The Gephardt Briar Patch

The Washington Post is promoting Dick Gephardt as the Democrats’ strongest challenger to President Bush. The Post’s article is titled “GOP Sees Gephardt as Toughest Rival for Bush.” In addition to quoting Republican strategists who say they fear a Gephardt candidacy, the Post points to certain objective factors that would make Gephardt a formidable challenger: his support for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, his Midwestern origins, his (relative) cultural conservatism, his long history of protectionism.
These remind me of the objective reasons why, on paper, Bob Dole was such a powerhouse in 1996. Gephardt’s problem is the same as Dole’s: he bores voters to tears. There is a big difference between being an influential legislator and being an effective executive, and Gephardt is firmly in the “legislator” camp. As the Post notes, while Gephardt is the closest Democrat to President Bush in recent polling, he trails the President by 13 points.
As for the Republican strategists who profess to be quaking in their boots at the thought of running against Gephardt–just think how he could inspire the union brass!–anyone who takes their statements at face value is sufficiently out of touch to be a reporter for the Post.
DEACON confesses: It’s probably only because I’ve lived in the Washington area for so long, but I’m a bit less sanguine than Rocket Man about a Gephardt candidacy. As I see it, the best nominee for an out-of-power party facing a reasonably popular president usually is one who engenders confidence, as opposed to fear, in mainstream voters. That way if the wheels come off the incumbent, his opponent will be viewed as a safe alternative, while if the wheels don’t come off the defeat won’t become a landslide that spills over into the congressional races. Gephardt fills this bill. So did Dole, of course, but I think he was a good nominee for us in 1996. No one could have defeated Clinton, in my opinion, and by avoiding a rout, we kept control of Congress.

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