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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”.

Comments

This frustruates me to no end. You seem to be making the case for an extreme long shot candidate, based on the faulty assumption that Dean will have trouble winning the general election.

What will make a bigger difference in the general - minor differences in biography and policy, or the Democratic Party uniting wholeheartedly behind a single candidate? I think we both know that Dean has far and away the best chance of winning the nomination. Shouldn't the party start singing his praises, and fast? At the very least, let's stop sending messages that Dean = doom. They are ridiculous and self-fulfilling.

Make no mistake - Dean can *cream* Bush. But we must unite as a party. If we don't, it won't matter who the nominee is.

I am generally wary of discounting the New Hampshire results but in this case I don't see where Clark needs a strong showing. However, he must find a way to replace the buzz he loses if he finishes out of the top 3. The best way to do this, especially since many candidates will drop out soon after NH, is to fire up the VP talk. Necessarily following such rumors would be talks of policy and charater compatibility with the potential VP. The benefit from this is fairly obvious.

To comment on Damian's remarks, I agree. I haven't seen any hard state-by-state numbers yet, but a Dean win isn't as far-fetched as it seems. If Dean holds all of Gore's 2000 states, and wins New Hampshire and Arizona, the election is his. New Hampshire is extremely winnable for Dean and Arizona has been trending Democrat since Clinton took the state in 1992. (I am aware of Arizona going Bush in 2000, but take out Nader and the state is for Gore.) All of this, of course, doesn't even mention Florida.

I apologize for the length of this post.

History shows that Dems get hit hard in national elections on raising taxes, and this will be hung on Dean's neck like an anvil.

Dean's answer on foreign policy experience "I had more than Bush did when he ran", won't fly - because he'd be running against the Bush of 04, not 2000. He'll get pounded on security issues.

Will his other very real assets compensate for these two serious detriments? A little....Dean's tough and has an interesting appeal...to some. But the Independent Men numbers -- unless they change -- are a big flashing warning sign. This is Teixera's point.

Saying Dean can "cream" Bush is naive, I think. Bush will have 200-300 million dollars and a skilled advertising team, and a willingess to use fear, war, and deception in the race. Voters feel fear, not complex arguments about who was "right" (know it all again) on the war.

I don't think even Bill Clinton without sex problems could "cream" Bush (defeat, yes.....but. .cr.....hmm....bad choice of words)

Don't know where Nick gets the idea that Clark is such an extreme long shot when he is ahead in the National polls, is way ahead in S.C. and Georgia and has done little campaigning in S.C. and N.H. and none in Georgia. Dean thinks he will carry Arizona but no way.

Dean's campaign knows he can not win in the South and that is why Dean's supporters are all so anxious to have Clark be the Vice-President but I would be surprised if Clark accepted the Vice-Presidency with from Dean. They are betting on Clark carring the south for Dean.

Dean may be able to *cream* Bush but Bush is only the nominee and unfortunately Dean would lose every bit as badly as McGovern lost. Don't be surprised if Zell Miller is Bush's Vice-President. Now how would that crunch Dean in the South, Midwest and West.

One other quick point comparing the 2000 Gore race vs. Dean - Gore ran on a tax cutting platform to counter Bush.

Assuming that Dean automatically picks up all of Gore's votes makes no sense on taxes alone. And national security wasn't on the table in 2000.

I didn't say that I thought Clark was a long shot. In fact, I mentioned that I thought he would not be hurt in any meaningful way by whatever showing he has in NH. I do think that in the NH aftermath, any candidate that entertains serious nomination hopes will need to get his name into the news in a positive sense.

As far Dean taking Gore's states, I don't think that is a forgone conclusion. I do think that is the place to start. Relying on the South, with or without Clark, is not a good strategy when one considers the makeup of the Southern statehouses and Senate delegations. The trends in those states make them very difficult to turn.

I don't want to take up too much space here, so if anyone wants to discuss Dean's campaign or Clark's viability further, feel free to email me.

I don't discount Dean's general-election prospects - he's my second choice after Clark, and electability is effectively my sole criterion.

That said, Dean will carry some heavy baggage, and his purist position on rolling back the tax cuts is a needless self-inflicted gunshot wound to the foot. Dean could overcome it, but it would be a tough uphill climb. Even for moderate swing voters, national security is a bar the Dem nominee has to cross, against a rather deep-rooted perception that we're weak on defense.

This is the bar that Clark sails right over. No one else could make the tough head-on criticism that Clark is making of Bush regarding 9/11. However valid, it would sound phony; from Clark it has the ring of plausibility.

Basically, there is a whole segment of voters who are receptive to the Dem economic and even social message, but have tended to tune us out because of the weak-on-defense perception. Clark can get through to them.

It's almost secondary - but still crucial - that he puts a couple of Southern states in play. Almost certainly Arkansas, maybe one or two others.

We're still basically a 50/50 nation, and I suspect that 2004 will be close, either way and with any nominee. In that environment, a couple of pickup opportunities in the South and probably Southwest are nothing to sneer at!

-- Rick Robinson

To understand how Clark wins the nomination in Boston, I'd suggest spending some time with the Democratic Party Rules. First off -- all the primaries and caucuses are NOT winner take all -- they apportion the delegates among those receiving more than 15% support. Only about 2/3rds of the Convention Delegates are selected in the Primary-caucus process, so it could well be that we will reach March-April with perhaps three candidates still viable but none near a delegate count necessary for nomination.

There are then several groups that come into play. First, the delegates elected for a candidate who dropped. A candidate is not permitted by the rules to convey delegates to another candidate. So their will be a period of wooing.

Then there is the roughly 1/3rd of the delegates who are "superdelegates" -- elected Federal Officials in Congress, delegates selected by special elections state by state among Democratic Elected officials at the state and local level, and finally, the members of the DNC and the State Chairs and Co-Chairs. This group probably will not be all that heavily committed before the primary season -- but they will support what appears to be the most electable candidate. Elected officials and Party Officers tend to be a little less "passionate" in making a determination of electability than do supporters in the primary season.

There will be an advantage this year in not having the nomination settled by the Primary -- namely as the prospective winner goes about the wooing of free delegates and Elected Officials and Party Officers -- that will be news -- free news and media, and it will offset some of the advantage Bush thinks he has with his 200 million dollar campaign chest to be spent before the convention. There could even be an advantage in having the convention go a few ballots -- at least TV would have to stick with the story, and the Democrats would be observed having something other than production values. Hopefully it would be something other than a circular firing squad -- and right now I think that is probably controlable. Anyhow, the whole point is to overcome the Bush advantages in name recognition and money. As more people begin to pay attention (not just party base) the eventual nominee has a good chance to make independent voters comfortable with the Democratic option. (And if it is Clark -- whom I am supporting -- then maybe he could visit Bosnia and Kosovo during the Olympics -- and then show himself in Greece as someone rather popular on the international scene. ) Beating Bush will not be easy -- we are going to have to take and use every advantage we can.

A brokered convention seems quite possible this time round, given the compressed schedule and no pulling-away frontrunner. At this point I could see Clark, Dean, and Gephardt all staying on their feet through Super Tuesday.

However, I'm less sanguine about the effects. It keeps Rove from trashing our nominee during the spring and summer, since we won't have one. But there will be lots of "Democrats in disarray" media spin, and the GOP can play off that. It also means less time for us to coalesce around our nominee.

A brokered convention would be way more interesting and newsworthy, but not necessarily the kind of news we want, because it would also be contentious. Most of all I worry about the legitimacy of a brokered nominee. Not in terms of the rules, but the perception. We haven't had a nominee come from smoke-filled rooms for time out of mind, but it's still kind of a symbol of dirty politics.

To be bluntly honest, I especially worry about what happens if Dean wins a plurality of delegates in the primaries, but someone else ends up with the nomination. A good chunk of the Dean "movement" is fueled by anti-establishment sentiment - those people could take a hike, if they feel that their guy was Florida'd at the convention.

To be clear, I believe that most Dean supporters - the great majority, in fact - would rally round, but it only takes a few percent sitting on their hands to poison our chances in November.

So, I hope that if Clark doesn't win it outright in the primaries, he at least wins a plurality of the delegates. That makes him "first past the post" going into Boston, and his nomination will be seen as fair to all but a handful of other candidates' supporters.

-- Rick Robinson

Most people still have no idea who Howard Dean is. Nation polls mean nothing.

This weekend, while tabling for Dean, I talked to an ex military Republican voter who didn't like the way Bush is treating the troops. When I told him Dean had the NRA "A" rating, his eyes lit up. Dean has huge crossover appeal, in my opinion. He's a far more muscular candidate than Clark is. Clark is pandering so hard to prove his Dem bona fides, he's embarrassing himself.

The lead went to DEAN, and then a Dean/Clark tie.

There is no doubt in my mind that if Dean gets the nomination the result will be much like what happened to Walter Mondale when he ran on raising taxes and won one state. I have several Republican friends and they are all hoping and praying that Dean gets the nomination. They were not very concerned with Clark until I sent them the most recent poll results in South Carolina. They both told me that "Well, if Clark wins I could stomach that" and they looked a little nervous. In national polling Clark does well with white men and independents. When was the last time a Democratic candidate appealed to the angry white male? Clark shores up all the Democratic weakness including Defense, National Security, Taxes, Angry White Male, Independents, Liberal Republicans, Military People, Veterans and the list goes on. Clark also comes across as more humble and kind and I think is more likable than Dean. Dean is a polarizing figure, seems Angry, Arrogant and shoots off the cuff. Clark is reserved, thinks before he speaks and has tones of foreign affairs experience with leaders around the world. As a volunteer to the Vietnam War he is preceded as very patriotic which the Democrats have had trouble with. I don't think there is any comparison here. I will say that Dean would probably go after Bush harder but that could backfire and make Dean look mean and fire up the Republican base. Clark will also run better in the South than Dean. This is a no-brainer I hope the Democrats around the country open up their eyes or we could be in a world of hurt with Dean. However, I would support Dean all the way if he wins. Dean is closer to me on most of the issues than Clark but what's important is who can win.

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