Notes on the Atrocities
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Monday, November 24, 2003  

This morning, Josh Marshall notes that he's surprised at Dick Gephardt's strong numbers.

When Gephardt threw his hat in the ring last November I mocked him rather mercilessly. But the biggest news I've seen of late was the early November Des Moines Register poll which showed Gephardt opening up a 7 point lead over Dean.

On the other hand, as the frontrunner and with the kind of campaign he's running -- one geared to grassroots support -- Dean needs to win there too. Wearing the frontrunner crown changes all the expectations. A Gephardt win in Iowa would be a very big deal on a number of counts.

I'm not surprised. Even losing some support among unions, it was clear Gephardt was going to run a strong campaign. As much as we focus on polls, it's wise to remember that polls reflect far less well than infastructure--and Gephardt has a huge advantage there. In early October, I ranked the candidates based on how well they'd do in the primaries and general election (compared to each other). I had Gep ranked number two in the primaries. I think that still applies.

Interestingly, although I had Clark at three in both polls, I agree with Josh's analysis of his campaign: he's stronger now.

On Clark, a few weeks back I said that Clark had no campaign, no message, not no nuthin', but close. Now, he finally seems to have one. He's running ads, showing up on the shows -- the fundraising is decent. He gave a solid foreign policy speech and, in general, his operation is putting together a clear and consistent message.

Below are revised rankings. First number is rank in the primaries, second is the rank in the general. For what it's worth, I think the only candidates who wouldn't beat Bush are Lieberman, Sharpton, and Braun.

1) Dean (1, 1)
2) Clark (3, 2)
3) Gephardt (2, 5)
4) Kerry (4, 3)
5) Kucinich (5, 5)
6) Edwards (6, 6)
7) Braun (7, 7)
8) Lieberman (8, 8)
9) Sharpton (9, 9)

October Rankings
1) Dean (1, 1)
2) Clark (3, 3)
3) Edwards (4, 2)
4) Gephardt (2, 5)
5) Kucinich (6, 4)
6) Kerry (5, 6)
7) Braun (7, 7)
8) Lieberman (8, 8)
9) Sharpton (9, 9)

Quick thoughts. Unless something changes, Dean is still the man to beat. Kerry and Edwards are in weaker positions than 6 weeks ago--Kerry's campaign is faltering (he's trailing in NH and Massachusetts), and Edwards has failed to find a message. Both handled the Dean confederate-flag snafu badly, but that hurt Edwards the most. Gephard plugs along and with a little wind, could beat Dean in the primaries. He's running a classic shoe-leather campaign; hard work, avoiding gaffes.

I don't expect anyone to agree with where I have Kucinich. I know that conventional wisdom has him dead. But after Dean and Gephardt, I believe he has the broadest base of voters actively working for him. He's started to get press as the one candidate who opposes staying in Iraq (a view I don't hold), and he's distinguished himself on economic issues as well. Other second-tier candidates have no such unique messages.

Lieberman is absolutely dead, and I don't care what the national polls say. He's polling well because he received 50 million votes in 2000, but he is a candidate with no consituency. If people are as moderate as Joe, they're behind Bush; if they're even remotely critical of Bush, they're not going to hoist the Lieberman flag.

Clark is a wild card. I buried him a month ago, but I think it was premature. If he can hang around in the upper tier long enough to get a campaign on track, he could be the good-looking moderate that election-day voters might go for. I doubt seriously he'll stir stong emotions among the base, but he might back into the nomination anyway--but Dean will have to stumble first.

posted by Jeff | 11:23 AM |
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