Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Wednesday, January 28, 2004  

Josh Marshall's been pretty much my first and last stop in election analysis--he isn't any more prescient than the major news, but his views are far more transparent. He has a particularly nice post on Dean's chances now that he managed to finish second in NH:

In isolation, this wasn’t such a bad result. Dean took a heavy blow in Iowa, collapsed in the polls, and then battled his way back to what he rightly called a “solid second.”

But Iowa and New Hampshire were his two best states. And now he’s going into seven states which should all be harder for him to win than these two. Some vastly more difficult.

What this race is now about is whether John Kerry can carry this momentum into the Midwest and the South. If he can -- and that's not at all clear -- then it's over.

So the question is, if Josh is right, how does Dean win? The primaries in '04 are new and different. In the past, NH was followed by a weeks-long gulf of inaction, and the primaries dribbled along slowly. (Who knows, if the GOP had a similar primary system to this year's Dems, McCain might not have been sandbagged in South Carolina.) Terry McAuliffe wanted to get in the battle with Bush as early as possible, so now the season is designed to produce a winner by early March.

Things get interesting very quickly. Next week is called "Mini Tuesday," with primaries or caucuses in South Carolina (45 delegates), Missouri (74), North Dakota (14), Arizona (55), New Mexico (26), Delaware (15), and Oklahoma (40). I haven't seen any polls, but leave prognostication aside--what does Dean need to stay alive?; to become the frontrunner? If Clark or Kerry win SC and Kerry takes Missouri, would Dean limp forward with a Delaware or New Mexico? What if Dean finishes strongly in every state but doesn't win any, and other candidates split the states? He might gather delegates but lose momentum.

There are a number of scenarios for him to stay alive, which is what he must be on February 3rd. If the headlines across the nation proclaim Kerry as the de facto nominee, that alone might doom support Dean has in states down the line. Because that's surely where his calculation extends. No doubt he's looking to at least February 7, when Washington and Michigan vote. Dean is a shoo-in in Washington (even with the headlines), and possibly he'll be competitive in Michigan with his union backing.

And then comes Super Tuesday on March 7, which Dean must really be eyeing. Included in that prize are California [370] (another big opportunity for Dean), New York (236), Massachusetts (93), Minnesota (72), Maryland (69), Connecticut (49), and the homies in Vermont (15). I don't know how many of those states Dean could win now, nor whether he'll be considered viable in a month. But the Dean team must play their hand to be competitive in these later states if Dean is to have an opportunity.

Josh said Iowa and New Hampshire were Dean's best states. I think that is relative to the Mini Tuesday states next week. The Upper Midwest and West Coast probably look a lot more like "best" states to Dean. They're not that far off, so maybe he can hang on until then. I have an idea about the message he'll have to send to make it that far; I'll post on that later today.

All in all, as a Deanie, I have to say I'm feeling relieved and hopeful, if not confident. Every sign points to an electorate riled up and ready to boot Bush. A candidate like Dean can capitalize on that energy with the right message. Things are so volatile, it's far too early to lose hope now.

posted by Jeff | 8:01 AM |
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