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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Take Two Clark Bars and Call Me in the Morning?

David Brooks reported today in his New York Times column that Howard Dean was the consensus choice among Republican consultants as the guy they’d most like to see run against Bush in the ‘04 election. Their reasoning: Dean can get the Democratic base, but not the swing voters he’ll need.
Michael Wolff of New York Magazine takes this familiar analysis one step further and provides a structural basis for Dean’s problem that goes beyond his positions and profile. Wolff argues that Dean’s mastery of internet fundraising has a close parallel to McGovern’s mastery of direct mail fundraising in his 1972 campaign for the Democratic nomination. McGovern had, and Dean has, a first mover advantage in applying an available technology to targeted political fundraising; McGovern had, and Dean is having, great success generating money from the targeted efforts, which produces momentum which leads to more money, and so on. Wolff’s worry: like McGovern, this has little to do with reaching swing voters and everything to do with pumping up a targeted portion of the Democratic base and, like McGovern, this will make it difficult to win a general election.
Brooks’ case is oversimplified and Wolff’s case is overstated. But both have enough truth to them to worry DR quite a bit—and certainly to keep him from drinking that big glass of Dean Kool-Aid people keep putting in front of him.
If only there were a candidate who was anti-war, but still credible as commander-in-chief; willing to go after Bush, but less likely to alienate swing voters; able to generate enthusiasm, but not dependent on a limited demographic slice of the Democratic party like….well, like Wesley Clark.
Who now, it appears, is going to run. For a little inside baseball on how Clark’s campaign might shape up, see this post by the Daily Kos. For some intelligent commentary on why Clark might be able to develop momentum, see this post by Josh Marshall. For some of the many reasons why a Clark candidacy might fizzle out pretty fast, see this debate between Frank Foer and Noam Scheiber of The New Republic and some of DR’s own commentary.
Among the many interesting things to watch here will be Clark’s ability to peel off Dean supporters who have harbored doubts about their man’s ability to beat Bush, as well as collect Kerry supporters who had thought him the most electable candidate because of his military background, but now find him–literally–outranked. The latter seems particularly plausible, since the Kerry campaign appears lost and without energy at this point
Stay tuned and don’t drink any Kool-Aid for awhile, OK?
September 16, 2003
posted 10:40 pm