Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Ready for the Fall
OK, it took me a couple of days to find it, but it was right there at Salon--Democratic pollster Ruy Teixeira's prescription for how Kerry could beat Bush. Teixeira argues that Kerry has "threshold credibility" on the three issues that matter most when people choose a president: commander in chief/defender of national security, steward of the economy/custodian of the domestic agenda, and someone who can connect with voters during the campaign. None of that means Kerry is actually going to win--only that he has a shot, and a better one than the other three Democrats still in the race. Teixeira says Dean and Edwards fall down on the commander-in-chief criterion, while Clark falls down both on domestic issues and as a campaigner. In his lead story on yesterday's primaries, Salon's Edward Lempinen runs down Kerry's strengths: conventional baby-boom liberal, 92 of 100 rating from Americans for Democratic Action, but he voted with Bush on Iraq, No Child Left Behind, and the Patriot Act. He served in Vietnam, but also earned counterculture cred with Vietnam Veterans Against the War. All of it seems to give Kerry the broadest constituency amongst the country at large, at least on paper. You already know I'm skeptical of how much that paper will be worth when the fall campaign begins, but I'm trying to get used to the idea that we're going to have to run on it.

And what of Howard Dean? Lempinen thinks Dean will stay in the race at least until March 3 and maybe longer, and that it could be a positive thing in terms of keeping Kerry honest, whatever that means, precisely. Dean keeps saying he's trying to bring the 50 percent of Americans who don't vote into the process, although that didn't happen in Iowa and hasn't anywhere else. Those he did bring in, people who'd never been energized (or in my case, so energized) by a candidate before, are left wondering what the hell to do now.

I have done a couple of significant (for me) things. I've unsubscribed from the various local Dean lists I've been on since last fall and will not be attending any more meetups, but the bumper sticker remains on my car and as of this moment, I am still planning to vote for Dean on February 17. But others are thinking of pulling a Nader, as Michelle Goldberg reports today. The quotes from Dean supporters about how Kerry would be just as bad as Bush are painful to read (and just as stupidly myopic as 2000's no-difference-between-Bush-and-Gore), but B. J. Rudell, who organized for Bill Bradley in 2000, gets at the reason why the hardcores are saying this sort of thing: "If all you care about is one person--and you have to, if you work on a campaign--the only way to do it is to be a true believer." And there's nobody who falls harder than a true believer whose hopes have been disappointed. Nothing feels worse that that sort of fall. You can get over it because your head says you have to, but true believing rarely feels as good ever again. So many Deaniacs will embrace Kerry when the time comes, but rather like you embrace your mother and not like your lover.

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