History 7431

Modern Politics


Some articles to ponder:

Ryan Lizza on which Democrat won the war

Jonathan Cohn on Gephardt's health care proposal

Ryan Lizza discusses the Dean phenomenon

William Saletan on the Democratic race

ABC's "The Note," one of the top political blogs

The Hill profiles Karl Rove

Charlie Cook in National Journal

Off To The Races
Sizing Up The Candidates

By Charlie Cook
Tuesday, May 6, 2003

Saturday's South Carolina state Democratic Party convention and the first debate among the nine candidates for the party's presidential nomination next year were two of those classic events for journalists and the campaigns alike --- intensely interesting and totally unimportant. While the media and party insiders were offered a great opportunity to size up the candidates and assess their potential appeal along with their strengths and weaknesses -- and each candidate and campaign could take the measure of their adversaries -- it's hardly likely that anything that happened in Columbia, S.C., last weekend will make much difference in terms of who will win the party's nod next August in Boston. Like a preseason exhibition game, each team learned valuable lessons about themselves and perhaps their rivals but it tells us little about who will win the championship next year.


Gephardt has to figure out how to get his strong personal anecdotes that illustrate his commitment to opportunity, health care and education into a tighter, better rehearsed stump speech if he is to succeed.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry hit a home run in his state convention speech Saturday afternoon, a very well delivered and received speech, but paid the price later that night for having had an aggressive two-day schedule of public events prior to the debate. His subsequent hoarseness took away from what otherwise would have been a strong debate performance as well. His debate closing statement was perhaps the best of the lot.

Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt turned in solid performances both in his afternoon convention speech and at the debate. However, at the former, with each candidate allotted only four minutes for a presentation, the former House minority leader went way over time, getting "gonged" three times. Gephardt has to figure out how to get his strong personal anecdotes that illustrate his commitment to opportunity, health care and education into a tighter, better rehearsed stump speech if he is to succeed. The rest of the field ganged up on Gephardt in the debate, taking potshots at his health care plan, which he did not answer as effectively as he could and should have.

North Carolina Sen. John Edwards performed well at both major events. His was not the home run speech that Kerry turned in Saturday afternoon, but it was hard to find much fault in how Edwards performed at either event. Conversations with rank-and-file Democrats reveal that they rate him high in terms of being attractive and articulate and a forceful advocate of economic and social justice, though they do seem to have reservations that he is "too pretty" and are waiting to see how substantive he is.

Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman will never be a charismatic or a mesmerizing speaker and next year's calendar, in terms of which states hold their primaries and caucuses early and which ones go late, is not kind to the 2000 vice presidential running mate. There is also the question of whether someone as moderate as Lieberman can win the Democratic nomination. Having acknowledged all of that, Lieberman did very well in the debate (because of his observance of the Jewish Sabbath, he was unable to speak to the convention Saturday afternoon and only appeared via video tape). One gets the sense that Lieberman may win the unfortunate mantle of the media's 'very-favorite-candidate-who-they-still-don't-think-has-a-chance' slot.

After a couple of weeks of sharp political repartee between former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and his handlers and Kerry and those in his corner, Dean seemed to try to cool things down a bit on Saturday. But it is very hard for him to subordinate his feisty or combative (choose your adjective) manner. While voters don't mind a spirited candidate, in the eyes of some, he comes awfully close to being an "angry candidate." That is very different and can make it much less likely for him to break through. Dean and Kerry are clearly fighting for positioning, both in terms of ideology and in terms of geography, with Dean the most plausible candidate to give Kerry a run in New Hampshire, which Kerry must win to sew up the nomination.

Given that the state convention and debate were held on Kentucky Derby day, a horse racing analogy may be in order. Imagine a thoroughbred horse with the finest blood-lines, first-rate trainer and jockey coming from the best of stables, but who clearly and consistently under-performs the rest of the field. Despite his strong record of offices held, his resume, his political base in a donor-rich and general election essential state and a first-rate team of campaign advisors, Sen. Bob Graham is just not very articulate. He's not an impressive speaker, prompting some to wonder whether with this candidacy he will effectively talk himself off the 2004 ticket. Maybe he'll improve but he's got a long way to go.

Charlie Cook, a NationalJournal.com contributing editor, is the founder and publisher of the Cook Political Report. This column, which also runs in CongressDailyAM when Congress is in session, appears each Tuesday morning. In addition, Cook writes a weekly column for National Journal magazine. His e-mail address ccook@nationaljournal.com.

Chuck Todd on the Democratic race in historical perspective

On The Trail
What Republicans Think They Know About Democrats

By Chuck Todd
Wednesday, April 30, 2003

One of the striking things "On The Trail" keeps hearing about the 2004 Democratic presidential campaign is a conclusion shared by lots of smart Republicans and conservatives: They believe President Bush's opponent either will be or should be Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt (D).


Dick Gephardt's resume is ideally suited to winning a Republican presidential nomination.

What makes this so striking is that it is hard to find a smart Democratic strategist not affiliated with Gephardt who believes the long-time party leader will make it much past Iowa or New Hampshire, let alone win the nomination.

Do Republicans understand Democratic politics better than Dems themselves? Or are Republicans handicapping the primary through the lens of their own history?

Obviously, we won't know the answer to that question for at least 10 months, but we can get behind the thinking of the Republicans and their bullish Gephardt views.

Think about the Republican presidential nominating process. More times than not, the winner of their primary campaigns is a candidate who has run and lost before. Of the last five GOP presidential nominating contests that did not involve an incumbent, only one first-time candidate won the nomination on their first try -- the current president. And one could argue that Bush was really running his family's fourth presidential campaign.

For Democrats, however, it's been just the reverse. Dating back to 1972, just one eventual nominee in a contested primary situation that included no incumbent had run once before: Al Gore in 2000. In the current Democratic field, only Gephardt has run before -- though that could change if former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart (D) officially gets in.

Another important factor in GOP presidential primaries is establishment support. Think about the GOP presidential nominees dating back to Richard Nixon. Each enjoyed the backing of much of the establishment crowd -- be it the money crowd or the lawmaker crowd. The eventual GOP nominee was the early front-runner from the get-go.

Contrast that to Democratic presidential campaign history since 1972. Just two eventual nominees in non-incumbent contested primaries were the early establishment choices: Gore in 2000 and Walter Mondale in 1984.

Finally, another key to winning GOP presidential nominations is having a solid foothold in the party's base. Although it's debatable whether Bob Dole was the one with the deepest support among the GOP faithful in his 1996 primary bid, every other recent example for the GOP supports the base conclusion.

Again, Democrats offer a near-mirror image. How often has the most liberal establishment candidate with deepest connections to one of the party's key voting bases (say, labor) won? Mondale in 1984, and one could argue George McGovern in 1972, though his base was the anti-war crowd. The other nominees had no obvious connections to any of the supposed key voting/support bases of the party, at least in comparison to the candidates they defeated in those presidential primary contests.

Bottom line: Dick Gephardt's resume is ideally suited to winning a GOP presidential nomination, and arguably ill-suited to win a Democratic Party spat. One party embraces its establishment; the other is more comfortable bucking it.

There are also a couple intangibles that play to Gephardt's advantage when it comes to GOP handicapping. First, Republicans are always conscientious of the electoral map, and they just can't fathom why more Democrats don't see Gephardt's Missouri appeal. The second intangible is the war in Iraq. Gephardt's support was key to getting the resolution through Congress, essentially preventing Democrats from taking a bigger hit for appearing to oppose a popular president than the party did in 2002. But again, when was the last time Democrats awarded their nomination to someone out of loyalty?

This is not to say we don't believe Gephardt can win -- "On The Trail" argued just before the 2002 elections that Gephardt should get consideration as the incoming front-runner (which might have been the case -- had Democrats picked up a House seat or two). And on a personal level, there's probably not a more genuine and decent public servant in this field.

But as of today, Democratic history might not be on his side. Then again, maybe Republicans are in a better position right now to see the Gephardt forest through the primary trees. We'll see soon enough.

Who Won The Month

Past Winners
April: Edwards
March: Dean
February: Gephardt
January: Kerry


It's time again to crown a Democrat as our 2004 candidate of the month. Considering that April was dominated by the Federal Election Commission reports, it's hard not to reward John Edwards. His very impressive first-quarter showing was probably enough to erase any doubts some had that he was going to follow through with his campaign. Believe it or not, we heard from a lot of smart Democrats who believed Edwards was running just to build 2008 name ID.

That said, Edwards' money primary victory lost a bit of its shine when it was reported that at least one of his many $2,000 legal-related contributors was reimbursed by her boss for the donation. It's something Edwards' primary opponents had been whispering about for reporters to check all during the first quarter, and sure enough, reporters found at least one funnel donor.

The fact that the Edwards funneler heads a Little Rock law firm just rubs salt into this financial wound. That tidbit is something we're sure will be repeated by Edwards' opponents down the road.

Can't you picture it? Ominous background music... black-and-white photos of Bill Clinton and Webb Hubbell... and the voiceover: "Remember the last southern Democrat connected to the financial shenanigans of a Little Rock law firm? And we thought Edwards represented only the positive side of Clinton."

Would such an ad be considered nasty? Even borderline out-of-bounds? Sure. Does anybody believe someone wouldn't air something like it? Of course not.


Where The Candidates Stand
As for our overall standings, here's where we see the field at the end of four months of 2003 campaigning:

  1. John Kerry (last month: 1): One of the minor surprises of Kerry's FEC reports was the relatively low financial burn rate from what was supposedly a bloated campaign. In contrast, we found a campaign that had more staffers in more states than any other campaign, and had more cash-on-hand, too. Kerry's campaign is much more streamlined than some of his opponents would like to believe.

  2. Edwards (last month: 3): His impressive first-quarter fund raising means he probably has bought his ticket through the Feb. 3, 2004, primaries -- something only he and Kerry can honestly say at this point. The rest of the field is trying to clear hurdles to make it past Iowa and New Hampshire.

  3. Gephardt (last month: 2): We've said this before, but it bears repeating: The Gephardt team deserves major kudos for downplaying the candidate's fund-raising expectations. Gephardt should have been expected to hang dollar-for-dollar with Kerry and Edwards, and yet he avoided that comparison. Still, he needs a strong second quarter if he hopes to have the resources to hold off Kerry and Edwards in Iowa. It's not a done deal for Gephardt in Iowa, and the other more well-funded campaigns know it.

  4. Howard Dean (last month: 4): When this campaign is over, will we know Dean as "one-note Howie"? No matter how little Democrats want to talk about the war, Dean still seems to bring it up. He's picking fights with the field over Iraq, even as the country universally praises Bush. It's a risky move; this Saturday's South Carolina debate should include some really interesting Dean vs. Kerry fireworks.

  5. Joe Lieberman (last month: 5): No one can accuse the campaign of ducking expectations when it comes to the second-quarter FEC report. Lieberman's finance director told a Florida paper last week that Lieberman has to average $2.3 million a month or they're in trouble. We could not have said it better ourselves.

  6. Bob Graham (last month: 6): Florida reporters seemed impressed by Graham's $1 million, while the national press corps is willing to wait and see how the second-quarter money flows. His first major TV appearance on "This Week" had highs and lows. Graham showed real promise as a TV performer, knocking the first questions out of the park, but he also revealed a tendency to veer off topic and even appear halting in his speaking style. It may disappoint some of issue-minded readers, but style points matter more right now than substance, and Graham still has some work to do on that front -- something he readily admits.

As for the rest of the field... keep an eye on Dennis Kucinich as a potential Iowa muckraker. Every vote he gets is one less available for Dean. Kucinich is hiring an Iowa staff and seems to be taking the state more seriously than the other third-tier candidates (including Hart, Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun) That could mean big, big trouble for those candidates courting the left (yes, we mean you, Dr. Dean).

Chuck Todd is editor-in-chief of The Hotline, National Journal's daily briefing on politics. His e-mail address is ctodd@nationaljournal.com.