The Washington Post is the latest to report that “the Clark express is losing steam” in New Hampshire. The Post suggests that Clark’s problem is that, after Iowa, there is no need for an un-Dean. But Clark’s status as the possible un-Dean was never the reason for his support. The rationale for a Clark vote was always the thought that he had the best chance to defeat President Bush. After Iowa, though, Democrats seem to believe that Kerry can run well against Bush, and, indeed, the latest Fox poll shows that Kerry is the only Democrat who loses to Bush by fewer than ten percentage points (but note how his favorable-unfavorable ratings compare with Ted Kennedy’s and realize how much room Kerry has for slippage) . To me, this perception, coupled with Clark’s defensive performance in the last debate and his series of Dean-like pronouncements, explains why Clark is unlikely to do well in New Hampshire. A poor showing there followed by a failure to beat Edwards in South Carolina would probably finish off the flaky general. It can’t happen too soon to suit me.
And things look good for Edwards in South Carolina. The Post reports that he has picked up endorsements from key black politicians in the state. The most important black politician in South Carolina is Rep. James Clyburn. He is waiting until after New Hampshire to pick his man. However, several of his proteges have already endorsed Edwards. If Clark falters in New Hampshire, it’s hard to see Clyburn endorsing him. As for Kerry, the Post reports that he has not been in the state since September, has not run a radio or television ad, and has only a skeleton campaign crew.
So, what if Kerry wins New Hampshire, Edwards wins South Carolina, Clark does poorly in both and drops out, and Dean continues to fade? Edwards, having won in South Carolina and exceeded expectations in Iowa and New Hampshire (let’s assume), would remain viable — that is, able to raise enough money to continue to compete effectively. However, the key states now would be big ones, mostly in the north. Kerry, as the more liberal of the two and with more money, would have the upper hand. In fact, it’s difficult to see him losing to Edwards in a two way race except in southern and border states. If Dean remains alive, the situation is better for Edwards. However, the race would still be Kerry’s to lose. If he can survive the increased scrutiny that comes with being a front-runner and continue to do at least as well as Edwards in the head-to-head polls with Bush, he should be the nominee. This after appearing to be a no-hoper as recently as last month.
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