A No-Issues Contest
There is no war of ideas occurring in the New Hampshire primary. There is barely a skirmish. The four top contenders--Senator John Kerry, former Governor Howard Dean, retired General Wesley Clark, and Edwards--each bemoan the influence of special interests in Washington (particularly its impact upon the Medicare prescription drug legislation), call for universal health care coverage, praise the potential of renewable and sustainable energy, promise to reverse George W. Bush's environmental policies, support abortion rights, and vow to de-unilateralize foreign policy. There are policy disagreements. Dean wants to repeal all of Bush's tax cuts; Kerry and Edwards want to dump only those that benefit wealthy taxpayers. Dean reminds his supporters that he opposed handing Bush the authority to invade Iraq while Kerry and Edwards voted to grant Bush that power. Yet on the question of what to do now in Iraq, the four candidates agree on the need to internationalize the occupation and try to coax other nations to contribute more troops and money....
Of the major contenders, Edwards has the best delivery and the best thematic approach. With passion and sincerity, he critiques the existence of "two Americas"--one for the well-to-do families that have access to quality health care, benefit from the existing tax code, and send their children to good schools; one for everyone else. Under the rubric of turning the "two Americas" into one, Edwards, the son of a mill worker, assails Washington lobbyists, empathizes with middle-class families squeezed by economic pressures, vows to restore America's image abroad, and advocates policies that can return hope to stressed-out, low- and middle-income families. And he has the healthiest glow of all the candidates--he practically shines--and the best gestures, which come from his days as a trial lawyer. This pitch neatly weaves in his own personal up-from-the-working-class history. He has only been doing his "two Americas" routine since early January, and it may well be responsible for his second-place finish in Iowa.
Edwards has put together an attractive package. Is it flying off the shelf? The election will tell. His events appear to have the most uncommitted voters in attendance. That may signal movement in his direction. Or it might merely mean that the undecideds already have enough information on Dean, Kerry, and Clark and are giving Edwards a last look before rendering a final judgment.
Ten Talking Points on New Hampshire
Performance doesn't matter. Of all the candidates, Senator John Edwards delivered the best stump speech, in which he decried the existence of "two Americas," one for the rich and one for the rest. It was the best formulation of the anti-special interests message adopted by each of the leading candidates, and he delivered it with the skill and grace of a trial attorney out of a Grisham novel. It did little for his campaign in New Hampshire. Former Governor Howard Dean bolstered his message, and in campaign appearances displayed a wealth of knowledge on assorted family matters. That did not help him narrow the gap between himself and Senator John Kerry (which end up at 13 points in New Hampshire). In fact, Kerry was the poorest campaigner of the three. At rallies, he was less inspiring than the competition. He did improve as Election Day neared. But the voters did not respond as reviewers.
There's a Northern yearning for a Southerner. The combined votes for Edwards and Clark nearly equaled Dean's total. A key argument made by the supporters for Edwards and Clark was that the Democrats cannot take the White House without a Southerner. Most New Hampshire voters did not agree. But had Clark and Edwards not split the we-need-a-Bubba-friendly-candidate vote, a single tailored-for-the-South candidate might have fared better.