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Is Clark Electable?

Sure he is. DR’s still not sure he can get nominated (Dean’s clearly in the driver’s seat there), but evidence continues to mount that Clark could definitely beat Bush and is probably the Democrats’ best bet to do so.

Start with male voters. A little-noticed feature of Bush’s recent drop in approval ratings, reported by William Schneider in the October 4 National Journal, was the extent to which the drop was driven by a sharp decline in approval among men–17 points from August through late September, virtually erasing the gender gap in presidential approval. Now, it’s unlikely that the Democrats can translate all that male Bush disapproval into votes–a gender gap of some size is likely to remain–but a candidate who can consolidate a good chunk of these male voters will considerably boost his chances in the general election.

That candidate would appear to be Wesley Clark. We’ve already seen that Clark does very well among Democratic registered voters who are men. But he also does well among male registered voters in general. In a just-released Quinnipiac University poll of Pennsylvania voters, Clark is the only candidate who holds Bush under 50 percent (48 percent Bush to 43 percent Clark) in a prospective 2004 matchup. He does this by getting as much support as Dean among women (44 percent), but also receiving 42 percent support from men, in contrast to Dean’s 37 percent. As a result Dean runs much less well than Clark, losing to Bush 51 percent to 41 percent.

Or take independent voters. For a Democrat to win in 2004, he must run strongly among these voters. In a just-released Field Poll of California registered voters, Clark is the only candidate to beat Bush in a head-to-head matchup, 45 percent to 43 percent. He does this by doing about as well as the other candidates among Democrats, but also carrying independents by 18 points, 51 percent to 33 percent. In contrast, Dean carries independents by just 3 points and as a result loses to Bush, 46 percent to 42 percent. The other Democratic candidates do somewhat better, carrying independents by from 4 to 8 points, but also lose to Bush in their head-to-head matchups.

Too bad there’s that pesky nomination business.....


I also believe Clark could beat Bush, but I am skeptical he will be able to pull it out in time to win the primary. My support at this time still wavers between he and Dean. I would be happy to support either of them but I must admitt I would feel more comfortable if Clark wins the primary. I like how Dean is able to energize the base but he does not do as well with ethnic groups, men and swing voters. Bush and his cronies are going to have a lot of cash to throw at who ever the Dems nominate. This makes next year sound like a long-steep-uphill climb. I think Clark has more teflon on his dress-blues and he probably would not stain as easily as Dean. Unfortunately for Clark though he has not been running a sharp campaigne. His message seems out of focus - he has not gotten a solid foot hold since entering the race. I guess time will tell.


Your analysis of polls and such is interesting, but I haven't seen you talk much about the candidate's actual performances on the campaign trail.

Both Clark and Kerry have extremely impressive resumes, but both are having trouble on the campaign trail. Clark less so, and I think he has nowhere to go but up, but he is still going through growing pains.

Bush and Rove aren't gonna be shy about smearing our guy, and nominating someone who looks good on paper but who isn't willing to fight back is gonna get creamed no matter what his resume. Look what happend to Max Cleland. A true patriot and hero if ever there was one in the country. Yet Rove et al were able to smear him as unpatriotic because he wouldn't fight back.

I have seen no indication Kerry either would or could defend himself against the elitist liberal charges thrown against him.

Clark is still a rookie until he proves otherwise. It seems to me that he's willing, and very able, to defend himself.

To reiterate, a good resume on a candidate is very helpful, but means nothing if that is the only thing fueling the candidate.

Check out my latest blog entry for a rant against the CW of "Clark's lead in national polls doesn't matter, because we don't have a national primary".

Hey, congratulations on the comments section! Like Paul, I'm wavering between Clark and Dean. I thought Dean was the best of the bunch, by far, until Clark came in. I'm in a bit of a head-and-heart tug of war; my heart says Dean because he inspires me, but my head says Clark because he does seem more likely to win over the middle.

I am curious about one thing in these polls, though. I seem to remember a bunch of state polls back in late spring/early summer that showed Dean was tracking much higher among men than among women.

Ruy, help us out here, oh Numbers God! I don't have that kind of information at my fingertips, but it seems to me that there's been a real swing (or that the margin of error in these internals is just too big to mean anything).

Ruy, can you please do a post on how Clark can get the nomination? Doesn't he have an edge with McCain independents in New Hampshire? Remember that indies will not be attracted over to the GOP side this year since there is no contest there. They are free to cross over this time.

Ruy, another quick question: do the polls out of New Hampshire now include independents or are the only asking Democrats? Could the New Hampshire polls be undercounting the Independents? Thanks.

As an independent I think I may represent the best example of who you think might want to vote for Clark over Dean. Folks, it ain't happening. Unless Clark can get his message and campaign straightened out he is an excellent Vice Presidential candidate for someone who has their act together (of course Clark's ego won't permit that).

Right now I am disturbed (or Rather worried) about Bush and some of his foreign policy decisions (I did vote for Gore but holding my nose). Dean is the only Democratic candidate I would even consider right now. I think he was wrong about Iraq, we should have fought it on our own (there was no way France was ever going to agree to UN action) but he has the most moderate positions. Even many French I think are having a bit of crisis of conscience (Change is coming to France I think).

Clark seems like an egotistical charlatan who is all about what a grand guy he is. Dig a little into his background and he looks like a real jerk!

I can't vote in either primary but I'm hoping for Dean vs. Bush. Clark vs. Bush will be a wash out. Even worried about Bush I'd vote for him over Clark right now.

Dean can't win the south or the midwest. Period. Look I like Dean. He finally stood up to Bush and I have alot of admiration for him. But I am telling you as a resident of a swing state (Mich) Dean cannot win. I have watched him, I have hoped, I have tried to convince myself that he can do it - and I can't. My heart says YES, my brain says NO F*$&^%* WAY. And man, he is not likable. Some of his statements make me cringe "Congress is filled with cockroaches (including dems?). I'm the "I told you so" candidate.". McCain was outspoken and fiery also, but his manner was hopeful (till the wheels came off in SC) and he had such a positive message and resume to balance to balance the rhetoric.

True, Clark is green. He has only been on the campaign trail, what, one month? If he gets it straightened out he would be our best chance. But he needs to show more toughness and steel. My worry is he is too nice to win.

I have NO IDEA why Edwards hasn't caught on, he is the one Rove was scared of early but he hasn't caught fire at all.

The internal details of Clark's campaign don't matter. Independent voters don't care about "process." They vote on a gut, instinctual level. Only the folks in Dean World obsess over process.

I am a true independent. I voted and worked for McCain. Before Clark entered the race, I had NO interest in any of the candidates, esp. Dean. And Dean attacking Clark as not being "a true democrat" really turned me off.

I have to pass a litmus test to vote for you buddy, well no thanks.

Clark is the only one who could get my vote.

I vote with my head, not my heart, and my head tells me "Clark can beat Bush; Dean can't". If anything, I think a ticket with Clark for Pres; Dean for VP would be a winning combination.

For an eye opening take on what the right wing thinks about Dean vs. Clark, tune in to one if their shows. They'd love Dean to win the nomination, and they're deathly afraid of Clark.

I'm curious what Dean's favs/unfavs are with men, particularly compared to women. If Dean does well there, it could be a sign there's potential to get their votes in the general.

Dean may have problems in the South on cultural issues, but why would he struggle in the Midwest? He's doing quite well in Iowa. This is surely a result of his focus on jobs and other bread and butter issues such as healtcare. I think he has a great chance to do well in these working-class states. Plus, although the Dems need to play in the South, they don't need it to win. The electoral math shows that the Dems can lose every southern state (including FL) and win the election. If they get the Gore states plus WV and NV, they win. And the Gore states might not be as competitive as the GOP thinks if the Nader vote is diminished.

Personally, I think either Clark or Dean can beat Bush. So I'm voting my heart....

I believe that Clark can win both the primaries and the general election. The length of time Clark has been in the race has not been long enough to give the large percentage of undecided voters a reason to choose him as of yet, based on his shaky but but shaky start. However, voters are patient and are willing to wait for the right candidate. Keeping in mind that Clark's campaign is solidifying as we speak, I believe that the more pragmatic voters (which is why they are undecided to date) most likely want to make certain they pick a sure winner. The fact that they have not yet chosen Dean, reinforces the notion that they do they find too many handicaps with the candidate to back him. When Clark has presented his full platform, my thought is that he will appeals to more "ordinary pragmatic voters" than the others in the race.

I also believe that Clark can capture a large portion of the disenchanted military voters, which totals approx 2 million including their families as well as the additional 10 million veterans from previous wars. I do not believe that Dean has the appeal to draw on these military voters in the same manner that Clark will. As the primary elections don't start until January, Clark's chances, once voters are in the privacy of their voter booth, are excellent in winning both the primary and the general.

My wife announced the other day that she had switched from Dean to Clark. She is not deep into politics, but she did voice her opinion that Clark is the most attractive candidate, in more ways than one. If she is any indication, it may be just a matter of time before Clark's numbers among women increase. IMHO, the less political astute women who will be voting have not yet gotten a full look at Clark's profile. But I suspect, as my wife has mentioned, that many will find that he appears to have the JFK factor that the other candidates lack.

So how does Clark Win?

First of all, you have to understand DNC rules for delegate selection. Since 1972 (Remember the McGovern Fraser Commission Reforms) the state Dem parties have to select delegates proportionately. What this means in Iowa, for instance, is that no one getting less than 15% of the caucus gets any delegates, but those above 15% split them by the weight of their delegations. So for Iowa -- for Clark, the issue is can he generate attendence better than the 15% so he can share in the delegate pie and also be positioned to pick up delegates from those who drop out later in the process. In otherwords, a 20 - 25% representation would put him in the delegate game.

In New Hampshire -- and in most primary states, the same basic rule applies. Candidates offer their delegate slates on the ballot, and they elect the number equal to their percentage over the 15% cut off. Thus if Dean gets 40%, and Kerry gets 30% and Clark is above 15% and in the process -- if Kerry eventually drops, then Clark might just be the second choice of Kerry delegates. DNC rules do not allow a candidate to pledge his delegates to another candidate -- once elected, they are self directed.

OK -- work your way through 50 states, each with slightly different versions of rules for delegate selection, and you will understand why the idea of "winning" is not straightforward.

Now -- Party Rules allow for the selection of about 36% of the delegates outside the primary-caucus system. Each state has elected members of the DNC who are automatic delegates, and these people are already elected. (It was very important to follow the presentations and impressions made at the DNC fall meeting ten days ago -- and Clark did very well.) The State Chair and Co-Chair are automatic delegates, as are members of Congress in the Dem Column. Then in each state there is a special closed election of state and local elected officials for a set of delegate positions.

These delegates do not look at things in the same way as primary voters -- they are looking for the best ticket and party leadership -- and I would contend that Clark will do very well in this group. They will not support someone without popular support -- but when deciding between perhaps two candidates they will be moved primarily by electability. This will be particularly important if the members of congress themselves, (Gephardt, Lieberman, Kerry) have to drop from the race. Looking at who they would prefer heading the national ticket -- I suspect they would choose Clark.

I suspect at this point the poll numbers for Clark do two things -- they convince donors to write the checks, and they are carefully watched by the party leadership including elected officials who are likely to be or are automatic delegates. Ditto for DNC members, and for strong Democratic support groups such as AFSME, and the environmentalists who will have their members in many camps. It really isn't like the old days with patrionage at stake and decisions in smoke filled rooms -- but it also is not a decision made only by one primary or one caucus.

To get the Nomination you need 50% plus 1 of the delegates in Boston -- and there should be about 2300 total delegates. I see Clark getting much more than 1/3rd of the delegates selected in primary and caucus process -- getting a good many from candidates who drop, and doing very well in the Automatic Delegate pool. That's how it will probably be done.

I am independent.

Unfortunately, I think the democratic party is going to make the same mistake the Republican party did. Nominate the least attractive nominee, in this case Howard Dean. Then we can sit back and watch Rove spin him into the ground. The economy will have regained some of it's steam by May (when the condition of the economy cements into the voters mind), and while the war on terrorism will still be hot by Nov, we will have some draw down in troops (expect lots of pictures of joyful soldiers coming home) - Bush and Co can argue that Dean would be soft on the terrorists (Dean's comments on Saddam and his sons and Israel will be rehashed and rehashed). The election will boil down to Bush, Rove and Co saying "Do you want to elect someone who would appease a bunch of terrorists and Saddam? Not to mention raise your taxes?"

Oh well, just like McCain we had someone briefly who COULD lead and inspire and offer a new vision of a better America. To bad we never nominate people like that.

To Janem and the rest of the independents - welcome. I for one am happy to see you talking on his and other blogs in the sphere. I hope you find what you are looking for on the Dem ticket - you sure won't find it on the Repubs'. I've read a lot of people's messages and it appears that many folks are worried about Clark's personality. There was a piece on NPR the other day in which some of his former military cohorts were putting him down because he was so driven. I have also heard that as a commander he could be a real pain in the butt - as a veteran I know what its like to serve under a commander like that. But I have to say, of all the criticism I have read about Clark I have yet to see something that makes me think he is not an effective leader - being driven and perhaps an opportunist is not such a bad thing when it comes to running for president. As I said before, I am still wavering between Dean and Clark. But I disagree with those who say Clarks personality will get in the way of his electability.

Two quick points:

* Rove will hammer Clark as hard as he will hammer Dean. Why do we assume that the "General" before Clark's name will protect him from the dirty tricks that are sure to come? Dean has proven he is a skilled candidate and a fighter. Clark has not.

* Clark may or may not poll better with independents as the campaign continues to develop. But this is certain: Dean will attract new voters and increase turnout from the base.

To be credible, Ruy, I think your analysis needs to take these factors into account.

Dean will be the nominee. And he will lose to Bush.
Deanies often say that Bush will be in so much trouble anyone could win. They are fooling themselves, Bush will do anything he needs to to be in better shape for the election. They are already talking about job loss recovery and a draw down in troop strenght in Iraq.

Rove would attack Clark - but there is less to attack. Clark has not been a politician most of his life. Dean has. If Bush attacks Clark too hard - he is attacking a military hero, which boomerangs back on Bush AWOL experience in the Texas National Guard. Also the military is REALLY starting to get pissed at Bush. This will help Clark, and hurt Bush. Clark is a southerner, which helps also.

Dean will increase turnout from the base. And that is the only thing he will do. I am an independent. He has no appeal for me. I have tried to like him, but even his attacks on Clark shows he has no respect for someone who has been politically independent. I feel like I have to pass a friggin test in order to be "pure" enough to vote for him.

You are right that Clark is an unproven, untested candidate. That is why he won't win. He is being too handled right now and his campaign has stalled. But I also think it is a shame. I often bitch that there is no one to vote for .... just against. I had two people that I liked, McCain and Clark, both reasonable, moderate, intelligent men who proved themselves willing to lose their lives in the service of our country. Both got shafted and beat up by partisan party hacks not worthy of them.

Makes me damn depressed .....

I am switching my alleigance from Kerry to Clark. I thought Kerry might have been the second coming of JFK, but alas, he is not. I really would like to see these two guys on the same ticket, with Clark as the candidate. But either way works for me, I live in CA and I am SURE Clark will win the DEM primary here. The bottom line is we need someone that can beat Bush. Dean is a great candidate but i believe he comes up short -literally- to Bush and that is his major problem. If he wins the nomination it will be four more years of Bush. However, Dean might make a good attack dog VP candidate.

Let me start off by saying that I still support Lieberman. In a presidential primary I prefer to support the candidate who best addresses the party's most glaring weakness, which right now is its wobbly stance on Iraq. That being said, Clark is my likely #2 followed by Edwards. I'd like to see a poll of likely Democratic primary voters that has them rank 1-2-3 on their first-tier candidates of choice. That might help the first-tier guys position themselves to pick up support. It would also help the second-tier guys look at how to maximize their impact as vote brokers upon exit. It's all going to shake out pretty quick in the first three or four months of 2004. Also, I believe Dean can win only if he has some sort of transcendant ability to transition his perceived persona from an ultraliberal rabble-rouser to populist firebrand and--this is big--make the press like him personnally, not just enjoy covering him. (The press enjoyed covering McCain, but he didn't flatter them enough to earn their adoration as Bush did.) Unfortunately, the ability to curry press adoration (as in 2000) will be the single most important determinant of victory in 2004.

Ruy, you personal biases toward Clark are begining to show rather patently. I have faithfully read Dem Maj because it was a demographically and polling based analysis of the Democratic party's re-emergence as the majority party. Now your analysis has become so blanantly slanted by your personal support for Clark, that your commentary is no longer useful or reliable. I'm sorry to say that I will no longer be a regular reader. If I want boosterism for a candidate, there are planty of partisan blogs to choose from. The world hardly needs another. It's unfortunate that you have allowed your personal preferences destroy what was a unique and interesting resource.