Wednesday, May 21, 2003

The Radical Middle-Ben has an interesting piece proclaiming Howard Dean has the candidate that can appeal to both the left and centrist wing of the party. The Manchester Union-Leader piece that he links to points out his budget-hawk streak and his pro-second-amendment stances that counter his secular liberal persona. There are two questions voters often ask themselves: (1)How much does the candidate agree with me? and (2) How good of a chance does he have of winning. At this point, I see five candidates with a chance of getting the nomination; Kerry, Dean, Lieberman and Gephardt and Edwards. In a crowded field, 25% might win quite a number of primaries and each of the five has a chance of doing so. One of the things I look at in a primary candidate is the bumper-sticker test; who's going to have the candidate's bumper sticker on the back of their car? If that candidate doesn't have a constituency that will work for him, it's unlikely that they will succeed in the primary. Kerry is the classic generic liberal straight out of Central Casting with a fundraising edge of having his wife's bankroll to back him up; he is the New Left's establishment candidate. People within the interlocking liberal activist universe will gravitate towards Kerry. It's enough to get him to 20% but he'll need to get to 30% to win. Dean will get a lot of the Green Democratic vote of young (or young-at-heart hippie) activists, if they can forgive him his pro-gun stands. He can get into the mid teens on that demographic, but further moves will require grabbing some of the moderate vote away from Gephardt and Lieberman. Lieberman is running on a DLC centrist platform, pitching himself to moderates, soccer moms and Jews (not a trivial block in some key states like New York and Florida). His base is around 20% as well, but 30% is achievable if the rest of the candidates try to out-liberal each other. He'll also have the aura of being robbed of the Naval Observatory digs by Dick Cheney, thus being an outlet for angry Democrats who'd otherwise want a more liberal candidate. Gephardt is running as an Old Liberal. He has enough class warfare credentials to be palatable to liberals, but is enough of a tax and environmental free-thinker to be a harder sell. He'll have a shot at developing a Labor-DLC coalition if Lieberman falters; He'll have a 15% natural base that can double if things go well. I don't see Edwards having a natural base other than with trial lawyers and southerners or people who like spunky youngsters. Edwards may playing on the fact that it's been four decades since a Northern Democrat has won the White House. However, if his foes point out that he's being beat by Bush in North Carolina, that Southern strategy looks fairly hollow. He might be getting his trial lawyer buddies to max out for him, but he's likely to be the Phil Gramm of 2004, with a lot of ready money but not a lot of support. He's got about an 10% natural base that needs a lot of planets to be properly aligned to get to 30%. If Kerry implodes, Edwards might become the default value for some generic liberals, but don't count on it. Of the five, who has the best chance of grabbing away swing voters that voted for Bush in 2004? Of 2000's tossup, Bush has picked up about five to six percent of voters who respect his leadership and foreign policy touch; quite a few Gore voters are glad that Bush got elected as they found out that Dubya wasn't the doofus of the late-night-talk shows of 2000. That makes the race about 56-44 sans third parties. In order to win, the Democrats have to get about 6% of Bush voters back. Kerry doesn't do that. He might get one or two percent on economics, of people who felt that Bush was the better choice, only to see a stagnant economy lead them over to a bigger-government view. He's not going to get the Commander in Chief vote back, even with his Vietnam service record. Gephardt doesn't do that. He might get three or four percent by playing the blue-collar card, with a combination of protectionism and little-guy rhetoric, but would leave himself open to some devastating tax-and-spend rhetoric from the Republicans. If the economy stinks next winter, he'd be the place to go, but with lower oil prices, we're more likely to be in a recovery by then. Lieberman doesn't do that. He may pick up an extra three or four percent of the Old School Democrat vote, people who are leery of the libertine wing of the Democratic party but don't like the theocons much better. However, he'd be more likely to get a big Green vote; casting a protest vote than back a moderate Democrat. If he can keep the Green vote down, he'd have a shot, but so would have Gore. Edwards doesn't do that. His populist shtick will be a wash, for the anti-corporate rhetoric will be countered by anti-trial-lawyer rhetoric and cancel each other out. Now, how about Howard Dean? The two groups of Red State voters that are in play here are Old School Democrats and Nugent Democrats. Old School Democrats are blue-collar moral conservatives who lean to the left on economics and lean to the right on moral issues. Nugent Democrats (after hunting rocker Ted Nugent) are blue-collar civil libertarians who lean to the left on economics and sexual issues but are anti-regulation and pro-gun; this is big hunk of the Perot and Ventura demographic. Dean is well-positioned to pick off the Nugent Democrats, but Dean's militant secularism could scare off mainline churchgoers who aren't big Second Amendment people. This could bring some Bush states from 2000 into the Dean camp, but lose some Gore states. Let's look at the swing states from 2000; here's the FEC's state-by-state tally. Dean might pick up some votes in West Virginia, Nevada and New Hampshire, marginal red states where there are more Nugent Democrats than Old School Democrats, but might lose some in Iowa and Wisconsin, marginal Blue States that have more Old School Democrats than Nugent Democrats. The Iowa and Wisconsin calls are tough, for hunting is a big factor in both states as it is in my native Michigan, but the number of Lutheran and Catholic Democrats who might not be on Pat Robertson's mailing list but aren't going to be the least bit thrilled with gay marriage would seem to be larger than the secular blue-collar hunting demographic. If Dean presents a good government message, he might even hold the fort there. In a bad economy, Dean would seem to be the best choice to bring home a victory for the Democrats. As odd as it sounds, Dean seems to have the best chance of prying loose some red states to get into the White House. Ben closed his piece with "Man, it's only 2003, and this election is already getting all weird." It's the biggest free-for-all that I can remember. We may even have the political junkie's erotic fantasy, a brokered convention.

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