How Clark Could Win the Nomination (continued)
Yesterday, DR argued that the lack of true frontrunner in this race provides Clark with a potential opening for a successful campaign. As long as this situation continues, the contest will remain fluid (despite Dean’s money, etc.) and there’s room for Clark to press his case, widen his base among Democrats and eventually develop a serious lead in the polls–in other words, for him to become the frontrunner.
But it won’t be easy; he’ll need a focused and innovative campaign strategy to pull it off. Here’s DR’s 5 point plan for such a strategy.
1. Work the Electability Angle. The one thing that all Democrats agree on today, and agree on passionately, is the need to beat Bush. Clark is a substantially stronger candidate to do so and he shouldn’t be shy about saying so. Dean is vulnerable on national security in a way Clark simply isn’t. And–less talked about, but potentially just as serious–Dean is vulnerable on taxes. His position that all of the Bush’s tax cuts should be repealed, including the middle class tax cuts, is potential target practice for the GOP in the general election, as every recent poll confirms. Clark, judging from his position on Bush’s tax cuts so far, will not have that liability.
Of course, it’s not just about saying you’re more electable; it should flow from your positions. For example, Clark is intrinsically more credible than Dean on national security and Iraq, but he still needs a compelling plan in this area and catchy way of conveying it (“I will to go to Iraq”?). The more Democratic primary voters believe he has such a plan, the more his superior electability to Dean will be underscored.
2. Break Through in the South. Clark will need some quick victories after New Hampshire to get his campaign rolling. His best shots will be in southern states like South Carolina, where the most recent poll shows him leading the pack, and, generally, in states where highly-educated, socially liberal activists are likely to have less weight. This is how Clinton broke through in 1992, after his early defeats by Tsongas.
3. Go for the Noncollege Crowd. And, speaking of education, Clark should try to keep Dean in the “Starbucks ghetto” of college-educated voters Ron Brownstein wrote about the other day. Dean’s demonstrated weakness among noncollege voters can become Clark’s strength. These voters will be attracted to the general for patriotic/national security reasons and probably for cultural reasons as well, since Dean, fairly or unfairly, tends to be viewed as very socially liberal. And he shouldn’t forget the populist card; as Harold Meyerson has pointed out, that was a key to Clinton’s success among these voters in 1992.
4. Go for independents and Republicans. Naturally, most voters in Democratic primaries are Democrats, but surprising numbers of independents and even Republicans vote in these primaries as well due to open primaries and loose primary voting procedures. According to a recent paper by William Mayer, the proportion of Democratic primary voters who are independents or Republicans has varied between one-fifth and one-third since 1976 (1996 excluded since there were no competitive primaries). It seems fair to say that these voters are a great target for Clark and the more of them that vote, the better off he’ll be.
5. Work the Arithmetic. The fact of the matter is that winning a primary by 1 percent has little mathematical advantage to a candidate–all delegates awarded through primaries and caucuses are awarded on a proportional basis (i.e., 20 percent of the vote gets you 20 percent of delegates). So, at least technically, Dean could win every primary and, depending on who stays in the race and how well they do, he could go into the convention with far below 50 percent of the delegates.
And just to make things more interesting, Dean would actually need 61 percent of the delegates awarded by primaries and caucuses to be assured of nomination. This is because there are 796 superdelegates who technically can vote for anyone they want to–including Wes Clark of course.
So Clark should work this complicated system by competing with Dean (and others) for delegates throughout the primary process and working the superdelegates for as many votes as he can, starting now. Then, even if Clark doesn’t pull away from Dean during the primaries, provided Dean is kept below 2,160 delegates from the primaries, Clark still has a shot through a brokered convention.
Will DR’s 5 point plan assure Clark of the nomination? Hardly. But at this point, he needs an approach that will maximize his chances and that’s what this plan tries to do.