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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Clark on the Move

No question about it, Wes Clark’s campaign is starting to get some traction. First, he’s moved past John Kerry into second place in the latest ARG New Hampshire tracking poll. Since December 26-28, Kerry has lost 6 points and Clark has gained 4, resulting in the switch in their relative positions.
And then the latest Gallup national poll has Clark closing the gap with Dean dramatically among Democrats and Democratic leaners. Right now, Dean is ahead of Clark by just 24 percent to 20 percent (and this is the first time Clark has been in the 20’s since October 6-8). As recently as December 11-14, Dean was ahead of Clark by 21 points, 31 percent to 10 percent–so Clark has doubled his support in the last three weeks, while Dean has lost a quarter of his. And this last poll was taken before Clark’s attractive tax plan was released and therefore does not reflect any boost he may be receiving from that announcement.
Not too shabby. A second place finish in New Hampshire and some victories on February 3 and he’s off to the races.
In light of his progress, this seems a good time to review DR’s November 1 recommendations on “How Clark Could Win the Nomination“. How’s he doing?
1. Work the Electability Angle. Check and double check, with the release of his tax plan.
2. Break Through in the South. That does indeed seem to be his plan and he appears to be in a good position to do so.
3. Go for the Noncollege Crowd. We lack good data here, but DR’s sense is that Clark’s support, especially relative to Dean, is drawn disproportionately from this group.
4. Go for independents and Republicans. We really lack good data here, but Clark is, in DR’s view, positioning himself well to receive support from this not-insignificant bloc of Democratic primrary voters.
5. Work the Arithmetic. In terms of superdelegates, he isn’t doing terribly well at this point. But, if Matthew Yglesias is right and superdelegates tend to follow the political winds, perhaps the time is now right for Clark to start lining up additional support from these quarters.
So far then, Clark seems to more-or-less be on DR’s wavelength in terms of how he’s conducting his campaign. Good luck to him. Wish, though, he had another signature issue besides his tax plan on the domestic front that could help wash away that “laundry list” feel one often gets from his domestic pronouncements.
Is that going to happen? Well: let’s ask him!
(from an online chat earlier today on Clark04.com that DR participated in)
– Ruy Teixeira of “Donkey Rising” asks The tax plan you just released can fairly be characterized as a signature issue for your campaign. Is there another dometic issue you might give the same kind of treatment to? If so, what is it? Education (a personal favorite of mine)? Health care? Retirement?
– Ruy, I have so many issues that I feel strongly about….we’re in a health care crisis, and I want to see us move our system into the promotion of wellness and good health, not just treating illnesses….we neeed comprehensive diagnoastic and preventive care. Then there’s education, and I am an especially strong believer in preswchool education for all children, and we’re going to make that happen…and then there’s the problem of jobs, and this may be the biggest challenge of all…we simply have to create jobs in this country…and thus far we’ are failing to create enough jobs….Alll that’s important to me. Wes

DR’ll take that as a “not really” or perhaps an “I know what you mean, but we haven’t figured that one out yet”. Sounds like the Clark campaign’s got a bit of work to do in that department.
But, overall it’s been a pretty darn good three weeks for Clark. And it’ll be very interesting to see what happens next.

21 comments on “Clark on the Move

  1. Will on

    I saw Clark at Dartmouth College NH on Friday last week. Good crowd – I would say 200-300 plus on a brutally cold day. Not bad for someone not targetting the ‘college crowd’.
    He was fine. But he wasn’t great.
    He started by saying that he had lots of programmes, they were all on his website, where you could look at them, but he was going to talk about broader themes (Faith, Family etc). Which is okay as far as it goes, but the way he said it really gave the impression that the programmes had been generated by “Prez-Cand-Programmes-4-U”, with only a mild connection to Clark. Even on Iraq, he said he had a plan, but he didn’t lay it out.
    Several aspects of his speech had prolongued longeurs, including a tedious finishing story about meeting a young man in Haiti who looked to America for his future, about 5 times longer than it needed to be. He also had a tendency to add “and other things” or like phrases to many of his proposals which tended to undercut the rhetorical effect (Cf. J. Caesar “I came, I saw, I conquered, and other things).
    But he brightened up sharply in the questions and answers session. He could handle both the agressive questions and the Democratic true believer questions, with a bit of punch and humour. “Tommy Franks says I’m not his kind of guy. Well, he’s not my kind of guy”.
    Overall, I thought him unfinished. And in need of a better speechwriter, fast. Even a few rudimentary tweaks would good a long way.

  2. Tom Hollenbach on

    Ruy, you ask what would be a good signature issue for Clark to go along with taxes. I’m a psychologist, so I’m sensitive to how people build associations and impressions into opinions. Clark is a soldier, hunts and has guns, and favors capital punishment, so voters have multiple pieces of information telling them that Clark is tolerant of violence. This plays well with many moderates who feel that life is often dangerous, but it is anathema to most democratic primary voters. This is also a fundamental dimension of a person’s value system.
    The way to counter a pro-violence perception is to create a pro-nurturance perception, and the main nurturance issues are health, education, and anything having to do with children. Bush understood this and balanced his conservatism with pro-nurturant positions on both education and healthcare (prescription drug plan), and thereby was successful in capturing enough of the center to get elected despite being to the right of Reagan. Clark needs this same balance, especially in the primaries to close his gender gap and make liberals believe his antiwar rhetoric.
    If you dig into Clark’s position papers he has excellent proposals in all these areas, but they are long and complicated and have never been thematically unified. I think he just has to package them better. I would suggest a unifying theme (also tapping his soldier’s persona) of ‘Fighting for our Children’. He should talk about his plans for children’s health insurance, universal preschool and Head Start, college scholarships, child poverty, and deficit reduction as aspects of this ‘Fight’ (deficit reduction because it provides for our children’s future). He should bring up this theme early in any speech, refer back to it as other issues relate to it, and restate it when he closes. In some candidates a strong focus on this would seem to feminine, but for Clark it will just give him psychological breadth. Also, the great thing about using this as a signature issue is that, unlike most issues, it can help in both the primaries and the general election.

  3. jennifer poole on

    I had thought Clark’s GOP past was a moot issue, having read the September NY Times story excerpted below, wherein Clark reportedly acknowledges he once was a Republican.
    But Clarkies elsewhere on the web are now saying Clark was “never” a Republican, and that the NY Times was in error in its report.
    Can anybody here set me straight?
    “Moving to fill in the blanks of his candidacy a day after he announced for president, General Clark also said that he had been a Republican who had turned Democratic after listening to the early campaign appeals of a fellow Arkansan, Bill Clinton.” (Adam Nagourney, “Clark Says He Would Have Voted For War,” The New York Times, 9/19/03)
    paid archive link:

  4. Linus on

    Upper Left, what matters to Democrats is beating Bush. Howard Dean comes off like the smartest kid in eighth-grade trig class, always raising his hand, getting the answer right and then rubbing it into the other kids’ faces. He may have been right, but he’ll eat by himself at lunch.
    Dean was out front on the war before anyone else did. Kudos to him. But don’t let that obscure the fact that he has insulted southern white males, he’s wrong on gun control, insulted Democratic lawmakers by calling them cockroachs, has a flimsy story about avoiding service in Vietnam, has made absolutely ridiculous statements about bin Laden’s guilty, took money for speeches from groups that had business with the state of Vermont while governor, had a secret commission advising him on energy policy ala Dick Cheney, is fighting to keep his gubernatorial records secret, has done an incredible flip-flop on tax cuts, brags about how he’s going to policize religion in the South and it has now come out that he dissed the political process in Iowa and praised Bush, calling him a moderate and a two-term president on a television show.
    The dream candidate.
    Bush, Cheney and Rove have a name for him. Chum.

  5. Upper left on

    I have posted an analysis of the entire “electability” question on the new thread (“What Do Bush’s Current Approval Ratings Mean”) above. I hope you will take the time to read it and respond. Thanks!

  6. Upper left on

    Regarding Clark: The reason Clark’s last minute conversion to being a Democrat matters is because of who votes in the primaries and why they vote. Who votes: more idealogically motivated and committed Democrats. Why they vote: It is the values stupid! By and large, people vote for the candidate they think best represents their values. There are a few voters who care about resume and experience, a few who have single-issue litmus tests, but the vast majority vote for the candidate they feel best represents their values.
    What bothers me about Clark, and I believe will bother many other Dems when it is pointed out to them, is the fact that he was not clear enough about his own values to know which party he identified with. It reminds me of the old United Mine Worker song, “which side are you on boys, which side are you on.” Until 2002, Clark didn’t make up his own mind which side he was on. His lack of clarity on his own values makes me question what he would do if he actually won.
    Now in 2004 he wants to lead our side into battle. I welcome him to our side, but I am not prepared to hand him command. I would love to see a Dean/Clark ticket, but I fear that before it is all said and done, there will be too many bruised feelings to make it possible.

  7. William Gadea on

    I used to be an early Dean supporter, and there’s a lot I like about him… primarily his outspokeness about the war. I turned away from him because I don’t think he would be a strong challenger against Bush. At the risk of repeating points BrilliantIdiot made well, here is the case against him:
    1. Lacks national security credentials. A big deal in 2004.
    2. Is gaffe-prone. This is because he is impulsive, and has a bit of a tin ear for how his comments will be heard. Under this category also include his shakiness in one-on-one interviews. (I think the next time Russert has him on he’s going to have to wear a bib.)
    3. On TV he comes off as arrogant and prickly.
    4. He’s geographically challenged. It’s been more than 40 years since a Democrat who wasn’t from the south has won a general election. Moreover, he’s from a state with a population about the size of Cincinnati.
    5. He’s exposed on Civil Unions. I think that what Dean did in Vermont with Civil Unions is great, but let’s face it… this will be the phony Republican issue of the year, and Dean is exposed on it.
    Lest I give the impression that all I care about is tactics, let me also say that I would prefer it if he were a little more to the left on gun control and capital punishment, and a little more to the right on free trade. I don’t expect any candidate to be perfect for me, but Dean is less perfect than most.

  8. BrilliantIdiot on

    Upper Left, you won’t be surprised to know that I disagree with your calls on the effectiveness of tarring Clark as a Republican (people like non partisanship) or an opportunist. (As if any human who runs for President of the USA isn’t opportunistic, or arrogant).
    The trick is to not come off that way. Clark succeeds in this with a very likeable TV and real life personality. As interesting and smart as Dean is, as much as I actually like him, he often makes me roll my eyes with his superiority and churlishness. Clark has made fewer verbal gaffes than Dean in the last 2 months, and which guy has more political experience? Dean’s a talented politician – and great with pushing the base’s buttons Looks like Clark is even more talented, coming from nowhere to challenge like this….
    I think it will be a meritocratic face off, though I wish Clark had an extra month to organize in places like WI. If Clark wins, it’s that much more extraordinary. However, I never thought that Dean (or anyone else’s) support was that firm to begin with. Voters are only starting to tune in now.
    And you’re also not anticipating the negative press Dean will get when he announces his new tax plan (“changing his plan…flip flopping…..etc.). And that’s an issue Americans pay big attention to. As smart a politician as Dean is, he really blew it on taxes. And the damage is only partly fixable. And national security…..blah blah.

  9. upper left on

    Be careful what you ask for, all you Clark supporters.
    If this poll turns out to be reliable, and I believe it will, Clark is likely to start getting a lot more scrutiny and criticism. For the past month, Clark has quietly gone about his business while Lieberman, Gephardt and Kerry have been slinging mud at Dean.
    This constant hammering from the other candidates and the unrelenting negative press has stopped Dean’s momentum. The criticism Dean has gotten from the more Democratic leaning mainstream press like the NY Times, Washington Post, Newsweek etc. is fairly predictable. These guys have bought the “electability” argument hook, line, and sinker and are doing everything in their power to stop Dean.
    Most of Dean’s so called “gaffes” have been comments taken out of context and spun in the most negative way. Dean is getting a complete colonoscopy on every word that comes out of his mouth. He is being held to a different standard than the other candidates, certainly a higher standard than Bush was ever subjected to. Lieberman, who has absolutely no chance, has gotten an amazing amount of press attention for his unrelenting diatribes against Dean. Dean is bleeding from a 1000 paper cuts, none of them is truly serious, but collectively they are taking their toll.
    What has been more surprising has been the attacks on Dean from the right. If Dean were such a patsy for Bush, don’t you think the right would hold their fire until Dean had the nomination wrapped up? Why would they be helping the Democratic establishment and the main-stream media bash Dean now. Perhaps they are stupid, over-confident, and unable to contain themselves; or perhaps they actually fear Dean and what he represents.
    It will be interesting to see if the media continue to give Clark a free-ride or if they will now start to give him a little more scrutiny.
    My fear is that the Dems are now in for a protracted fight between Clark and Dean. Most of you, who have fallen in love with Clark’s resume, seem oblivious to his serious baggage in a one-on-one nomination fight. You may not care that the man voted for Reagan and G.H.W. Bush, or that he seriously contemplated running for office as a Republican in 2001, but a lot of Dem faithful will. This history combined with his glowing comments about Bush as late as 2002 make him look like an opportunist.
    Dean has largely held his fire thus far because he was hoping he could overwhelm the field. Now that his momentum has been slowed by all the attacks, he is probably going to have to get mean. He has a lot of money, and a demonstrated ability to raise more. This could get very ugly, and no matter who ends up with the nomination, they may be damaged goods against Bush in the fall.
    The dems have a great candidate with a centrist record, compelling populist rhetoric, a proven ability to mobilize the base, and the potential to excite a whole new generation of young democrats. So what does our party do? We stone the guy based on a poorly articulated, arrogantly assumed, electability argument. Instead, the establishment of our party gets all excited about a guy who wasn’t even sure if he was a democrat until 2002. As Will Rogers said, “I am not a member of an organized party, I am a Democrat.”

  10. William Gadea on

    Ruy, I don’t know whether a single issue can be a silver bullet… particularly one like education, which is largely a state responsibility. Also, remember that Clinton had a rap as a big list-maker too, but people loved that about him. However, I will concede that a campaign’s message needs to be binded somehow (a la Great Society, New Deal, etc.) Clark’s theme of a “New Patriotism” has the potential to do that, although he hasn’t been hitting that note as much lately. It plays into his military background, and it snatches back a theme that the Republicans have been pretending they own. Moreover, patriotism works better than compassion as a spur to progressive action.
    Let me also say that what I think has been overlooked about the Clark tax plan is that it is also tax simplification… another issue we have foolishly let the Republicans think they own! Voters will be very attracted to the idea of filing their taxes on a postcard; there is no sort of paperwork that we do as consumers and citizens that is more absurdly complex and enraging than a tax form. (A mortgage application might be more invasive, but it is certainly not more complex.) Remember, this is the most extensive involvement we have with the Federal government all year… no wonder people don’t trust government!
    Finally, let me say this: of course Clark is more electable than Dean, and of course that’s important. Because of his personality and background, Clark is largely immune from the cultural attacks that Republicans specialize in. We would be running a war hero who’s never even smoked pot against a coke-sniffing frat boy who found the National Guard’s Champagne Squadron too much of a commitment. Another good omen for Clark: since October the media has not been able to find a handle for him — Clinton is slick and priapic, Gore is stiff, Bush is dumb, Dean is angry and arrogant — what is the caricature for Clark? They will probably find one (lest they be forced to actually cover the issues, God forbid) but he has flummoxed them so far.

  11. Chris Bowers on

    Goodness, could you just drop #5 already? The idea of anyone to winning the nomination through superdelegates rather than primaries is horrifying. In a party that was recently denied a presidential victory despite having the most popular votes, if the superdelegates were to award the nomination to any candidate except the one with the most votes during the primaries would almost certainly result in a total party meltdown.
    I support Dean, and I have no problem with your support of Clark, who is a fine candidate. However, please, drop #5 from your Clark strategy. I cannot possiblly think of a worse tactic for someone to pursue in an attempt to win the nomination. A brokered convention is the only circumstance where many ABB people like myslef would consider bolting on the nominee.

  12. Dan Perreten on

    Sovok: I wouldn’t read too much into those favorable/unfavorable numbers. Deann’s unfavorable ratings are largely due to the massive pummeling he’s been taking in the media. If Clark were the frontrunner, he’d be taking that kind of pummeling as well. In fact, when he first announced, the media was full of “Who’s the Real Wesley Clark?” stories, with rumors and innuendo about how many of the people he worked with hated him, how he was overly ambitious, possibly insane, a liar, etc., etc.
    All the Clark bashing has calmed down as Dean has been ascendant.

  13. Dave C on

    I agree with Marcia and Steve Cohen about jobs being a good signature issue. In fact, maybe I’m reading to much into it, but I think Clark may have hinted in his response that jobs will be a signature issue (“this may be the biggest challenge of all”). I know it’s a bit of a leap, but I’ve heard Clark go through the “laundry list” quite a few times. Jobs is often the one that he ends with, and spends the most time on.
    The Pew Research Study Ruy cited also says that jobs is the issue voters most want talked about in South Carolina (39%, terrorism is 2nd with 21%).
    I’m all in favor of more talk on education, but right now might not be the time for it.

  14. Greg Priddy on

    The other, more positive, way to look at Clark’s support among men is that it would help him narrow the gender gap at the expense of the Republicans in November. I think he has a good shot at winning back some of the lower-to-middle socioeconomic status men who have defected to the Republicans in droves in recent years, contrary to their own economic interests.

  15. Sovok on

    Actually the Gallup poll does give us a hint about Clark’s standing among independents/Republicans:
    Dems/Dem leaners:
    Clark: 45% favorable / 15% unfavorable
    Dean: 45% favorable / 22% unfavorable
    Reps/Rep leaners
    Clark: 32% favorable / 38% unfavorable
    Dean: 11% favorable / 58% unfavorable
    Clark: 37% favorable / 26% unfavorable
    Dean: 28% favorable / 39% unfavorable
    Just one data point, but it seems safe to say that Dean does not appeal to Republicans at all.

  16. Marcia on

    “Effeminate”? “Turtlenecks”? “Delicate nature”? Is this what our political discourse has come down to? The man is a 4-star general who was wounded in action, for heaven’s sake.
    I’m not sure that Clark needs another signature issue. He might, and if he does, it should probably be jobs….good jobs. But I like the fact that he has a “laundry list” of issues. To me, that shows that he’s a more well-rounded candidate who understands the myriad of problems that face us and has ideas on how to begin to address each of them. You’re probably correct, however, that he probably should concentrate on one or two at a time.
    Remember Al Gore’s Prescription Plan for Seniors? The fact that it was basically all he talked about probably could be added to the list of political mistakes that were made by that campaign. A good many Americans had concerns about other issues, but those were never addressed.

  17. Evan Hunt on

    No comment on the pronounced gender split between Dean and Clark? I can’t remember the exact figures, but it was lopsided–Dean’s support was biased toward women, and Clark’s was *very* biased toward men.
    Considering that republican support is also biased toward men, I’m not sure what that says about the general election. I’m concerned that the men who support Clark now will prefer Bush come November. I’d like to see head-to-head matchups between Dean and Bush and Clark and Bush; so far I’ve only seen one such poll (and Dean came out ahead of Clark in it).
    Regardless, I agree with you that it will be interesting to see what comes next. I’m a strong Dean supporter, but I do like Wes Clark a lot. I’m delighted to see the primaries shaping up into a race between my two favorite candidates–can’t remember the last time *that* happened.

  18. calvin on

    Electability is such a weak reason to support Clark (his tax plan is the only policy reason to support him, and it only came out Monday), it reeks of the defensive posture Democrats took in 2002 and which got themselves creamed, and it isn’t even true that Clark is more electable than Dean. Clark, unlike Dean, will get raked over the coals for his recent words of praise and support for Bush and Republicans. He will also be as mercilessly portrayed as weak on foreign policy as any Democratic candidate, notwithstanding his background. The Repub’s will seek to discredit his militairy service and his capabilities. They will line up batteries of Generals who will question his leadership and point out that he was relieved of his duties by the Clinton administration. There is also the very real fact, although politically incorrect to point out certainly, that Clark is effeminate. There is no doubt that Repub’s will use his turtlenecks and his delicate nature to portray him as weak.
    Liberals like Donkey Rising who continue to play up the Dean is unelectable meme should realize that they are only playing minor roles in a Republican driven attempt at self-fulfillng prophesy.

  19. Steve Cohen on

    Is education really the signature issue this year? The cynical part of me (i.e. the laid-off part of me) sees even highly-skilled people losing their jobs, and often the greater your skills, the higher your salary, the greater your vulnerability. I would no recommend longer to my son that he study to enter my profession.

  20. Armando on

    Thanks for askng the signature issue question. Implicitly then, you agree with me that the tax plan can be a signature issue.
    You think he needs another right? What can come across as clearly as the tax plan?

  21. Dan Perreten on

    Ruy: The Gallup poll shows a much smaller lead for Dean than previous polls in the last month (the Rasmussen poll out just a few days before showed 22 to 13). I understand that Gallup polled “registered voters” rather than “likely voters.”
    Do the different polling methods account for the different outcomes? Clark’s sudden rise in this one poll seems like an anomaly


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