Monday, January 19, 2004

The Odd Couple
John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich have made a deal to share support in Iowa tonight. Candidates must reach the magic 15 percent to be considered viable in any individual caucus, so in a precinct caucus where Edwards has nine percent and Kucinich has six, the two groups will team up to support Edwards, and vice versa, should it happen. The two are on the same team, but barely: Kucinich, the pure progressive, and Edwards, the DLC centrist. It's hard to imagine the Kucinich faithful in college towns like Iowa City and Ames moving over to somebody who supported the war--although they'd be doing their party a service by supporting somebody who is slightly more electable than their guy. Likewise, it's hard to picture Edwards supporters suddenly swinging that hard to the left. (How many true believers of each candidate actually follow their champion's lead will be left to the exit pollsters to figure out. Some of the anti-war Kucinich suppoters might prefer to go for Dean, while some of the trade-and-union people might go for Gephardt.) In the end, it's not quite clear what's happening between these two--unless Edwards is trying to get the Secretary of Peace gig in the Kucinich administration.

The latter link in the above paragraph points to another post on the Daily Kos, and it speculates that if Gephardt delivers his supporters to the caucuses but they realize their man is finished, they might be more likely to switch to Kerry or Edwards than to Dean, who's been getting hammered by Gephardt for two weeks.

I'd like to make a prediction on the result, but the fact is that I have no idea. Regardless of the actual numbers, I suspect that Edwards is going to be portrayed as the winner of the Big Mo, given that he's come from literally nowhere to striking distance of a win in two months, but he's nowhere in New Hampshire, and he has only seven days to make something out of nothing. He could end up like the '88 Gephardt--winner of Iowa but nothing else. If Dean holds in the low 20s, where he's been since overtaking Gephardt last fall, that would be good enough to call Iowa a success. Strong numbers for Kerry put him back in the game in New Hampshire, where Dean has smoked him since last summer. Gephardt will withdraw tomorrow or Wednesday. (I do not interpret the Kucinich pact with Edwards as an indication he's getting ready to bail.)

While most of the political world is focused on Iowa, James Ridgeway of the Village Voice has been up in New Hampshire following the candidates--mostly Wesley Clark and Edwards. Clark has been gaining strength there against Dean and the heretofore sliding Kerry, but in Ridgeway's report, he comes off as an empty suit. It's as if he has the same speak-before-thinking problem that's been attached to Dean, although the things Clark says are merely odd instead of politically incendiary. As for Edwards, he seems similarly empty, trading mostly on his Southern charm and a few catch-phrases.

Clark has had the state mostly to himself for a couple of months, and his poll numbers have been steadily rising there. (Joe Lieberman has been there quite a bit too without raising his numbers much, thus cementing his status as the only person in America who doesn't know his candidacy is finished.) But the dynamics in New Hampshire will change a great deal starting tomorrow morning.

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