The caravan moves on

I’m still trying to think through where things stand after Iowa. I agree with the consensus that Iowa rejected Dean mostly because they found him too weird. That Iowans found him too weird would not necessarily have meant that New Hampshireites will do so. However, Dean’s post-defeat theatrics may mean that he is now too weird for all of the states he shrieked out during said theatrics, and every other state too.
The speculation seems to be that Clark was hurt in New Hampshire by last night’s results. I’m not so sure. Folks in the Granite State have never been influenced by Iowa caucus results in the past, and I see no reason to think that they will be this time. If Kerry wins in New Hampshire, it will not be because the voters took their cue from the Iowa caucus-goers. The voters will make their own assessment of whether Dean is too crazy and/or likely to lose to Bush. To the extent that they reject Dean, they will make their own assessment about where to turn instead. Clark is the kind of candidate who tends to do well in New Hampshire (think John McCain and even Henry Cabot Lodge (winner of a write-in vote in 1964 while serving as ambassador to South Vietnam), although they both won the Republican primary). Skipping Iowa may help Clark, inasmuch as New Hampshire likes to “discover” its own contender or front-runner.
I do agree generally with Rocket Man’s statement that “the primary effect of the Dean phenomenon so far has been to pull the field leftward.” This leftward pull seems likely to continue whether Dean rallies or collapses. If he rallies, the dynamics of the race will not change much. If he collapses, Clark, Kerry, and maybe Edwards will want to win over his supporters. Thus, a Dean collapse might pull the field even further to the left. The only counterveiling tendency, I suppose, might be a desire to pick up Gephardt supporters. But apparently Gephardt’s support, such as it is, comes from union members, and there’s no obvious need to tilt to the center in order to obtain that support.
The Dean phenomenon has helped Kerry in one sense — it has obscured the fact that he is the true man of the left among the serious contenders (indeed, I don’t think that Kerry has been pulled much to the left by the Dean phenomenon; this happened more with the other candidates, excluding Lieberman, especially Clark). Kerry’s leftism stems from the crucible of Vietnam. The leftism of Dean post-dates his days as Vermont governor and appears to stem mostly from his desire to find a comfortably angry niche in the current race. Yet we now hear Kerry portrayed by the likes of David Yepsen as proof that Iowa rejects leftist candidates. If Kerry can maintain this cover while making in-roads with Dean voters (admittedly not an easy task) it will be to his advantage, both in the primaries and if he is nominated.
One thing that Democrats might start paying attention to, though, is how Kerry stacks up against President Bush in head-to-head polling. If I recall correctly, he has not been faring appreciably better than Dean. So Clark, who does seem to do appreciably better, should retain his appeal.
Ultimately, I see Kerry as the Bob Dole of this race. He’s a solid, but rather dull and uninspiring, citizen of his party. He will get just about the number of votes that a Democrat should get against Bush. That number will depend on the economy, the presence or absence of more terrorist attacks in the U.S., perhaps the status (if known) of bin Laden, and the situation in Iraq. Kerry will do no harm to Democratic candidates in other races. He’s the safe best. He’s a probable loser.


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