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Monday | January 20, 2003

Cattle Call 2004: 1/20

I haven't done one of these in a while, since before Gore dropped out of the race he never entered. So here I begin on a clean slate for the year 2003.

The tentatively announced primary dates are:

  • 1/19: Iowa Caucuses
  • 1/27: New Hampshire Primary
  • 2/03: South Carolina Primary
  • 2/03: Missouri Primary
1. John Kerry
Kerry is still the nominal front-runner, though he has been all but invisible the last month. This may be a good thing -- the more high profile he becomes, the quicker the Drudges of the world will carve him up.

In the meantime, he's solidifying his New Hampshire effort, piling up the endorsements of key Granite State Democrats. NH, of course, is do-or-die for Kerry. He cannot win the nomination without anything less than a first-place victory in NH. So far, so good for him -- he's good a decent lead in NH.

2. Joe Lieberman

This is one of those difficult calls I hesitate to make, but it's hard to avoid the fact that Lieberman's is scoring will in all the early nationwide polls. He's got the money, he's got Gore's implicit support (though that could change in a heartbeat), and he's got the "centrist" credentials.

But, he's got "centrist" credentials, and it should be his ultimate downfall with a left-leaning primary electorate.

From a tactical standpoint, it's hard to see where he can score early delegates and momentum. He won't do well in Iowa or NH. South Carolina might be a possibility, but it will be hotly contested between him, Moseley-Braun, Edwards and Graham. New York is a prime target (as well as CT, obviously), but will Lieberman's candidacy have any salience after a string of high-profile defeats? I can't imagine it would.

3. John Edwards

Give Edwards the biggest momentum boost in the past few weeks. He went from ignored and pathetic, to the most skillful campaign launch of the bunch. Contrast his launch with that of the hapless Gephardt's, and you get an idea of how skillful campaign operatives can make all the difference.

The loads of free press have had an apparent effect. After languishing in all the really early polls, Edwards scored second place finishes in the latest Newsweek and Time polls. And from a strategic standpoint, he looks good in the early South Carolina primary, and should compete in Iowa. He'll probably skip New Hampshire altogether, but he can afford to do so.

Edwards' biggest challenges now will be to avoid the gaffes that plagued his pre-announcement efforts and tagged him an "empty suit". He'll also have to effectively parry GOP charges that he's an ambulance-chasing trial lawyer.

4. Bob Graham

He's unannounced, and he's unknown to the rest of the country. But he's got one major asset that will be hard to parry -- he can win Florida. Without Florida, Bush would have to win PA -- a task he couldn't accomplish in 2000, and should be even more difficult with a popular Democrat (Rendell) in that state's governor's mansion.

Graham also has solid national security credentials, being an influential (and vocal) member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Graham also avoids the historical stigma against Senator candidates -- he was governor of Florida prior to his current stint in the Senate.

5. Howard Dean

Dean is still languishing in the money race and scores poorly in the national polls. But he's gaining fast in New Hampshire -- coming in a solid second place to Kerry. The pollster who took that poll said much of Dean's support came from independents, which may portend good things for Dean.

As the primary approaches, he expects the percentage of independent likely voters to grow. If someone catches on as Republican John McCain did in 2000, independents may end up comprising nearly one-third of the voters, as they did in that primary.

Since Dean is the guy with the strongest early image of being the outsider, his already strong showing may just grow.

Dean should also compete in South Carolina, where the vote should be split four or five ways between the top candidates. His pro-gun, fiscally conservative message should resonate well there. Iowa will be a tough nut to crack, but Dean isn't conceding it, and early indications are that he's making solid inroads.

6. Dick Gephardt

The guy announces his candidacy for president, and no one notices. He probably deserved better after all of his years of service, but whatever. His time is up. He's done enough damage as is (especially his pro-Iraq war vote) and I'm not convinced that even the unions will be as loyal anymore.

Gephardt is the prohibitive favorite in Iowa. He has to win that primary or his candidacy is stillborn. From there, he'll have a good shot of winning the Missouri primary. But after that it should all go downhill for Gephardt. He's expected to win those two primaries, and as such, won't provide the momentum boost that other candidates would get. And it's hard to see Gephardt winning anything else. (Not to mention that even a weakened Bush could wipe the floor with Gephardt.)

And things like this won't help:

Ten Iowa Democrats were sizing up their party's presidential candidates over chips and salsa here Saturday when Nick Maybanks, a young lawyer, stumbled onto an unexpected consensus within the group -- and a warning light for former House minority leader Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.).

"I think the party's ready for new leadership," Maybanks said as heads began to nod in agreement. "That's one of the reasons I'm not thrilled about Dick Gephardt. He had a chance as minority leader to bring back the House. He failed."

Second-tier probables: Clark, Hart, Moseley-Braun, Sharpton,

Intriguing possibilities: Harkin, McCain, Vilsack

Out: Biden, Daschle, Gore

Posted January 20, 2003 07:33 AM | Comments (176)


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