How Clark Could Win the Nomination
Adam Nagourney had an article in The New York Times yesterday, headlined “In the Candidacies of Clark and Dean, Democrats Confront the Issue of Electability”. Just so. DR has argued for awhile that Clark seems to be the Democrats’ most electable candidate, while a Dean candidacy wouldn’t give the Democrats their best shot.
The latest Quinnipiac University poll is consistent with this judgment (though, of course, by no means “proves” it). In head-to-head matchups with Bush, Clark loses by the least (4 points), loses by the least among independent voters, shows the most strength among men and, intriguingly, does best of all the candidates among Democratic partisans—that is, he reduces Democratic defections the most.
But can he get the nomination? That’s the big question. The conventional wisdom seems to be that, even if he gets his campaign into high gear—and admittedly it does not seem to be there yet—he started too late. Dean is in the driver’s seat because of momentum (his throngs of fervent activists, his big lead in New Hampshire, his strong support in Iowa and other states) and money and there’s little Clark can do about that. He’s not even going to compete in Iowa and, in New Hampshire, he’ll be lucky to finish third. And even if he does, Dean will use his momentum and money to compete aggressively in every state, which Clark will not be able to do, and accumulate delegates until Clark (and the rest) have to pack it in.
That’s a very real possibility. But not a certainty. Here’s how Clark can still get the nomination, if he runs a good, tough campaign.
First, the role of momentum. It’s overrated, as the academic studies of William Mayer clearly indicate. In almost all the contested nomination fights, momentum can and does shift from candidate to candidate, but ultimately tells you little about who secures the nomination. That means the argument that, say, Dean will come out of New Hampshire with the “Big Mo” and plow everybody else under should be discounted. Conversely, if Clark comes out of New Hampshire lacking the Big Mo, it is not cause to write off his campaign.
Second, the role of money. In Mayer’s studies, candidate fundraising is actually not a significant predictor of who ultimately gets the nomination. Now, there are various reasons why his model probably understates the independent effect of money on nomination outcomes, but it should give those pause who assume that, because Dean is setting the pace on fundraising, he’s practically a lock for the nomination. Conversely, of course, if Clark is trailing in the money chase, that is no reason, by itself, to conclude his campaign is doomed.
So what does matter? Being the frontrunner—that is, ahead in the much-maligned national polls of candidate preference. In 7 of the last 10 contested nomination races, the nominee was leading in the polls for at least a year before the Iowa caucuses.
Of course, in most of these cases, the frontrunner, defined in this way, was polling in the 40’s and far ahead of the other candidates. That’s not the situation this campaign season, where even the leading candidate has had a hard time breaking 20. And the lead has changed hands, starting with Lieberman, moving to Clark, then moving toward a rough tie between Clark and Dean.
This creates a potential opening for Clark, which DR will explore tomorrow in the thrilling finale to “How Clark Could Get the Nomination”.