Breaking news and analysis of politics, the economy and activism.
Democratic frontrunner John Kerry coasted on Not-So-Super Tuesday, winning three more states as Idaho, Utah and Hawaii quietly picked delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Kerry had no trouble dispatching John Edwards, the North Carolina senator who is generally portrayed as the last serious threat to the Massachusetts senator's frontrunner status. Kerry beat Edwards by 36 points in Hawaii, 32 points in Idaho and 25 points in Utah.
In fact, the candidate who came closest to Kerry wasn't even Edwards.
The candidate who gave the Democratic frontrunner the best run for his money on Tuesday was Dennis Kucinich, who won a respectable 27.5 percent of the vote in Hawaii to Kerry's 49 percent. While no one outside the Kucinich campaign is suggesting that the Ohio congressman's strong showing in Hawaii will put him on the road to the nomination -- or even to more second place finishes in the foreseeable future -- this was the best showing of the campaign so far for Kucinich, who has frequently finished with less than five percent of the vote in this year's primaries and caucuses. And it comes at a particularly useful time for the candidate, who has been struggling to gain attention going into the March 2 "Super Tuesday" contests in delegate-rich states such as California, New York, Ohio and Minnesota. Kucinich, who says he is in the Democratic contest until the convention in July, may have an easier time making the case for his continued inclusion in Democratic debates now that he has secured a second-place finish and won delegates.
Kucinich, the Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair who had collected no delegates in primaries or caucuses prior to Tuesday, appears to have won seven delegates from Hawaii, while Kerry will likely get 13. According to Hawaii Democratic Party chair Alex Santiago, Kucinich won the island on Maui, where the Ohio congressman campaigned Sunday night during the only pre-caucus campaign swing through the state by one of this year's contenders. Among Kucinich's Maui backers was singer Willie Nelson, who owns a home on the island and performed a concert for the congressman there.
Kucinich's late surge in the state was of sufficient concern to Kerry backers that, according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, the frontrunner's campaign organized a last-minute phone bank to get its backers to the caucuses, which attracted three times the turnout seen in 2000. That Kerry was held below 50 percent in Hawaii by anyone was a surprise, as the Massachusetts senator had the support of most of the state's Democratic Party establishment, including U.S. Senators Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka and U.S. Representative Ed Case.
The fourth member of Hawaii's congressional delegation, U.S. Representative Neil Abercrombie, was an early supporter of Howard Dean's presidential bid and continued to urge Democrats to vote for Dean in hopes of winning delegates who would promote a progressive agenda at the party convention in Boston. But Dean only won nine percent of the caucus votes, falling below the 15 percent threshold needed to gain delegates.
While Kerry and Edwards skipped Hawaii to concentrate on "Super Tuesday" contests in 10 states that will select 1,151 delegates March 2, Kucinich gambled that the long flight to Hawaii might be worth the effort. The congressman, whose best previous showings were third place finishes in Washington state and Maine, told Hawaii Democrats that they could send an anti-war message. "It's no surprise the other candidates haven't come to Hawaii, because they would have to answer why they voted for the war and why they voted for the Patriot Act," Kucinich argued at campaign stops, adding that, "The people of Hawaii have the opportunity to make a statement."
Kucinich's backers, most of them peace activists, drove the anti-war message home. Ephrosine Daniggelis, who campaigned for Kucinich on the University of Hawaii campus, told local reporters, "We have been working day and night; he is the only candidate working for peace." On caucus day, the grassroots Hawaii for Kucinich campaign messaged supporters that, "The caucus is a time for Democrats to give voice to our true beliefs and honestly debate which direction we want for our country and our party. Once the primaries are over, we will all support the party's nominee against Bush. But please do not silence your independent voice before it is necessary. If you oppose the war, do not vote for a pro-war Democrat in the caucus. If you support trimming military spending, support universal healthcare, free college tuition, fair trade, etc., please vote your conscience. While the eyes of the world are upon us, let's send a message that Hawai‘i is a special place and a very progressive state."
They succeeded in sending that message. Kucinich's solid second-place finish in Hawaii was one of the strongest showings in any primary or caucus for a candidate stressing an anti-war message -- including Howard Dean who, it should be noted, went at the task with considerably more more money, official support and media attention.
The best-case scenario for Ralph Nader's fourth presidential campaign -- a 1992 write-in effort in the New Hampshire primary, Green Party runs in 1996 and 2000, and the independent candidacy he announced on Sunday -- is to pull a Norman Thomas. In the Great Depression election of 1932, Democrats worried that Thomas, the perennial Socialist Party candidate, would draw off votes in key states and help reelect Republican President Herbert Hoover. When the ballots were counted, however, Democrat Franklin Roosevelt defeated Hoover in all but six states and was swept into the White House. At the same time, Thomas won close to 900,000 votes nationwide, and in many state his backers provided a cushion of votes for Democrats who swept local, state and congressional races. Thomas was invited to the White House, treated with respect on Capitol Hill and credited with providing the inspiration for important elements of Roosevelt's New Deal.
The worst-case scenario for Nader's 2004 campaign is the James Birney circumstance. Birney, a prominent attorney who served as secretary of the American Anti-Slavery Society, sought the presidency in 1840 and again in 1844 as the candidate of the abolitionist Liberty Party. Birney's second run for the presidency secured only 62,103 votes, out of 2.7 million cast nationwide. But Birney took away enough votes in key states such as New York from Whig Henry Clay, a more cautious critic of the expansion of slavery, to tip the election to Democrat James K. Polk, who campaigned on a promise to annex Texas as a slave state. Polk quickly did just that, and then ordered the invasion of Mexico. Until his death in 1857, Birney, the passionate abolitionist, was blamed for giving pro-slavery forces an upper hand at a critical stage in American politics.
Somewhere between those best- and worst-case scenarios lies the likely result for Nader this year. It is far less dramatic. Indeed, the most likely scenario for Nader in 2004 is that he will not matter much.
Running as an independent, Nader will not be able to capture the ballots lines nor the considerable enthusiasm of the Green Party's volunteer infrastructure, which played a critical role in securing him ballot status in 43 states and the District of Columbia in 2000. And running in a year when beating George W. Bush has emerged as the central issue for millions of progressives, Nader will also have to make this race without the assistance of long-time friends and backers such as Ronnie Dugger, Michael Moore and Jim Hightower. As a result, the best bet is that Nader's name will be on fewer state ballots than in 2000; he might not even secure the roughly two dozen ballot lines he had in 1996. If this turns out to be the case, Nader will have a much harder time arguing for his inclusion in the debates. And, come November, he will be much more likely to end up as an asterisk.
Of course, Nader sees things differently. Running as an independent reformer, he says, he will have greater appeal to the disenchanted of all parties. Currently, he's suggesting that disappointed supporters of Howard Dean, turned off by the somnambulant, centrist candidacy of John Kerry, might exit the Democratic column and search Nader's name out on the margins of state ballot that are reserved for independent candidates.
But there's a lot of wishful thinking in that calculus. Dean was never really the pox-on-all-their-houses reformer that he tried to make himself in a last-ditch attempt to distinguish his waning candidacy from those of John Kerry and John Edwards. He came to prominence in 2003 as the "Beat Bush" candidate who referenced the disputed Bush-v-Gore result of 2000 in his stump speeches, condemned the president for lying about weapons of mass destruction, accused Dick Cheney's Halliburton of war profiteering and delivered blistering attacks on John Ashcroft and the Patriot Act.
If Kerry is the nominee, the Massachusetts senator and his backers admit that they are going to have to work to attract and inspire true-believing "Deaniacs." But, for the most part, the risk is that Deaniacs will disengage, not that they will align with Nader.
The 2004 contest is shaping up as a classic test of a contentious incumbent. Voters will likely approach the ballot box in November with far more clarity than was evidenced in 2000, recognizing that this year's election gives them a chance to embrace or reject another four years of George Bush, Dick Cheney and their administration.
For Nader to intrude into that choice in a meaningful way, it is necessary to imagine that substantial numbers of voters will go to the polls absolutely determined to remove the president from office -- grumbling all the way about the occupation of Iraq, war profiteering, assaults on civil liberties and tax breaks for the rich -- and then vote for Nader rather than a Democrat who could actually beat Bush. That's not a very likely prospect; and if it ever became one, Democrats would be particularly well positioned to counter it. Even as Nader objects, Democrats can and wlll argue that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush, and they will have many more buyers for that line than in 2000.
This said, Democrats such as party chair Terry McAuliffe -- who says, "We can't afford to have Ralph Nader in this race" -- would be wise to calm down a bit with regards to Nader. It is true that, if a portion of Nader voters in New Hampshire and Florida had voted for Gore, the Democrat would have won those states -- no matter what schemes were hatched by Florida Governor Jeb Bush and his minions. But it is also true that, if a portion of Pat Buchanan's Reform Party voters in Wisconsin, Oregon, Iowa and New Mexico had cast their ballots for Bush, the Republican would have beaten Gore in those states. And savvy Democrats, such as former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, have always recognized that Nader voters helped US Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, and US Representative Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, win tight races in 2000. Cantwell's victory put Democrats in position to seize control of the Senate in 2001, after Vermont's Jim Jeffords left the GOP fold.
So, rather than waste too much time on the 2000 blame game, those who seek to beat Bush in 2004 ought to focus on some bottom-line fundamentals regarding Nader's latest candidacy:
IT HAS GOTTEN HARDER FOR NADER TO ARGUE THAT THERE ARE NO DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE TWO MAJOR PARTIES: On the night before Nader announced his candidacy, Al Gore appeared at an Idaho Democratic Party event where he presented a detailed denunciation of Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq, the Patriot Act and the Bush administration's energy, environmental and economic policies. Gore remains an imperfect player. But his words and deeds over the past several years have done a great deal to undermine Nader's basic premise that it did really matter who won the 2000 election -- and, by extension, who will win the 2004 election.
NADER WILL BE MARGINALIZED NOT BY CRITICISM OF HIS STRATEGIES BUT BY THE THEFT OF HIS ISSUES: In the fall of 2000, Gore backers spent millions of dollars and immense amounts of time and energy seeking to demonize Nader. They came off as desperate and anti-democratic, and in some instances actually reinforced support for Nader. Worst of all, their sense of urgency was undermined by their own candidate. Apart from a handful of populist moments, Gore ran a tepid campaign in which he failed to adequately distinguish himself from the then "compassionate conservative" George W. Bush on core issues -- remember the second debate, when the Democratic and Republican candidates agreed to agree on question after question. Those agreements reinforced Nader's message. More importantly, Gore's failure to pick up Nader's themes limited the Democrat's ability to compete in several key states. Had Gore addressed concerns about free trade, the decline in manufacturing, and farm policies that favored corporate agribusiness, he might well have won Ohio, Missouri and West Virginia -- state's that voted for Bill Clinton but went narrowly for Bush. Gore's biggest mistake in 2000 was his failure to understand Nader's appeal. Both Kerry, the Democratic frontrunner at this point, and John Edwards, his most prominent challenger for the nomination, are stumbling over one another to present themselves as economic populists. That's a signal that they will do a better job than Gore did of competing for the support not just of potential Nader backers but of the far broader pool of voters (and potential voters) who need to hear a populist message on issues such as trade.
NADER MAY NOT EVEN BE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT INDEPENDENT OR THIRD-PARTY CONTENDER IN 2004: Those in the Bush White House and its echo chambers on right-wing talk radio and the Fox television network, who have been delighting in the prospect of a Nader run, may not be laughing for long. Judge Roy Moore, the Alabama jurist whose fight to display the Ten Commandments on state property drew national attention last year, is being courted by the right-wing Constitution Party as a potential presidential candidate. (The Constitution Party was on the ballot in 41 states in 2000, and retains a solid network of activist supporters nationwide.) With growing numbers of core conservatives angered by Bush's policies on immigration, federal spending and individual liberties, a Moore candidacy could develop into a serious problem for the president. More than 20 percent of the voters in January's New Hampshire Republican primary cast ballots for someone other than Bush; more than 10 percent of Oklahoma Republican primary voters did the same. Come November, Moore could pose a greater threat to Republican prospects than Nader will to the Democrats.
NADER IS EXTREMELY UNLIKELY TO LEAVE THIS RACE ANYTIME SOON: From the moment Nader said he was exploring a 2004 bid, it was obvious he was going to run. In addition to rejecting appeals from former supporters to join a broad "Beat Bush" movement, Nader dismissed offers of platforms and vehicles that would have allowed him to be a major player in the 2004 race without being a candidate -- just as he rejected the Green Party line. He is determined to have his say and, as his "Meet the Press" announcement appearance illustrated, he will have plenty of opportunities to do so. He believes he has something to add to the debate, and he knows he has a right to try. Additionally, he has come to enjoy campaigning. Energy devoted to trying to get him out of the competition is wasted.
Franklin Roosevelt and his supporters came to a similar conclusion with regards to Norman Thomas in 1932. So they treated him with respect during the fall campaign, while grabbing the best elements of the Socialist platform away from Thomas. In the end, Roosevelt won, while Thomas could say he contributed significantly to the process. Nader, who has always held Thomas in high regard, will cling to the hope that the Roosevelt-Thomas scenario will repeat itself -- unlikely as that may be. He can anticipate no better result for himself this year. And the alternatives are far less appealing -- for Nader, and for America.
The race for the Democratic presidential nomination is not over. In fact, it's getting a lot more interesting. Here are some notes on where the contest now stands:
EDWARDS HAS A WAY WITH WORDS: Much is made of North Carolina Senator John Edwards' populist stump speech, with its emotional call for closing the gap between "the two Americas" -- one for the wealthy recipients of George W. Bush's tax cuts, the other for working families that struggle to meet health care, housing and education costs at a time when their jobs are threatened by free-trade policies. But Edwards is actually at his best when he tosses off one liners that seem to sum up the political moment. "Wisconsin does not want a coronation," Edwards declared February 11, as he began what then looked like an uphill campaign in the state that six days later handed him a strong second place finish and a chance to compete one-on-one in the March 2 "Super Tuesday" primaries with Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. When Kerry seemed to be claiming the nomination in the final debate before the Wisconsin primary, Edwards got off the best line of the night with his jab, "Not so fast, John Kerry." And after Wisconsin voters moved him to within six points of Kerry -- for one of the closest primary finishes so far in the campaign -- a jubilant Edwards took the stage at Milwaukee's Serb Hall and declared, "Today, the voters in Wisconsin sent a clear message. The message was this: Objects in your mirror may be closer than they appear."
KERRY HAS NO WAY WITH WORDS: Shaken by the close race in Wisconsin, which required him to deliver his victory speech almost an hour after he had planned to do so, Kerry played rough. The Massachusetts senator waited until Edwards took the stage to celebrate his showing, and then strode to the microphone at his own party. Television networks make it a rule to go to the winner when he appears to give his victory speech, even if that means cutting off another candidate. Kerry aides knew that and took full advantage of the opportunity to block Edwards. But they were not well served by the decision. Kerry's speech was long, unfocused and deadly dull. It lacked even the enthusiasm that the senator showed after his important wins in Iowa and New Hampshire. One reporter who has covered Kerry for two decades said as the address dragged on, "This is the worst I've ever heard him." In fairness, that was an extreme statement. Kerry is a famously uninspiring orator, whose speaking style has improved only marginally during the course of the campaign. But his speech Tuesday night, at a time when he should have been rallying the troops with a passionate call to close the deal and make him the Democratic nominee, instead provided a good explanation for why many Democrats will take a second look at Edwards.
SECOND PLACE WON'T CUT IT ANYMORE: The Edwards campaign denies that they are cherry picking primary contests in which to compete with Kerry on March 2. But the truth is that Edwards has skipped a lot of contests so far. And it looks like he is preparing to skip a lot more between now and Super Tuesday. As of now, the North Carolina senator's campaign is clearly focused on Ohio, Georgia and upstate New York -- areas where the candidates anti--NAFTA message ought to play well. Unfortunately, a lot of other states are voting on Super Tuesday, including California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Vermont. Additionally, caucuses will be held in Hawaii and Idaho on February 24, as will a primary in Utah. It gets harder for Edwards to claim to be seriously competing for the nomination if he cedes Hawaii, Idaho and Utah to Kerry on the 24th and then skips delegate-rich states such as Maryland and Minnesota, and potentially California, on March 2. If he sticks to this strategy -- which is dictated, at least for now, by a lack of funds to run the sort of intensive television-advertising campaign that he did in South Carolina and Wisconsin -- he runs a huge risk. If he concentrates on Ohio, Georgia and New York, he will need to win them. It will no longer be possible to spin second-place finishes as "moral victories."
THE SHARPTON FACTOR: The Edwards strategy for focusing on upstate New York is rooted in the theory that Al Sharpton will win a lot of votes in New York City. Sharpton has not mounted a particularly serious national campaign, but he has still secured some respectable finishes in urban areas where he has concentrated his time and energy. He ran a strong second behind Howard Dean in the District of Columbia's non-binding primary, and finished second behind Kerry in Detroit and Wilmington, Delaware -- winning Democratic National Convention delegates in both cities. Sharpton is exceptionally well known in New York City, where he has run for the U.S. Senate and mayor, securing solid vote totals in each contest. The evidence from around the country is that Kerry runs strong among African-American voters in northern urban areas. But if Sharpton holds Kerry's total down in New York City, Edwards aides think there is an outside chance that their man could finish first on the basis of a credible third-place finish in the city and a strong upstate vote. But Sharpton's role in the race has grown increasingly controversial. The Village Voice, which does not circulate much in Detroit or Wilmington, but is a serious factor in New York, has exposed the fact that Sharpton has been taking campaign cues from a nefarious Republican operative. In a piece titled, "Sleeping with the GOP," the Voice's Wayne Barrett writes, "Roger Stone, the longtime Republican dirty-tricks operative who led the mob that shut down the Miami-Dade County recount and helped make George W. Bush president in 2000, is financing, staffing, and orchestrating the presidential campaign of Reverend Al Sharpton." This story deserves the attention the Voice has given it, particularly because Sharpton has played on anger over the Florida recount fight to pump up his prospects. If Sharpton becomes a player in a competitive New York primary, as is possible, he should be pressed to address the issue of his ties to Stone -- at least as aggressively as Sharpton pressed Howard Dean on the former Vermont governor's minority hiring record in a critical exchange prior to the Iowa caucuses.
THE DEAN FACTOR: Howard Dean had a lot of supporters in the March 2 primary and caucus states. To a greater extent than the other candidades, Dean developed a 50-state strategy that saw him courting key officials and pouring money into grassroots organization is states that he and his aides fully expected his campaign would reach. As a result, even as his campaign stumbled badly after Iowa, he was able to keep winning delegates -- 24 in Michigan, 29 in Washington, 11 in Maine, 13 in Wisconsin on Tuesday. Dean ended his campaign on Wednesday, but that does not mean that he will cease to be a factor. If Dean does nothing, his supporters could actually keep campaigning and win some delegates -- just as backers of Paul Tsongas kept adding to his delegate totals after he quit campaigning in 1992. Some Dean backers have indicated a desire to carry on, and they could be a factor in New York, where the campaign filed full slates of delegate contenders in every congressional district. There is a great deal of speculation about the prospect that Dean might back Edwards. The former governor made it clear before the Wisconsin primary that he preferred Edwards to Kerry, telling CBS News, "I think that Sen. Kerry has an enormous advantage. My fear is that he won't be the strongest Democratic candidate. I've actually said on the record that I think Sen. Edwards would be a stronger candidate against George Bush than Sen. Kerry because when Sen. Kerry's record is examined by the public at a more leisurely time when we're not having primaries every week, he's going to turn out be just like George Bush." Edwards says that he has had friendly conversations with Dean in recent days, but there is no guarantee that Dean will choose to endorse. Former Dean aides explain that, if he goes with Edwards and then the North Carolinian quits on March 2, Dean could further marginalize himself. And, since Dean is serious about turning what was his campaign into some kind of force within the Democratic party, he will want clear evidence that Edwards is a long-term contender before he puts his name on the line. Note also that many people who are -- or have been -- close to Dean also have ties to U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy, who will continue to pull with all of his considerable might for a Kerry endorsement.
THE LABOR FACTOR: The AFL-CIO has endorsed Kerry. Labor has taken some hits on the campaign trail this year, but the race is now moving to states, such as Ohio and New York, where the union movement retains a great deal of strength. But labor is not completely united behind Kerry. There's a good deal of grumbling about the fact that Edwards is running hard on a labor issue -- opposition to free-trade pacts -- that has never been one of Kerry's strong points. (And there are still some union activists who note that Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich, who remains in the contest, is a far more passionate advocate for fair trade than either Edwards or Kerry.) In New York State, Edwards will continue to have the support of UNITE, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees. UNITE has 90,000 members in New York state, and the union's political director, Chris Chafe, says, "We're absolutely, 1,000 percent behind John Edwards. It is unlikely that he will do an event before March 2 where UNITE is not there to back him. We will be organizing upstate, downstate, wherever he needs us." Kerry's AFL-CIO endorsement will help him, but Edwards will be able to point to UNITE's backing and claim a good measure of labor legitimacy, especially in New York, where the union has a long history of political activism.
Running for the Democratic nomination for president has taught John Edwards some things he did not know about American politics. And not all of what the North Carolina senator has learned is encouraging.
For instance, Edwards says, he has come to understand why campaigns so frequently turn so very ugly. As the candidate who many analysts see as the last contender with a chance to derail the juggernaut that is propelling Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry toward the party's nomination, Edwards says he has come under intense pressure to attack the frontrunner.
"You can't imagine the pressure to go negative," says Edwards. "There are so many people who say, ‘This is what you have to do to win it.'"
In high-stakes contests, candidates do not merely get pressure from campaign consultants to savage their opponents in attack ads on television and take-no-prisoners mailings. The push to go negative can also come from prominent backers and financial contributors who want to make sure they are investing in a campaign that will go the distance.
Such prodding is usually felt behind-the-scenes. But, for Edwards, the pressure has moved out of the political backrooms and into the open.
In recent days, the first-term senator, who beat Kerry in South Carolina and has posted solid second-place finishes in caucuses and primaries elsewhere, has used an issues-based, populist campaign against corporate free-trade deals to battle his way into second place behind Kerry in polls of likely voters in tomorrow's Wisconsin primary. With Kerry having already secured wins in fourteen of sixteen caucus and primary contests so far, many analysts say Wisconsin is a make-or-break state for Edwards and the candidate who is running third in most polls, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.
Yet, while Dean has attacked Kerry, Edwards has eschewed negative campaigning. That has helped him retain his "Mr. Nice Guy" reputation. And it has won endorsements from some prominent Democrats, such as Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, the progressive mayor of Madison, Wisconsin's second-largest city. Cieslewicz said he was attracted to Edwards in part because of the senator's clean campaign.
Yet, while everyone says they want campaigns to be upbeat, Edwards is taking hits for not hitting his opponents. A Sunday New York Times article on Edwards appeared beneath the headline, "Do You Need to Go Negative to Topple a Front-Runner?"
"Many Democratic strategists say that as he faces a critical primary in Wisconsin on Tuesday, it is time for Mr. Edwards to offer voters a reason they should not vote for Mr. Kerry," noted the Times, above a quote form Democratic strategist Bill Carrick suggesting that a candidate in the position where the North Carolinian finds himself must launch "some substantial attack" in order to close the gap.
But Edwards shows no signs of ditching his resolutely positive appeal. In last night's final debate before the primary, he would only go so far as to challenge suggestions that Kerry had essentially secured the nomination, exclaiming, "Not so fast, John Kerry."
Political pundits like to say that the reason candidates go negative is because "negative works." But Edwards does not think that is necessarily the case in presidential primaries.
"I don't think that's what voters want," Edwards said in an interview before Sunday's debate. "Voters want something bigger. They want a strong, optimistic vision for the country. They want to hear real ideas about what any of us would do as president, what I would do as president. I think it's fine to point out differences to voters, for them to know what the policy differences are between me and Sen. Kerry. But that's not really the thrust of what voters are looking for. They're looking for someone who they think can be president, not someone who can run another candidate down."
While the prodding to go negative is strong now, as state and national media speculates that a big Kerry win in Wisconsin could effectively end the competition, Edwards says it was actually worse before he surprised the pundits to beat out Dean and former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt in Iowa. In Iowa, Kerry, Dean and Gephardt all took shots at one another. But Edwards stayed above -- or, at least, outside -- the fray. The North Carolinian had to struggle to stay out of the partisan bickering, however.
"The pressures were extraordinary back in late December and early January because I wasn't moving then," recalls Edwards. "I was way back in the polls, and everyone said, ‘You don't have a chance. You better start attacking.' But that didn't ever feel right to me. I stayed true to what I believed, and it worked."
Now, Edwards hopes that his refusal to attack other candidates may help him to secure the support of Wisconsinites who had been committed to Gephardt and another candidate who has left the race, retired Gen. Wesley Clark. And, though Dean remains in the running, Edwards thinks he could attract backers of the battered Vermonter.
"I'm more of an outsider. I have new, fresh ideas about how we change this country to make it work for everybody, so I think that my candidacy does have a lot of appeal for people who have supported Gov. Dean," says Edwards.
Last week, in an interview with CBS News, Dean actually gave some encouragement to the Edwards candidacy. "I think that Sen. Kerry has an enormous advantage," Dean said, referring to momentum Kerry has gained with each successive caucus and primary win. "My fear is that he won't be the strongest Democratic candidate. I've actually said on the record that I think Sen. Edwards would be a stronger candidate against George Bush than Sen. Kerry because when Sen. Kerry's record is examined by the public at a more leisurely time when we're not having primaries every week, he's going to turn out be just like George Bush."
Even with an assist from Dean, Edwards would not attack his leading rival. But Edwards did note that he shared Dean's view that he would be the stronger nominee.
The kind words from Dean regarding Edwards recall an incident in the 1992 Democratic primary for a Wisconsin US Senate seat. The frontrunners in that race, former US Rep. Jim Moody and businessman Joe Checota, attacked each other relentlessly. Things got so bitter that, in one of the last debates, Checota said Democrats who did not choose to vote for him should refrain from backing Moody and instead support a third candidate who had eschewed negative campaigning, Russ Feingold. Feingold won that primary and, in November, was elected to the Senate.
"I'm completely familiar with that race that put Russ Feingold in the Senate," Edwards said on Sunday. "That's part of what makes me know that staying positive can work in a Democratic primary in Wisconsin."
Howard Dean's supporters think he has gotten a raw deal from the media. And their candidate does not disagree.
Even before the former frontrunner started to stumble at the polling places in primary and caucus states, Dean says he started taking hits from media insiders who he says feared handing the Democratic presidential nomination to an outsider.
"I think I scared them. I think it goes back to when Al Gore endorsed me, and AFSCME and the SEIU; people in the establishment began to think I could win," Dean says, recalling the heady days last fall when he accumulated endorsements from top Democrats and labor unions. "That scared the hell out of them because they knew I didn't owe anybody. I didn't owe them a dime. Eighty-nine percent of our money comes from small donors. That's certainly not true of anybody else running for president on either side."
The "them" Dean is referring to are the Washington-based political pundits, reporters and commentators who shape so much of the discussion of presidential politics on television and on the pages of America's elite newspapers. "I think the media is part of the established group in Washington. They have a little club there," says Dean. "If you don't go down to kiss the ring, they get upset by that. I don't play the game. I pretty much say what I think. That makes a lot of people uncomfortable."
Initially, Dean says, he felt he could take the hits. After all, media outlets that once dismissed him as the "asterisk" candidate from the small state of Vermont made him a national figure when they featured him on magazine covers and news shows.
But, after what he refers to as a "pep talk" given to backers after his defeat in the Iowa caucuses began airing around-the-clock on cable news programs as the "I Have a Scream" speech, Dean says he began to fully understand how events can be warped by the media. "ABC actually did a fairly sound retraction on that one," Dean says of a report by ABC News that showed the "scream" in Des Moines was dramatically amplified in television and cable reports. "But that's one network, and one report. Most of the networks failed to offer any perspective."
Dean does not suggest that he has run an error-free campaign. He admits to plenty of mistakes. But his complaint that he has not gotten fair coverage is echoed by a report from the Center for Media and Public Affairs. The center's study of 187 CBS, NBC and ABC evening news reports found that only 49 percent of all on-air evaluations of Dean in 2003 were positive. The other Democratic contenders collectively received 78 percent favorable coverage during the same period.
In the week after the Iowa caucuses, the center found that only 39 percent of the coverage of Dean on network evening news programs was positive; in contrast, 86 percent of the coverage of North Carolina Sen. John Edwards was positive, as was 71 percent of the coverage of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, the new front runner. Even CNN's general manager now admits that the cable networks overplayed the "scream" – which was aired 633 times on national networks in the four days after Iowa voted on January 19.
Yet, even as he tries to resurrect his campaign with a make-or-break push toward Wisconsin's February 17 primary, Dean does not talk much about media coverage of his campaign. Why? "It's not central to the stump speech. If I were leading the polls by 20 percent, I could say anything I wanted about the media," he explains. "But what I've discovered is that, if you complain about the media, they write that you're whiney and complaining. So I don't complain about the media."
That does not mean, however, that Dean does not think about how he would handle media issues if elected. "I figure I'll win, and then I'll really complain about the media," he says.
What does Dean mean by that?
"I think democracy fails under a variety of conditions and one of the conditions occurs when people don't have the ability to get the kind of information they need to make up their mind. Ideologically, I don't care much for Fox News. But the truth is that, as long as there are countervailing points of view available on the spectrum, it doesn't matter," says Dean, who began speaking last year about the need to reduce the power of big media companies.
"Now, the last time I saw a statistic on this, I think that 90 percent of the American people got their news from a handful of corporations," he adds. "That's not very good for democracy, and that's not very good for America. If I become president of the United States, I'm going to appoint a whole lot different people to the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) so that we start to make the media more diffuse, more responsible. I'd also like public airwaves devoted to some public services – so that every single station serves the community where it is located."
Dean dismisses the notion that proposals to break the grip of media conglomerates are radical. "That's not radical at all," he says. "That's what we used to have. The right wingers have undone that over the last 15 or 20 years, and we need to go back to what we had to have a sound democracy."
Dean also dismisses the notion that it would be difficult to get the American people to go along with a challenge to big media. "I think the public would love what I was doing," he says of a presidential assault on media monopolies. "The public doesn't particularly like the media, which works in my favor."
Name the Democratic presidential candidates who scored unexpectedly strong showings in Democratic presidential caucuses over the weekend?
John Kerry? No, it is not exactly news that the frontrunner is winning primaries and caucuses. No doubt, Kerry's showings in Washington, Michigan and Maine were impressive, and he is likely to secure some even more impressive finishes Tuesday in the Virginia and Tennessee primaries -- proving in the period of four days that he can win in the west, the Midwest, the east and the south. But Kerry's finishes confirm what the polls have been predicting ever since he won a surprisingly strong victory in the Jan. 19 Iowa caucuses. He is the man to beat, and no one is beating him.
Howard Dean? No, he is not even exceeding the lowered expectations for his formerly frontrunning campaign. Dean continues to secure second-place finishes in northern states such as Washington, Michigan and Maine. But he is struggling to come in fourth in southern and border states. Even in his native New England, he has now lost both New Hampshire and Maine to Kerry. And the fact that he cannot do better in passionately anti-war states such as Washington and Maine begs the question: Where can he win?
John Edwards? No, he failed to move ahead of Dean in any of the northern states that voted over the weekend -- even though he had support from the United Steelworkers union and former House Whip David Bonior in Michigan. And if he and retired Gen. Wesley Clark both lose to Kerry in Virginia and Tennessee Tuesday, it is going to get harder for Edwards and Clark to spin themselves as serious competitors for the nomination.
But if all the candidates that the media covers fell within their expectations over the weekend, then who were the exceptional contenders? A pair of candidates who are seldom accused of being serious competitors for the nomination, but whose candidacies offer primary and caucus goers opportunities to send real messages: Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton.
Kucinich ran third in the Washington state and Maine caucuses, beating Edwards and Clark. In Maine, Kucinich was winning around 14 percent of the vote, and he could yet have enough support to secure a delegate or so when all the caucus votes are counted.
Kucinich backers in Maine were not, for the most part, being romantic. In interviews with the local media on caucus day, they indicated that they knew the Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair was unlikely to win the nomination. But they also indicated that they wanted to send a message by backing the candidate who had staked out the most clearly antiwar, anti-Patriot Act, and anti-free trade stances in this year's race. "Hopefully, he can have some influence on the final platform. (A strong performance) can add some credential to his positions," explained Dennis Rioux, who caucused for Kucinich in Biddeford, Maine. Rioux, who was enthusiastic about Kucinich's anti-war position and the candidate's support for single-payer health care, said he hoped Kucinich would have enough delegates to raise those issues at the Democratic National Convention in July.
Sharpton backers were sending a similar message in Michigan. Sharpton, who campaigned aggressively in Detroit, actually ran second in the city. Only Kerry did better than Sharpton, who won 30 percent of the vote in one Detroit-based Congressional district, and 35 percent in the other. "(Candidates need to) pay attention to the urban agenda," Sharpton backer Dorothy Redmond, of Detroit, told the Michigan Daily. "Although Sharpton won't make it, I want to show blacks do vote and have issues." Those sentiments won Sharpton seven delegates from Michigan, more than any of the candidates except Kerry and Dean.
"We can accumulate the delegates we need to go to the end of this campaign, to get 300 to 400 delegates," says Sharpton. That may be a stretch, although Sharpton does have the potential to secure a good number of delegates in the March 2 New York primary. But it is not extreme to suggest that, as the big-name candidates stumble and fall out of the race, there will still be a desire among primary and caucus voters to send a message about the issues the Democratic Party so frequently fails to address. And the showings for Sharpton in Michigan and Kucinich in Washington and Maine suggest that they could come to serve as the message carriers for those Democrats who want to make sure their party stands for something come November.
John Edwards is preparing to mount an issue-based challenge to the John Kerry juggernaut. And the issue will be trade policy.
Edwards, the North Carolina senator who many Democrats now see as the last challenger with a chance to derail Kerry's front-running campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, is already reaping the benefits of his "fair trade, not free trade" stance. On Saturday, in Milwaukee, he will receive a key labor endorsement from the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE).
"UNITE members, like all working families, are struggling. George Bush has traded away 2.6 million manufacturing jobs, and put our economic stability, workplace standards and civil liberties at risk," says UNITE President Bruce Raynor, who will join Edwards and a large contingent of the union's more than 3,000 Wisconsin members for the announcement. "Our members are looking for bold new leadership to see us through these challenging times," says Raynor. "Senator John Edwards provides that leadership."
With an epic history that stretches back to the fights against sweatshops at the dawn of the past century, and with 500,000 active and retired members nationwide, UNITE has long been in the forefront of opposition to trade policies that undermine protections for workers, the environment and human rights. The endorsement from UNITE is the first Edwards has received from an international union, and he will use it to highlight the distinctions between his record of challenging free-trade pacts and Kerry's record of support for those agreements.
Don't expect Edwards to get particularly personal with Kerry; the North Carolinian is the "Mr. Congeniality" of this race. But Edwards will be more aggressive about highlighting positions on trade issues that differ from those taken by Kerry.
Edwards has pushed trade issues hard on the campaign trail in recent days, declaring in Tennessee on Thursday that, "It is wrong that our trade policies have caused one million good paying jobs to be shipped overseas because our companies can find cheaper labor and lower standards in another country...We cannot keep supporting trade deals if they are taking our jobs and our democratic way of life with them."
It's no coincidence that the announcement of the UNITE endorsement will come in Wisconsin, where the union has more than 3,000 members and thousands of retirees, and where the February 17 primary contest is shaping up as what could be the last chance to slow Kerry's march to the nomination. With wins in the Iowa caucuses, the New Hampshire primary, and five caucuses and primaries on February 3, Kerry has emerged as the clear frontrunner.
Already, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean has signaled that Wisconsin will be a make-or-break test for his battered candidacy. Edwards is not so blunt about the important of the Wisconsin primary, but his aides admit that he needs to win a northern state soon to remain viable.
Edwards scored a big win February 3 in South Carolina, and he posed solid, second-place finishes in Oklahoma and Missouri – which added significantly to his delegate totals in the race for the Democratic nomination. And he could score wins Tuesday in the Tennessee and Virginia primaries, where he is competing with Kerry and retired Gen. Wesley Clark, but the North Carolinian needs a breakthrough in the north. That's where Wisconsin, which holds the highest profile primary between now and the March 2 "Super Tuesday" primaries in delegate-rich states such as Ohio, New York and California, comes in.
"Edwards is going to have to win somewhere in the north, and there are no other targets for him except Wisconsin," says former US Rep. Jim Jontz, who has been working to get all the candidates to address trade issues as part of the "Regime Change 2004" initiative of the group Americans for Democratic Action. "So Edwards is going to need Wisconsin, and the issue that may get Wisconsin to listen to him is trade."
Jontz is hardly alone in suggesting that trade issues rank high on the list of concerns for Wisconsinites.
"In the past two and one-half years, Wisconsin alone has lost over 84,000 manufacturing jobs in part because of unfair trade policies," says US Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, who has been a leading Senate foe of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), permanent Most Favored Nation trading status for China, and the granting to President Bush of "Fast Track" authority to negotiate a sweeping Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement.
Feingold is not making an endorsement in the Wisconsin primary. But he has made trade a major issue in the state, which has been hard hit in recent years by trade policies that have encouraged US firms to shutter factories in the upper Midwest and shift production out of the country. Feingold and other members of the Wisconsin Congressional delegation have, as well, been leaders in raising concerns about trade policies that undermine the interests of Wisconsin's family farmers – who remain a significant electoral force in what has historically been known as America's Dairyland.
Edwards has not been so consistent a foe of free trade policies as Feingold, or Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, who is also seeking the Democratic nod. But the North Carolinian has cast votes in the Senate against a number of trade agreements, and he has made opposition to the FTAA and calls for a reworking of NAFTA an important part of his message in the presidential campaign.
In contrast, Kerry voted for NAFTA, legislation that led to the creation of the World Trade Organization, Most Favored Nation trading status for China and Fast Track authority for the Bush administration to negotiate not just the FTAA but other new trade agreements. When the AFL-CIO quizzed candidates on trade issues in July, Kerry refused to indicate whether he would oppose a Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement that did not include significant protections for workers and the environment in the US and abroad.
In September, in a speech to the Detroit Economic Club, Kerry accused critics of free trade pacts, including former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Missouri, and Dean, of "pandering" to organizing labor. Gephardt, who won the support of many industrial unions but ran poorly in the Iowa caucuses, has withdrawn from the race and is now backing Kerry.
But Gephardt's long-time ally in fights against the free-trade agenda of Presidents Clinton and Bush, former House Whip David Bonior, endorsed Edwards on Thursday. "One of the reasons I am supporting John is that he campaigned against NAFTA and knows thath we have to fight for fair trade, not just free trade," said Bonior, who remains a popular figure with labor audiences not just in his native Michigan and in neighboring Wisconsin.
Along with Bonior's backing, Edwards was endorsed this week by District 2 of the United Steelworkers of America, which represents steelworkers in Michigan and Wisconsin. "As the son of a textile worker, he has seen the devastation that unfair trade has brought upon entire industries," said Harry Lester, Director of the District 2 United Steelworkers of America. "It is time working people had an Administration that recognizes the success of business and the success of working people go hand in hand. John Edwards understands that and would bring fairness back to our government."
On what was, undoubtedly, the most important day so far for his campaign for the presidency, John Edwards arranged to take time away from shaking hands with actual voters in the critical state of South Carolina to meet with a group of people who could not vote in that state, nor in any of the half dozen others that held primaries and caucuses on Tuesday.
Yet, the people with whom Edwards agreed to meet could hold the power to decide whether the North Carolina senator really will be able to mount a serious challenge to frontrunner John Kerry in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. They were the leaders of several of the industrial unions that backed the failed candidacy of Dick Gephardt. Though they could not deliver for the former House Minority Leader, who ran a weak fourth in the January 19 Iowa caucuses and then withdrew, the more than 20 unions that backed Gephardt are finding that the doors of the remaining Democratic contenders remain very much open to them.
For Edwards, who won South Carolina's primary and posted solid second-place finishes in several of the other states that voted Tuesday, support from just a few of those unions -- particularly the 1.4-million member International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the 700,000-member United Steelworkers of America union -- could provide him with the infrastructure he needs to compete in northern industrial states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Illinois. It is in these states that Edwards will in coming weeks be under pressure to nationalize what some analysts still dismiss as a southern regional campaign, and union backing could make all the difference.
"With the Teamsters and a few other unions pulling for him, Edwards might be able to secure some upsets and really emerge as the alternative to Kerry," said a veteran labor leader from the upper Midwest, who backs none of the candidates at this point. "But, without them, I don't see how Edwards can build the organization he needs to take this thing national."
The industrial unions like Edwards. To their view, he's got a significantly better record on the international trade issues that are so vital to union members who have seen hundreds of thousands of jobs eliminated, as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement and Permanent Most-Favored Nation Trading Status with China. Edwards has never been so passionate a critic of the corporate free-trade agenda as Gephardt, who helped organize Congressional opposition to NAFTA and the granting of "Fast Track" authority to negotiate a sweeping Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement, or Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio. But, as far as labor is concerned, Edwards has a far better record than Kerry, whose support for free trade agreements has been almost as consistent as that of Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, the corporate-friendly Democrat whose miserable showings in Tuesday's primaries and caucuses ended his presidential run.
Already, the Steelworkers union district that includes Michigan and Wisconsin has endorsed Edwards.
But most unions are holding off for now. The union leaders who met with the North Carolina senator Tuesday are expected to meet Thursday with Kerry, who has won seven of the nine primaries and caucuses held so far.
With Kerry emerging as the man to beat, unions that had backed Gephardt are cautious about going against him. They might prefer Edwards, but they will need a solid rational for doing so. There is real fear on the part of many labor leaders about backing two losers in the same nomination fight.
Some unions have already jumped to Kerry. Even before his breakthrough wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, the Massachusetts senator always had the backing of the 260,000-member International Fire Fighters Association and the 50,000-member Utility Workers Union of the America. And as his campaign has picked up steam, he has received endorsements from the 700,000-member Communications Workers of America union, the 150,000-member Sheet Metal Workers International Association and the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 workers in 29 government agencies. He has also gained the backing of the 27,000-member United Farm Workers union, which maintains influence beyond its numbers in Latino communities. And he is expected to secure the support of the 1.2-million member American Federation of Teachers union before the end of the week.
Kerry has also earned backing from a number of powerful union groupings in Michigan, where caucuses will be held Saturday. The 157,000-member Michigan Education Association is for him, as are United Auto Workers union Region 1D, the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and the West Michigan Building Trades Association.
Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who hopes to renew his campaign with a strong showing in Michigan, says, "The Michigan Education Association has endorsed Senator Kerry, but I think I'll get the vast majority of teachers' votes."
Dean had better hope he's right. He needs strong showings in Michigan and Washington state, which also holds caucuses on Saturday, as well as Wisconsin, which will hold what is shaping up as a critical primary on February 17. Dean's still has the backing of two of the largest unions in the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. But the former frontrunner is under pressure to deliver some wins soon. Both unions have spent in the range of $1 million to aid Dean who, so far, has been beaten in nine primaries and caucuses.
Dean will be called to explain his strategy for renewing his campaign in meetings later this week with leaders of AFSCME and SEIU, as well as another union that endorsed him when his campaign was on the rise, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. "Obviously, people are nervous. Obviously, they'd rather be in a different situation strategically," says Bob Muehlenkamp, the former Teamsters union organizing director who has been helping Dean line up labor support. "Obviously, people have doubts and hesitations when you're not winning elections and getting votes."
SEIU President Andy Stern says his union is committed to back Dean through Wisconsin's February 17 primary. "As Dr. Dean has said, he wants to win, he's not there to be a protest candidate," says Stern. "At some point he's going to have to decide if he's getting enough delegates and does he have the strategy to win."
Moments after the polls closed in New Hampshire on January 27, Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie declared that President Bush had won 94 percent of the Republican primary vote. It was a dramatic claim. Unfortunately for Gillespie, it was dramatically inaccurate.
When the Associated Press posted the unofficial returns from the GOP primary, it reported that Bush had won a little less than 86 percent of the vote. The fact that almost one out of every seven New Hampshire voters who took Republican ballots had apparently cast them for someone other than the party's incumbent president drew little note in major media accounts, but it was intriguing enough to merit mention in this column ("Bush Slips -- Among Republicans," Online Beat, 1-20-2004).
As it turns out, however, the unofficial tally by Associated Press significantly underestimated the collapse in the president's fortunes. According to updated figures from the New Hampshire Secretary of State's office, which only today posted a final figure on the total number of ballots cast, only 78 percent of New Hampshire voters who took Republican ballots marked them for Bush. (In one New Hampshire town, Milton, Bush received only 48 percent of the vote, while in a number of others he was held below 60 percent of the vote.)
The figures on the New Hampshire Secretary of State's office website (http://www.state.nh.us/sos/electionsnew.htm) show than 69,379 New Hampshire voters cast regular and absentee ballots in the Republican primary. Just 53,962 voted for Bush (78 percent). More than one in five Republican primary voters, 22--percent--chose not to vote for Bush.
Where did the renegade Republican votes go? While roughly ten percent of Republican primary voters statewide backed little-known Republicans whose names appeared on the ballot or simply did not vote, a remarkable 8,288 (12 percent) wrote in the names of leading Democratic presidential contenders.
The Democrat who won the most Republican primary votes was Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who got 3,009 write-in votes, for 4.3 percent of the Republican primary total. Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean received 1,888 write-in votes for 2.7 percent. Retired General Wesley Clark got 1,467 Republican write-ins for 2.1 percent.
By contrast, Bush received only 257 write-in votes in the Democratic primary, where a total of 220,053 ballots were cast.
How does the level of support for Bush in this year's Republican primary compare with past primaries in which a supposedly popular president faced no serious opposition? Not well. In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower won 98.9 percent of the Republican primary vote, according to the New Hampshire Political Library. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson won 95.3 percent of the Democratic primary vote. And in 1984 and 1996, Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic President Bill Clinton both secured around 85 percent of the vote in their respective party primaries.
Considering President Bush's less-than-stellar showing in New Hampshire, it should come as little surprise that Republicans in some states have decided to cancel their primaries. In South Carolina, for instance, the state Republican Party's executive committee decided not to hold their state's tradition first-in-the-south primary. They simply endorsed Bush for reelection and agreed to select delegates at district and state Republican Party conventions where, presumably, the president will not have to run the risk of embarrassment at the hands of independent thinking voters.
(Online Beat thanks to a sharp reader, Joe Loy, who alerted us to the shifting New Hampshire Republican primary figures. Thanks also to Paula Penney, an administrative assistant in the New Hampshire Secretary of State's office, who explained that it takes time to get a final count because a lot of New Hampshire votes are still cast on traditional paper ballots. Penney says the results that are now posted should be the last official word on what New Hampshire voters think of Bush--until November.)
What if we lived in a parallel universe where Howard Dean was actually treated fairly by the media?
I don't mean some Deaniac bizarro world where the former Vermont governor's "I Have a Scream" speech in Iowa would be treated as world-class oratory, or where it would go unmentioned that his campaign is essentially broke. I mean a place where Dean would be treated like the other candidates--criticized for his mistakes, complimented for his accomplishments and, above all, treated seriously when he discusses issues.
How would a Dean candidacy be fairing today if the press gushed over him as it does John Edwards, or forgave him his trespasses as quickly as it does John Kerry, or overlooked the disorder in his organization as casually as it does the daily disaster that is Joe Lieberman's so-called campaign?
The answer, of course, is "better."
Dean has made mistakes, to be sure. But those mistakes have been amplified by a 24-hour-a-day news cycle, by late-night comics, by an Anybody-But-Dean army of cable television and talk-radio talking heads, and by Washington-centric newspaper columnists who never understood or particularly approved of Dean's decision to show up uninvited at the top of Democratic polls in late 2003.It wasn't just cable commentators and comics that gave Dean a hard time, however. According to the nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affairs, Dean was the favorite target of the evening news programs on the nation's broadcast networks. The center's study of 187 CBS, NBC and ABC evening news reports found that only 49 percent of all on-air evaluations of Dean in 2003 were positive. The other Democratic contenders collectively received 78 percent favorable coverage during the same period.
The battering Dean took from the media actually strengthened him at first. Grassroots Democrats, like most Americans, are angry with media that did not have the courage--or the basic journalistic skills--to expose George Bush's lies about weapons of mass destruction and tax cuts for the rich before Americans started losing their lives in Iraq and their jobs in the heartland. For a time, the jabs he took from the media bounced off Dean as easily as did the attacks from the corporate-funded Democratic Leadership Council and other fronts for the Republican-lite wing of the party.
But, eventually, the hits began to take their toll. Despite the fact that Dean is actually better on his feet now than at any time since he announced his candidacy, he is greeted with skepticism even by Democrats who admit that they like his message. Traveling with Dean in South Carolina this week, I saw him earn thunderous applause from voters who said they appreciated his antiwar, anti-establishment message. When I asked if they would support him, however, these same Democrats quietly admitted they would probably vote for Kerry or Edwards--candidates who just weeks ago were dismissed as losers but are now regularly referred to as "electable" by the media pack.
It is true that every disintegrating presidential candidacy since that of John Adams in 1800 has blamed the media for its decline. But, in this case, Dean's complaints appear to be more credible than those of most damaged contenders.
How do we know?
Consider one place on the campaign trail where Dean did receive good press--or, at least, fair press--right up to the time when ballots began to be cast. That place is southwest New Hampshire, a region that still gets a lot of its news from a feisty independent daily newspaper called the Keene Sentinel. I know the Sentinel reasonably well because I wrote some for it during the 1984 New Hampshire primary season, and I have always kept up with its coverage of candidates and campaigns.
Since 1799, the Sentinel has been synonymous with news in what is known as the Monadnock Region of New Hampshire. The newspaper has a long history of taking politics seriously, and it still does. All the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination campaigned aggressively in southwest New Hampshire--which borders Dean's Vermont and Kerry's Massachusetts--and all of them earned front-page coverage of their statements and stands in the Sentinel.
So the Monadnock Region was treated to some of the most thorough coverage of the campaign in the country. And that coverage was not filtered through a "news center" in Washington or New York or Atlanta.
Thus, when it came time for the Sentinel to make an endorsement, the editors looked over their own coverage and came to a conclusion: Dean was not the screaming hothead portrayed on cable TV. Rather, they saw a sensible and appealing candidate, and they backed him, writing that, "Dean offers voters a wide range of well-thought-out policy initiatives, foreign and domestic, based on a dramatic--and one might say conservative--theme: I want my country back. That cry, coupled with Dean's direct, energetic style, appeals to a lot of Democrats and independents, and has attracted a large number of people to his campaign who had previously been alienated from politics of any kind. Dean is particularly effective in his open refusal to entice voters with wild promises of expensive new government programs...
"We come to this decision not without some difficulty, given the appeal of the (retired General) Clark and (US Senator John) Edwards candidacies. But we believe on balance that Dean is best-equipped to restore respect for this country abroad while protecting the interests of Americans at home. And we believe Dean, unlike the current occupant of the White House, understands that the two efforts must be linked. All nations reserve the right to act boldly in their own interests, but no nation--even our own exceptional nation--can thrive as a go-it-alone force on virtually every matter of international substance: energy, the environment, trade, war and peace. Dean has reasonable and we believe workable ideas for addressing Americans' needs regarding health care, the federal deficit, homeland security, jobs, civil rights and the economy. And he would reverse the current administration's shameless weakening of environmental laws.
"No one will accuse Howard Dean of being soft on anything--that's hardly his style. But in the long run, tough policies are most effective when they are also smart policies. We observed Dean through a long career as governor of Vermont accomplishing a great deal by combining diligence with intelligence. Along the way, he usually won the respect not only of his allies, but of many of his adversaries as well. If he can bring that vitality and that sensitivity to the national stage, he and we might well get our country back."
The Sentinel wasn't the only thing Dean had going for him in southwest New Hampshire. But the steady and responsible coverage the region's dominant newspaper accorded him, along with its endorsement, appear to have had at least some impact.
Last Tuesday, Kerry won New Hampshire by a margin of 39 percent to 26 percent for Dean. Dean, who had been leading in just about every New Hampshire region, according to polls taken late in 2003, saw his support slip dramatically in most places. But the former Vermont governor carried southwest New Hampshire, winning 6,639 votes to 6,070 for Kerry. Of 31 towns in the Monadnock Region, John Kerry won just 11, while Howard Dean took 20.