early on, but that’s only going to get you so far. I’ve never thought that Lieberman represented a large constituency in the party, and his presidential campaign has only served to reinforce that belief.

His strategy was to parlay a strong showing in New Hampshire (a victory, if possible; more likely a second-place finish) into wins on February 3. That presupposed a three person race between Gephardt, Kerry, and himself; but it made no allowance for the rise of Howard Dean, Wes Clark, or John Edwards. And once that occured, he was done.

How could he have won? Hard to say; but I think Mickey Kaus hit it dead-on when he puzzled over Lieberman’s inability to stake out contrarian positions on Democratic issues–other than on Iraq, of course. Had he done so, he could have conceivably pulled in some independent support, and perhaps become a McCain-like figure.

Either that, or consciously seize on the banner of the Florida Fiasco, and pull a Howard Dean. But I don’t think that was even remotely possible, because Lieberman’s always prided himself on how bipartisan he is–going so far as to turn the 2000 Vice Presidential debate into a tea party, instead of an all-out brawl.

Lieberman forgot that bipartisanship is for governing, not for campaigning.

Victory Strategies for the Contenders

So here’s what I think the Furious Five need to do to win the Presidential Nod

Edwards: Finish strong in Iowa, preferably top three. He can easily win second, and a win isn’t out of the question, but it’s dependent on how Kerry finishes this weekend. If he wins second or third, then it’s on to New Hampshire, where a third place finish isn’t implausible. Hard, but it can be done. If not, he needs a strong fourth place finish–probably about 15%. Anything less, and he’s probably done. It goes without saying that once Feburary 3 rolls around, he has to win in more than one state. I think he’s the most likely recipient of Gephardt’s voters should Gephardt depart the race, so he definitely still has a shot at the prize.

Gephardt: Win Iowa. Nothing else matters. Nothing. Win Iowa, and while New Hampshire’s probably a lost cause (he’s only at 3% there), he can probably eke out some wins in the South and Midwest with his labor backing. Lose Iowa, and it’s all over–if Gephardt can’t win there, it’s hard to see where he can win before the Midwest primaries roll around in March. At this stage, he’s not likely to be the nominee (especially with Edwards surging), but he’s still got a shot. It all depends on Iowa, though. Win Iowa–and the fight goes on. Lose Iowa–and the white flag’s unfurled.

Kerry: A good strong finish in Iowa and New Hampshire is critical for the former front-runner. If he can win Iowa (something that somehow, looks more and more plausible every day), then he knocks out Gephardt and makes it difficult for Edwards to break out in New Hampshire, and more probably, the South. An Iowa victory for Kerry also makes it harder for Clark to make it a two man race, while it gives Kerry a shot at winning New Hampshire. That’s something that everyone thought was impossible as of last week. If Kerry wins New Hampshire…then it’s a whole new ball game. Beyond that, I dare not say.

Clark: Forget Iowa–for him, the task is to seize the lead in New Hampshire. If he can win New Hampshire, or finish second, then he can breathe a bit easier. He’s got to be looking a bit concerned about Kerry’s surge in Iowa, because it’s impacting Kerry’s campaign in New Hampshire. From New Hampshire, he moves on to the South, and he should do better there. The sooner he can get this to a two man race (between him and Dean), the better for his prospects.

Dean: He’s still the front-runner, but not by much. He’s got to hold what he’s got in Iowa, and he has to win New Hampshire. If he doesn’t, and Kerry does, then Kerry becomes the new front-runner, with Clark and Dean a close second. That’s the tyranny of expectations, and why Dean needed to lowball things last month, which he didn’t.

Tomorrow: more polling goodness, the prospects of a brokered, multi-ballot convention, and another scenario.

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