My reaction to the New Hampshire primary results is somewhat mixed. I'm quite pleased that Dean didn't make a race of it for first but I'm not happy that Kerry has become the one beating Dean into the ground. My disdain for Dean isn't something I hide so when he was clobbered in Iowa not a tear was shed. In New Hampshire, as early numbers indicated a double digit Kerry win, I wondered how the media would portray Dean's collapse. After all he had been as high as 40% in some polls just a month or two ago but now he is pathetically trying to convince the media that second is where he expected to be all along.
So how did the media play Dean's 26% second place humiliation? They acted as if nothing unusual had happened! Wolf Blitzer reported the results, hardly able to contain himself, yet never once did he or any of his panel tell the facts: Dean is up the creek without a paddle and the waterfall is quickly approaching.
Just a month ago Dean was battling it out in Iowa for first and was expected to anhilate the competition in New Hampshire before cruising through the February 3rd states on his way to the nomination. Then he not only lost big in Iowa after spending $10 million, he lost to his campaign nemesis, John Kerry by 13%. Ouch.
The storyline should have questioned how that drop happened. Instead Wolf and company acted as if Dean had never been the presumed front-runner for the past five months. I was amazed.
There's not a lot that can be done about the media so I'll drop this complaint for now. Let's take a look at where the candidates stand as they scramble for next week's seven primaries.
Lieberman: The guy is done. Plain and simple. You can't skip Iowa, do horrible in New Hampshire, be within the margin of error of zero in the next states and think you still have a chance. A lot of hawks love him and think he's just plain neat, but sorry folks, it just isn't in the cards. Lieberman has no strategy other than to win Arizona and Oklahoma, but both of those haven't polled in his favor at all. His New Hampshire concession speech was one of the most pathetic displays in modern campaign history as Lieberman claimed that Joementum had propelled him into a three way tie for third place while the numbers showed he was clearly in fifth. Sad Liebs, sad.
Clark: While everyone else was out pressing the flesh in Iowa, Clark was stomping for votes in the Granite state. All week. No competition to speak of (you hear that Joementum?). Where does he finish? Third, but barely. Considering just a week before Clark was edging for second in New Hampshire, a distant third is hardly what we should have expected. Clearly Clark is wounded going into the next round. Fortunately for him the next round should be his cup of tea. Pre-New Hampshire polls indicate Clark is gunning for first in Arizona and Oklahoma and will try to make a game of it in South Carolina. No doubt Kerry will mess that storyline up a bit, but nevertheless Clark will need a win in at least one of those three states to stay above water.
Edwards: He's my candidate of choice right now, and likely will be until I absolutely have to jump on the Kerry (?) bandwagon. For that reason I was encouraged by the early New Hampshire results that showed him a few hundred votes ahead of Clark. But then as more numbers came in the two switched and Edwards ended up where he was expected to be. So much for that bit of momentum. Still, considering Clark was in New Hampshire for a week, Edwards' showing was impressive (though the comparison might have more to do with Clark's struggling and less with Edwards gaining). Going into February 3rd Edwards is looking strong in South Carolina - though he could be threatened by the size of Kerry's New Hampshire bounce and Rep. Jim Clyburn's new endorsement. Regardless, I think Edwards will carry South Carolina. It has been an object of media oogling for months and a win there will put him in good favor with the pundits. It would be nice if Edwards could make a showing in Oklahoma or Missouri, though Kerry looks set to pick up Missouri after gaining the endorsement of two of the state's political big wigs. Edwards needs a win in South Carolina and at least second in at least one other state. A side note, if Dean slips any further look for the media to focus on Edwards-Kerry comparisons.
Dean: Man, bad week. First Iowa rejects you after you dump loads of cash there, then you explode on TV and get made fun of it all week. And now you loose a state that you had locked up just a month ago - one you had led by 30% at one point. Where does Dean go from here? Clearly he's not done. He's still got all that money he's raised (though some reports suggest Dean has spent all but $5 million of his $40 million already) and he has appeal throughout the country, but how long can he limp on without a win? Bragging about organizational support or cash will only go so far if you can't bring home the bacon (note to Bush: cash doesn't win on its own). Looking at the next seven primary states, Dean isn't looking too hot. He isn't leading in any state and in most places isn't even in second. There's only so many times you can point to Michigan as the place to win if you can't even manage a few second place finishes on February 3rd. Dean's not packing it in anytime soon, but if he can't win anywhere, ultimately he can't win.
Kerry: Sigh. Seriously? This is the guy we want for our nominee? I couldn't be less enthusiastic about John Kerry, and I'll tell you why (with a little help from Will Saletan from Slate):
"Above the neck, nothing but his mouth moves. If you showed anyone a video of Kerry with his lips blacked out, they'd never know he was speaking. On television, it often seems as though Kerry is looking at you but not seeing you. In person, you realize he is looking at you but not seeing you. His words are even more stilted, particularly when he ruins a good line by adding prepositional phrases ? "in this country... as a fundamental commitment... to all our citizens... regardless of circumstance"? until everyone is silently begging him to stop."
When I worked at the AFL-CIO forum last August I saw Kerry and got this very same impression. He comes off as way fake. His words are some of the most blatant soundbytes ever uttered. His voice never changes pitch. His attitude is patrician and painfully political. He's the embodiment of the stereotypical politician in every sense of the diss. He is... oh, well you get the point. I'm sure if he gets nominated I'll have plenty of time to complain about him, so I'll stop for now.
Anyway, Kerry looks strong coming out of the first two voting states. He will likely benefit from a post-New Hampshire bounce in many of the February 3rd states. If he is able to turn this bounce into lasting support we can call it a day right here and now. If he can't, and Edwards or Clark can show their southern roots, or if Dean can recover, we won't have a clear nominee until March 2nd when I'll get to vote here in Ohio. So, Kerry needs a win in Missouri, Arizona and maybe New Mexico, a win or solid second in South Carolina, and something pretty in Delaware to end all talk of rival resurgences.
So that's the way it looks from my almost-certainly-wrong viewpoint. It's hard to root against two candidates simultaniously (Dean and Kerry) when they each need the other to falter in order to gain. Hopefully Edwards can show the New Englanders who is boss in his birth state and can become the media darling. We'll see.