Thursday, January 22, 2004

The Bust After the Boom
The obituaries started appearing thick and fast already yesterday for the Dean campaign: Josh Marshall, Jerry Bowles, Rick Robinson on Daily Kos. But the most poignant, also on Daily Kos, comes from a Dean supporter called Grassy Troll. (Although the effect of Troll's words is diminished by a second post later, in which Troll says he/she is so disappointed with Dean's failure that he/she may not even vote on November 2 if there's something better to do--which indicates Troll may have been more caught up in the romance of the Dean insurgency than with the broader issue of stopping George W. Bush, about which more below.)

This morning's tracking polls show Kerry on top, but still within the margin of error. It's likely that New Hampshire will be as volatile as Iowa right up to the end, unless something drastic happens in the debate up there tonight. (Liberal Oasis has advice for the candidates here.) Dean might benefit from a switch in focus to Kerry as the new frontrunner. Josh Marshall suggests that Dean could help overcome his speech screech of Monday night by making a joke about it, like Reagan joking about his opponent's age and inexperience in 1984.

In the end, Dean needs to win New Hampshire or finish a close second to remain viable. He does have an advantage once the campaign goes to multiple states on February 3, because he's got the million dollars a day it takes to buy the necessary advertising to stay competitive. He's in far better financial shape than Kerry, or Edwards for that matter. He also has a higher national profile than either of them. But if voters in the February 3 states (Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, New Mexico) are as concerned about electability as they were in Iowa--electability being a big factor in his failure to gather the Iowa undecideds--advertising may not help.

To decide on a candidate based on electability instead of whether he's right or not seems like a perversion of what politics is supposed to be about--competition in the marketplace of ideas and all that. But as Jerry Bowles observed in the post linked above, this election is not so much about electing Dean as it is about stopping Bush. We win or we're done. (Example: Today's the 31st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which will be reversed by 2008 if Bush is reelected. You can bet the house on it.) Even when Dean is demonstrably right on the issues, the negatives he can't change--what he is and where he's from--are insurmountable. And when two 1000-pound gorillas like that are dominating the room, it seems foolish to go about your business as if they aren't there.

It's hard to imagine that we might be talking in another week or two about the end of the Dean campaign. If it happens, it's not that we couldn't see it coming. Perhaps we just didn't choose to.

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