Sunday, January 18, 2004

Well, The Race Is On!!

And that George Jones song makes a great title for this post this evening.

Tomorrow the Iowa Caucuses finally happen as thousands of Iowans flock to the polls to determine who play the Democrats' Polish horse calvary to the Bush/Cheney 2004 luftwaffe. A tight four-way race has developed, with Howard Dean's lead flushed down a drain like the inflated dot-com stock on which it was built.

Senators John Kerry and John Edwards hold a slight lead over Dean in the latest Des Moines Register poll, followed by Dick Gephardt, who's still running as though he deserves the nomination for years of loyal service to the party. General Wesley Clark has conceded Iowa in favor of heavy campaigning in the New Hampshire Primary. A strong showing by Clark could make the race for the Democratic nomination a contentious one that may not be settled until the party convention hits Boston in July.

I'm completely engrossed by the Dean candidacy. It reminds me of a student council race where the captain of the football team just walks the school halls in his letterman's jacket, smiles a lot, and says "I'm running for student council president." Dean has adopted the fiery, progressive rhetoric of the nebbishy Dennis Kucinich without adopting Kucinich's progressive towards hot button issues in this campaign, save for the War in Iraq, which is like saying you hate canned spinach because it has that tinny aftertaste. Then there's the Dean campaign's "internet campaign" program through Meet-Up, as if he's the first candidate to harness the potential of the Web. I've got news for you. Go visit the President's web site for a glimpse of what a finely honed internet campaign is really about.

I had the chance to attend a Dean Meet-up function a couple months back. it was nothing more than a glorified singles' mixer. The meeting went as follows:

- Dean supporters gather at a local tavern/bookstore/coffeehouse.
- Dean supporters talk in broad terms about how the Bush administration is dragging the nation to Hell in an handbasket, which isn't a stretch for anyone who's paid attention the past three years. No mention is made about how Dr. Dean will change things; only that he's better than the White house's current occupant.
- Drinks are purchased, most commonly an apple martini or an Australian syrah. The organizer of the meet-up vainly attempts to keep everyone on message.
- The cute people exchange phone numbers and set up a weekend date for drinks at the Tiny Lounge. Dean Meet-up organizer weighs the options of siding with Kucinich.

It was as though the Dean Meet-Up was commandeered by members of Nerve Personals. My guess is should Dean win the nomination, his candidacy will resemble the failed bids of Goldwater in '64, McGovern in '72, or Mondale's '84 fiasco. In short, Bush wins in a mandate. Well, as close to a mandate as one can claim when only forty percent of registered voters go to the polls.

My hunch is that Senator Kerry is the candidate best suited for a long, dirty campaign. He's matched the tough talk of Dean step-for-step and has the credibility of having actually seen military combat in Vietnam, unlike our coalition-of-the-willing building, Texas Air National Guard skipping President. If the GOP tries to brand Kerry as unpatriotic, like they did fellow Vietnam veteran and triple amputee Zell Miller of Georgia during the midterm elections, Kerry will go for blood. And he'll get it.

I don't expect John Edwards to last much past Super Tuesday. He's young, fresh, and inexperienced, and he strikes a Clintonian populist tone that will resonate with Bible Belt residents hit hard by the fallout of the Bush tax cuts. He's an almost certain lock to be the running mate of the Democratic nominee. And, being on the short side of fifty with a healthy heart, he'll be the anti-Cheney.

I fully expect Gephardt to drop out of the race after New Hampshire, where he'll return to the House with his tail between his legs, embittered that he wasn't handed the nomination like Bush four years ago or Dole in 1996.

Clark is the wild card in the race. If he has a strong showing in New Hampshire, he'll get some much-needed financial support that will carry him to South Carolina. But to me he comes across as a disinterested technocrat who lacks the fire in his belly that Kerry has. If Kucinich doesn't drop out- and I hope he doesn't, it keeps Ralph Nader and his chicken little liberalism out of the race.

Whoever the Democratic nominee is, he needs to hit Bush over the head with tough rhetoric: Bush's lack of military credentials; the way he pissed away the outreach of our allies after the 9/11 bombings; the failure of the "No Child Left Behind" act; the encroachment of the Patriot Act on our civil liberties; the swelling deficit brought about by the Bush tax cuts.

The Bush campaign strategy is already in place. They're going to hit voters over the head with patriotic jingoism. They're going to spin the war on terror, insisting that America is safer from the "turrists." Bush is pulling a page from the Jack Kennedy playbook and promoting new manned space missions to the moon and Mars. And anyone who deosn't think that the GOP won't use the World Trade Center site for an heartstring-tugging photo op come convention time is fooling themselves.

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