Whatever scant joy Arizona supporters of Howard Dean could wring from Tuesday night’s election results lasted for exactly one hour and fifteen minutes. Though the polls closed here at 7 pm, there was–for some reason–no hard count of returns available on TV until 8:15. John Kerry had already been projected the winner, but the hope among the Dean supporters gathered in the local Pipe Fitters union hall was that their man might finish a strong second.
Those hopes were buoyed by early returns drifting in from the caucuses in neighboring New Mexico, which had Dr. Dean in a three-way dead heat with Wesley Clark and Kerry. Maybe Dean really was making a comeback.
But seventy-five minutes into the evening, it all crashed. Cable news reports tallied an overwhelming 43 percent victory for Kerry in Arizona, Dean finishing a disappointing third with 14 percent, barely half of second-place runner Clark. In New Mexico, meanwhile, Dean’s 26 percent first-place tie began to sink as more votes were counted, finally settling, again, in lowly third place with 16 percent.
Indeed, Dean finished no higher than third in any of the seven states voting Tuesday and slumped into bare single digits in the keystone states of Missouri and South Carolina.
After his Iowa and New Hampshire defeats, short on money and in the midst of a staff shakeup, Dean as much as conceded all seven states in “Junior Tuesday,” choosing to focus resources on this coming Saturday’s Washington and Michigan primaries. Not to mention liberal Wisconsin on February 17 and the delegate-fat California race on March 2.
But in no viable scenario was the Dean campaign willing to imagine the scope of this Tuesday’s eventual defeat. Dean’s retrenchment strategy banked on him coming out of this round of voting as the Next To The Last Man Standing, the only clear surviving alternative to the new front-runner, Kerry.
“What we need to be able to play in California is a clean-cut, clear distinction between John Kerry and Howard Dean,” Rick Jacobs, Dean’s campaign chair for the Golden State, told me over the weekend as he passed through Arizona. “Just look at Arnold’s victory,” Jacobs continued. “People in California want to vote for change.” Schwarzenegger, of course, had mega-celebrity notoriety and attracted immeasurable amounts of free media. A concerted statewide California television campaign otherwise costs upward of a million dollars per week, out of reach for the Dean organization, which shot most of its wad in Iowa and New Hampshire.