December 31, 2003


Decision 2004: ABD vs. ABBA (Don Hazen, December 30, 2003 , AlterNet)

The Democratic candidates, the media and perhaps the Bush people seem to be ignoring what seems inarguable: Dean has been the candidate of change from the onset, and their attacks add emphasis to that status. He staked out clear positions where the voters were most angry: the rush to war, a tin-eared imperial presidency, a faltering economy, corrupt cronyism and an overall feeling of powerlessness. He stood up for something. In a climate of powerful models of voter frustration -- most notably Arnold Schwarzenegger's election as governor of California -- Dean captured the mantle of change, and he's just tightened his grip since then.

Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi suggests that the broadsides against Dean do not appear to be sticking so far. Trippi reminded the Times that the attacks on Dean supposedly planned by the Bush team may backfire. He notes that they haven't worked so well for Dean's Democratic rivals: "Where have we gone? From zero to 31 percent in the latest ABC poll." Dean himself said in late December that the attacks won't help in the long run, since Bush will eventually use the criticisms in his ads. "But in the short run I think it makes them (the other candidates) look smaller."

What the Dean supporters seem to ignore is just how minimal and marginal his support is. By comparison, George W. Bush, even with an outstanding opponent, polled around 50% and ran ahead of Al Gore (John McCain ran ahead of Gore by even more in fact) at this time in the last cycle. Dr. Dean's numbers range from the teens to an only very occasional blip past 30%.

Being the candidate of change may win him the 30% of people who are dissatisfied with a booming economy and winning the war on terror, and he can certainly add another 10-14% just from Democrats too loyal to vote Republican, but how does he get past that 40% mark? His is an inherently limited appeal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 31, 2003 9:03 AM

In fact, the polls right now are so different from the historical pattern (of incumbents struggling going into the election year) that we might just have to throw history out. It's possible that the Democratic nominee won't even have a lead in the polls right after his convention, which may be unprecedented.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 31, 2003 9:10 AM

David --

Did Mondale ever have a credible lead in the polls going into 1984? (I am assuming that this is not beyond the time frame of your claim, as McGover vs Nixon would.)

Another issue (worry, for me) is whether the same math that cited above could also work to defeat Dean before the convention. I have yet to see numbers that he has a rock solid plurality of even the Dem vote. His slice is the biggest and most committed, but can the "residual majority" get religion and defeat him in a primary process. (I say, primary process, because, yes, I can see how they can defeat him through a "convention coup". The question is whether they can do one step at a time in the fragmented world of a series of primaries.)

Posted by: MG at December 31, 2003 9:22 AM

Dean's "clear" positions won't seem so clear when
they are disected under the microscope of a general election. The democrats lay off the
attacks at their own peril.

Posted by: J.H. at December 31, 2003 9:33 AM


The only time Mondale got close was after the first debate when President Reagan hallucinated during his closing statement.

Posted by: oj at December 31, 2003 9:39 AM

From Matthew Dowd's April 24 memo to Marc Racicot:

As we get closer to the start of the 2004 Presidential election campaign, the Democratic base vote will continue to solidify. And as President Bush is tested in media polls on head to head ballot questions, it will not be surprising to see the President behind in some polls against potential Democratic candidates and generic Democratic opposition. Every incumbent President in the last 25 years has been behind the opposition in the latter part of his first term- the sky is not falling.

Throughout 1983, former President Reagan was behind Walter Mondale by as many as nine points, and against possible opponent John Glenn, Reagan was behind by as much as 17 points in 1983. Even at the beginning of 1984, the polls showed the race between Reagan and Mondale was a statistical dead heat. Reagan won in a landslide carrying 49 states.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 31, 2003 9:58 AM

Having said that, I was wrong in my first comment. There is a convention boost, but it is not always enough to get ahead of the incumbent.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 31, 2003 10:04 AM

As enjoyable as it would be to see Bush bash Dean by 50, it would be better for the country if the Dems put up a nominee who would make a better president -- Gephardt, Leiberman, even Hillary Clinton.

Better, more sensible opposition generally makes for better government.

Posted by: EO at December 31, 2003 1:26 PM

The core problem the Democrats have is that no one will make them adults: the excesses of Bill Clinton (and Ron Brown, et. al.) have borne the fruit of Howard Dean. Because they will not reign in their fringe candidates and personalities (a la Sharpton, Kucinich, Barbara Lee, John Conyers, Maxine Waters, Jim McDermott), formerly 'serious' Democrats like John Kerry are now acting like fools.

None of the echoes attacked or really even questioned Dean until about 8 or 10 weeks ago, even though many of his most egregious statements are months old. Maybe they thought he would fade, but that is no excuse. In the short time left, can they offer any alternatives?

The real rot for the Democrats started when Clinton was not taken to the woodshed by Lieberman, Monyihan, Byrd, Feinstein, Kerrey, and Gephardt back in 1998. Had he been forced to resign then, the Democrats would be a very different party today - Gore would be President, the Democrats would probably control both houses of Congress, and the hard left, instead of crowding the rest of the party off-stage, would be marginalized (and a sharp lesson would have been taught - violate the rules of polity and a price will be paid). Now there are no rules and the party staggers. They have lost any pretense of seriousness to a majority of the electorate.

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 31, 2003 2:36 PM

Although I saw a post on DU today claiming that Lyndon LaRouche has raised more money than most of the other Democratic candidates, including Clark, but isn't let into the debates (from his jail cell). So, you can't say the Democrats are completely spineless.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 31, 2003 3:49 PM

What does he do with it, buy takeout pizza? Cigarettes?

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 31, 2003 4:18 PM

When I worked on the NJ gubernatorial in '85, there was a LaRouchian running and he did debate. It was ugly, because the other candidates had to try not to laugh. At the last debate in his closing statement he read a poem by Schiller then said thank you. That was all he really had to say.

Posted by: oj at December 31, 2003 4:21 PM


But if they stop Dean how do they keep the wacko wing onboard?

Posted by: oj at December 31, 2003 4:24 PM

OJ: Keeping Democratic wackos happy is the Democrats' problem (just as keeping wacko Mena-Air-Strip-Ron-Brown-Murder Republicans happy is our problem).

Quickly, and loathe as I am to admit it, I think Cass Sunstein was somewhat right about the problems of the Internet. Now, angry leftists can chat all day in echo chambers like Democratic Underground. Eventually, the entire lot of nutballs begins to accept ideas that are simply beyond the pale of civilized discourse.

This is a problem for American society. However, for the record, I do NOT accept Sunstein's thesis, which was essentially that people should get off the Internet and read more Cass Sunstein.

Posted by: EO at December 31, 2003 6:38 PM


Refine that analysis just a bit and I think you're onto the Democrats big problem--the media, politicos, etc., all us middle/uppermiddle class white folk, are the ones on the Net and in effect we're trapped in the echo chamber too. From in here it seems like Howard Dean is a huge success. Go out in the world though and reality may be far different.

Posted by: oj at December 31, 2003 7:42 PM

The best part: "a faltering economy" (!) Either this guy doesn't know last quarter's GDP growth was the best in 20 years, or he thinks his audience doesn't know. Either way, he's not part of the serious debate.

Posted by: Tom at January 1, 2004 8:44 AM

Gore polled well, in part, because he had only one challenger.

Dean has 8 1/2.

I'll be surprised if the eventual Dem candidate, whomever it may be, doesn't get at least 44% of the popular vote.

(Unless it's Kucinich).

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at January 2, 2004 7:17 AM