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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

An Excellent Day for John “Mr. Electability” Kerry

The votes are still being counted as DR works on this post, but it certainly has been a very good day for John Kerry. He won 5 out of 7 contests, only losing South Carolina and Oklahoma, the two most “southern” states and two states the Democrats are highly unlikely to win. But he won two critical southwestern swing states (Arizona and New Mexico), as well as the great midwestern swing state of Missouri, which are more important states to the Democrats. And he won them easily, as he did Delaware and North Dakota.
On the other hand, the fact that Edwards won a state (South Carolina) and so did Clark (Oklahoma: with 100 percent of the precincts reporting, he is ahead by about 1,300 votes, though CNN has not as yet formally declared him the winner) suggests that one or both of these two candidates may well remain around for awhile. Of the two, Edwards had the better day. Looking at the top four contests (AZ,MO,OK,SC), Edwards’ winning effort in SC an easy victory, while Clark’s in OK was a squeaker. Then Edwards had two seconds, including his almost-winning effort in OK, plus a solid second in MO. Clark, on the other hand, had only his solid second in AZ to go with his squeaker win in OK.
Edwards has another thing going for him that DR finds kind of interesting: in contrast to Kerry, who did substantially less well among independents in each of these states, Edwards generally did substantially better. Here’s Kerry’s data in these states, with Democratic support listed first: AZ: 45/33; MO: 58/34; OK: 29/18; SC: 31/21. Now here’s Edwards: AZ: 7/7; MO: 18/24; OK: 28/34; SC: 43/50.
So Edwards may have an easier time reaching out to independent voters as the primary contests move toward a possible one-on-one stage, as well as an easier time with these voters if he succeeds in getting the nomination (or, more likely, becomes Kerry’s running mate).
As for getting the nomination, it’s going to be very tough indeed to beat Mr. Electability. In each one of these states, including the two he lost, Kerry beat his closest rival easily among those voters who selected “can beat Bush” as their top candidate quality: AZ: 65/18; MO: 75/12; OK: 55/21; SC: 57/29.
Oklahoma and South Carolina, where Kerry’s margins among electability voters were less, were also the two states where there were the fewest electability voters. In neither state did the proportion of electability voters break 20 percent and in neither state was it selected by the most voters as the top candidate quality they were looking for.
So that’s the secret, DR supposes, of beating Mr. Electability: the less the contest is about that, the better off the other candidates (which at this point really means Edwards and Clark and possibly just Edwards) will be.
But the primaries, as we move forward, seem likely to be more, not less, about electability. Which means their only chance may be to steal that mantle from him. Good luck. It ain’t going to be easy.

18 comments on “An Excellent Day for John “Mr. Electability” Kerry

  1. Ann on

    When people talk about Clark not being ready for primetime they’re just repeating the media. What, of any real substance, is this based on? I think the media, the DNC (and probably the RNC, i.e., media) are all too eager to end this. I wonder if the recent support for Kerry is because people just don’t want to do their homework and check out the candidates. Kerry counts on veteran support, yet he didn’t bother to vote on the Omnibus bill (neither did Edwards or Lieberman) that passed by 3 votes. This bill included ending overtime pay which will include veterans too. He’s never liked affirmative action and hasn’t supported increasing minimum wage. He voted for the No Child Left Behind, the Patriot Act and the Iraq war (Edwards too). It was up to them to lead the way to be able to dissent yet they had no backbone. It took Dean to wake them up. Why would we want someone who has been in the Congress this long with so little to show for it?

  2. Kathleen on

    I don’t know how so many bloggers and others online don’t seem to get why Kerry appears to be “electable”. Perhaps it is the lingering pain of having Dukakis branded as a “Massachussets Liberal”?
    From the very beginning, I’ve asserted that National Security and Foreign Policy are going to be the “tickets to admission” this cycle. Yes, I realize that they aren’t the things at the top of the lists based on exit polls, but remember, these are Democrats for the most part being polled. Domestic issues have always been at the top for these voters.
    It is very clear that the Bush/Cheney re-elecction strategy will be one of strength in national security. “Willing to do what it takes to keep this country safe.” Clark and Kerry are the only ones that can compete with that. When Kerry was tanking last year (failing to respond quickly to the changing nature of the campaign due to Dean’s innovative tactics), Clark was “recruited” to provide this contrast against Dean. And if Dean had emerged victorious out of Iowa, Clark would have become the “anti-Dean”.
    But Kerry’s campaign did two things right. From the beginning, they developed the behind the scenes support necessary to run an effective GOTV effort (which, unlike Dean they didn’t tout every day, just remained confident in) and managed to get their candidate to start to connect with voters – most notably on credibility issues. They were ready when people started to try to visualize Dean AS a president, rather than a fighting candidate.
    So, if putting Clark or Kerry up is going to allow the 2004 race to be about something OTHER than national security – and we can GET to the economy, education, health care, etc., then the only one who remains really credible on the domestic side is Kerry. Clark isn’t a politician, which many folks say they want – someone who ISN’T – but that has also allowed him to make some pretty serious mistakes. Rising to the bait from Bob Dole about him being a “general” and Kerry being a “Lt” (he, can’t spell that word), was a horrible mistake if he was looking for the veteran vote. Lots more grunt veterans than Generals, you know?
    I’ve long thought that Kerry was not only the most electable candidate, but believed strongly that he would make the absolute best President in this time.

  3. Dave C on

    I’m sorry if I’m being too blunt here, but I really don’t understand how an intelligent person can support Edwards. We’re at war. Our soldiers are dying in Iraq at a rate of over 1 a day. How is a one term senator the guy to fix that? How about the North Korea situation? The Middle East? John Edwards just doesn’t inspire confidence here. For that matter, how is qualified to manage the economy? The only economic committee that he’s on is Small Business. How does that prepare someone to deal with the federal budget?
    I don’t mean to rag on the guy too much, but experience matters and he doesn’t have it. Once people attack him on this, it will seriously damage his electability vs. Bush, probably beyond repair. All the slick talking with a Southern accent in the world ain’t gonna make up for “he can’t keep you safe”

  4. Patience on

    Unfortunately, we seem stuck with a process that will get us a nominee quickly (as Terry McAuliffe desired), but with no guarantee that it will be the right nominee. Would you really trust the opinion of Democratic primary voters when it comes to picking the “electable” nominee? Didn’t we (well, really, you, since I wasn’t eligible to vote until ’96) also believe that Mondale and Dukakis were “electable”? If the big thing going for John Kerry right now is that Democratic voters think he’s “electable,” what will it mean if they suddenly stop believing that?

  5. rt on

    I’m about where TedL is in his post: I’d like to get a good long look at Kerry, Edwards and Clark and not see another rush to judgment.
    It it ends very soon it hurts us more than it helps. Kerry needs to continue improving his campaign style (I never thought I’d see him do as well as he has of late in that regard) and will improve more with stiff competition than a cakewalk to the nomination from this point forward. If that competition leaves him looking less attractive than others we should want to know that in the next couple of months rather than in September.
    The most interesting data from Ruy’s post that Bill Schneider didn’t put out on CNN last night was that Edwards did better among independents than he did among Democrats.
    I agree with Ted that an effective President has to be able to win enough public support to keep from being jerked around too much by the Congress. And Edwards seems to offer more promise of being able to do that.
    Kerry went on too long in his victory speech last night, with the result that CNN cut away to go to Clark’s speech. Howard Kurtz’ Washington Post media column cited some as saying Edwards starting his victory speech at 7:58 pm, just two minutes before the networks were going to call a bunch of other races, was a tactical mistake.
    I thought Edwards’ victory speech was brief, to the point, and effective. I’m 44, following politics closely now for 25 years or so, and have never heard a presidential candidate talk about poverty like he did and have it come off as uplifting, inspiring–and not politically suicidal.
    I know we don’t win on that issue. Still, it was a 1968 Bobby Kennedy-type speech (with a Southern accent, of course). I thought I could almost see and hear RFK’s former aide, Jeff Greenfield, have that reaction.
    Regarding Ruy’s posts on message the slight (and maybe implied) refinement in Edwards’ message that maybe works best for us is that we need to bring the two Americas together into one opportunity society for all Americans. Kerry last night instead talked about fairness, rather than opportunity, for all.
    In next Tuesday’s Virginia primary I am leaning towards voting for Edwards because I think his upside potential (that’s all it is at this point), both to win the election and be an effective president, is higher than Kerry’s, and because I don’t think we know enough yet that we should be comfortable hopping on the Kerry bandwagon yet.
    We don’t know yet whether, with more exposure, Edwards is capable of generating as broad across-the-board appeal as Kerry has demonstrated among Democrats so far. We also don’t know how deep and therefore durable Kerry’s appeal is at this point.

  6. Mara on

    Image is everything these days, and I think Kerry looks solid. Put Kerry on the platform with Bush, and Bush shrivels up like the wicked witch of the north (should be “south”in this case). Edwards is terrific, but lite on experience. This year people are too nervous to elect someone so inexperienced. Kerry is homely, but in a craggy, Abe Lincoln sort of way. He looks trustworthy and he doesn’t smirk.

  7. DS on

    “However, Edwards strikes me…”
    Based on the description and the contrast later in the paragraph with Edwards, was this a typo? I expect this was meant to be “Kerry”?

  8. Fred Markus on

    We have the embarassment of riches – several credible candidates. Remember the episode of the “seven dwarfs”? Not this time. However, Edwards strikes me as a hollow candidate because his senatorial record has been unremarkable, his personal history apparently includes some extramarital dalliance, and he has the unfortunate habit of lapsing into bureaucratic speak – last evening’s finale was too long, too detailed, and wide of the reality that Congress is still all Republican all the time. Both Clark and Edwards are squeaky clean and far less inflated by media hype. They don’t have Kerry’s image as a national figure, however, so maybe Kerry will remain primus inter pares and be the eventual nominee. ABB means that Democrats and Independents are seriously exercised. The general election is theirs to lose.

  9. DS on

    So I’m pooring over the results trying to make heads or tails of who to support in Washington’s caucuses this weekend.
    I perceive Kerry to be nothing more than a warmed over version of Gore and expect the results would be about the same – general election spread of no more than 2%. Okay he’s got some silver on his shoulder, but he’s also from New England. Dean would get out the base, but the Guns, God & Gays would kill him in the middle. Also, neither of these candidates are positive about the future or speak to me.
    This leaves me with Edwards & Clark – both of whom I like, but for different reasons. (This relates to the threshold theory.) Clark can’t lose on national security but seems to forget the people at home. Edwards is the best campaigner and speaks to me with the optimism & Wealth v. Work messages.
    At this point I think I’ll be supporting Edwards, but I’d go for Clark if I thought he could unseat Kerry as the front runner. (Why couldn’t Edwards have just won OK and taken some headlines?)
    Any thoughts on taking out Mr. Bland?
    On a separate note, Dean was the big loser last night. Why is he still considered No. 2? Or maybe it’s just the WA perspective since he’s in town.

  10. Jerry on

    Why is a candidate dismissed when he wins a primary in a state unlikely to be carried in the fall? Winning there suggests the ability to win in swing states, too.
    But candidates who win where their party will likely carry the state have proven only that they can preach to the choir.
    Kerry’s electability claim is based only on the votes of Massachusetts Democrats and Democrats elsewhere who are dedicated enough to vote in primary races. Edwards at least got elected in hostile territory in 1998. Kerry’s chances will be slim if he cannot make military service the main issue in Nov.

  11. Paula on

    I respect Dean a lot, but I don’t know how anyone can think he’s more electable than Kerry, Clark or Edwards. His appeal is limited to liberals, even though his record as Vermont governor was quite centrist. In primary after primary, Kerry has shown the broadest support, from Dems of all stripes to independents. I think Edwards and Clark are strong candidates, too. If Bush’s ratings stay below 50 percent, any of the top has a chance. BTW, I suspect an October surprise with Osama will just backfire because the timing will be too obvious. but I wouldn’t put it past them trying it.

  12. TedL on

    Personally, I’d like to see Edwards and Kerry on stage for a good long debate, and maybe Clark as a third. Get a good long look at them without wasting our time on Kucinich or Sharpton, so we can see the contrasts more clearly.
    The general election is a two-man debate, and our nominee has to stand up to a lot of scrutiny. It would be great to see our choices in close proximity for at least a few weeks.
    It’s amazing, though, how events seem to be conspiring against this. The most likely outcome is that Kerry takes Michigan and Washington, while Edwards and Clark split VA and TN — which means that the nomination belongs to Kerry.
    Hopefully that will work out alright, though I worry for the reasons Ruy identifies. A President, above all, has to be an effective communicator. He’s got to be able to go over the heads of Congress (particularly this Congress) to the people in order to get things done. Edwards shows promise; he might have that talent, and would clearly represent an improvement in policymaking; everybody likes his policy positions. Kerry, well, it’s not usually seen as his strength. I hold out hope, given the improvement in his performance lately. But it’s a concern.

  13. rawls on

    i can only conclude that my process has been different from many of the people i read on line. i started out really liking dean and when clark came into the race i gave him a good close look. as iowa appraoched i was torn between these two candidates but leaning toward dean because it looked like clark could not run an effective campaign to me. then dean fell, and fell hard in both iowa and nh (what happened to all that money?). it was then i began to question dean’s ability to run a campaign. so, i started to look at kerry and edwards.
    yesterday morning (about 6:15am) i’m walking into the polls and i have no idea who i’m gonna vote for. I recall liberal oasis urging people to vote with their gut and their heart and not simply on the electability issue. I voted for kerry. My wife was surprised. We watched dean on meet the press and it was enough reasure her vote for him.
    after i left the polling booth and was driving to work i began recalling the other primary seasons and my thoughts about those candidates. I remember 1984 and 1988 and 1992 – each of these years i felt this sense of dread about the democratic candidate. i’d say to myself, “this is a pipe dream. this guy hasn’t got a chance.” i was wrong about clinton. this year is different for me. when i walked into the polling booth i did not know who i would vote for – not because i was feeling dread or did not like any of my choices. I had a hard time because i liked all of them.
    maybe its just me but i feel a change coming on in our political system. i don’t mean to be all rosey here, i know we have a hard fight ahead of us. but i think any of these candidates have a good solid chance of beating bush. i will support anyone of them.

  14. melissa on

    I’ll vote for whomever the Dem nominee is. I’ll campaign for Edwards, Clark or Dean. Kerry just turns me off. I’m in Ohio and I don’t know anyone one here who likes him. My brother however, is in CO and really likes Kerry. Kerry is no more electable than any other of the 3 remaining viable nominees. Saying he is, is just making people think it – and those who are voting for “electability” may be in for a big surprise. Study after study shows that good looking people are chosen for jobs over average “Joes” again and again. Kerry is so unattractive – he’s downright homely. If Dean hadn’t taught him how to campaign he’d still be in last place – what’s going to happen to him when there is no more Dean to lead the way and to teach Democrats how to be democrats again? If it weren’t for Dean and his courage to speak the truth when it appeared politically unpopular, none of these Dems would be polling anywhere near Bush. Yes, they’ve all finally learned their lesson, but what will they do when Bush pulls OBL out of his hidey hole next October?

  15. dt on

    kerry will be a dead horse as soon as people start beating him. all the qualities he has that make him ‘electable’ date back to the seventies. this is, after all, the guy who lost the frontrunnerdom first, by tacking to political winds more frequently than the 24-hour news cycle. i mean, sure, he could probably take bush in a fistfight, but an election?
    edwards is the guy to watch. he’s got a toolbox full of memes the average american can feel in his heart, and a life story that says all the right things about the america we all secretly love no matter how disappointed we are in the america that actually is.
    george w bush: robber baron
    john edwards: horatio alger story
    which america do you want to believe in?
    clark i also like, but he creeps me out a little bit in the same way that businessmen who talk like hippies creep me out; more importantly, although his learning curve is indeed impressive, he’s still not quite ready for prime time and he’s sure as hell not half the natural that edwards is.

  16. Jon on

    I think Democrats should stop overthinking this. They are picking ‘electable’ guy over the guy who ‘cares about people like me’. But Democrats are all going to vote for the Democrat whoever it is, whereas swing voters in battleground states are going to go with the guy who ‘cares about people like me’.
    We all know who the white house is scared of.

  17. decon on

    Donkey is certainly rising. The jockey however appears to be Clark or Edwards.
    After dominating Iowa and New Hampshire, thus earning a slightly hotter seat, Mr. Kerry’s rivals are pulling him back towards oblivion. With two, and possibly three viable rivals, the seat will only get hotter in the week ahead.
    As Eric E. rightly points out, Clark won Oklahoma while placing a solid 2nd in Arizona, New Mexico, and North Dakota. Edwards did well too, though not so well as Clark — he won impressively in South Carolina, the state of his birth, and placed a solid second in the show me state.
    As to the relevance of these six states, Democrats can dare to dream of winning in three — Arizona, New Mexico, and Missouri. Again, the edge goes slightly to Clark rather than Edwards.
    And finally, the unfortuante (unless ironic) characterization of Senator Kerry as Mr. Electability is laughable. The circular logic and tortured data employed to buttress this conclusion are simply ridiculous.
    Kerry’s only winning card — inevitability — in the “electability” sweepstakes was played today, and came up two states short. The Southern Populist, the Southern General, and the Vermont Penny Pincher are all eminently more electable along other margins.
    Now that Kerry’s horse has hiccuped, expect it to stumble in the days ahead.

  18. Eric E on

    In the battle for current 2nd place, I read tonight’s results as being a little bit better for Clark than for Edwards. The early returns look like solid 2nd places for Clark in AZ, NM, and ND, where Edwards only places in MO.
    But then I’m just another “red state” voter, willing to be convinced of Kerry’s electability, but not quite there yet. I think the longer this nomination battle stays competitive, the stronger the nominee will be.


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