It looks like we may not have Howard Dean to kick around much longer. Everyone is talking about Dean’s over-the-top performance last night; here is the New York Post’s take:
“Rolling up his shirt sleeves and shrieking so loud that his voice cracked, a raging Dean rallied his supporters with forced optimism and a pugilistic tone that stood in contrast to the formal upbeat speeches by his opponents.
“‘I’ll see you around the corner, around the block,’ Dean said, sounding like a bully taunting Kerry and Edwards, whom he’ll face in the New Hampshire primary Tuesday.
“‘He’s crazy,’ said Republican pollster Frank Luntz after watching Dean’s bizarre performance. ‘This is everything that voters don’t want to hear from him. He’s just lost the Democratic nomination for president. He’s too hot.'”
I’m afraid that’s probably true, but if experience has taught us anything, it is not to jump to conclusions after the first primary or two. Both Iowa and New Hampshire have been quirky and not very predictive in recent years. A few weeks ago, when people were saying that Dean had the nomination virtually locked up, and the question was “Can Dean be stopped,” we said: Of course he can. Not a single vote has been cast yet. (We weren’t so sure, of course, that he could be stopped by Kerry, Edwards or Gephardt.) The same thing is pretty much true now; anything can happen, including a Dean comeback.
James Likeks says that Iowa Democrats rejected the messenger, not the message, and I think that’s right. The primary effect of the Dean phenomenon so far has been to pull the field leftward. Faced with the choice of several candidates who are indistinguishably far out on the issues, it is not surprising that Iowans opted for candidates who are less weird than Howard Dean. Whether this will come back to haunt the eventual nominee remains to be seen.
ONE MORE THING: While it was overshadowed by Dean’s performance, John Kerry’s interminable, boring victory speech was a reminder of why has campaign has been so moribund until now.
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