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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

“Garbage Moving In the Right Direction”

Credit Matt Stoller of OpenLeft with one of the best one-liners in recent memory, in a post deriding wildly varying media assessments of the competence of various presidential campaigns: “At best, campaigns are garbage moving in the right direction.” Certainly anyone who thinks about it can remember reading assessments of ultimately disastrous nomination campaigns (e.g., Kennedy 1980 and Dean 2004) as brilliant and irresistable, and of successful nomination campaigns (e.g., Reagan 1980 and Kerry 2004) as disorganized and faction-ridden nightmares. (It’s also worth noting that the two Republican presidential campaigns that seem to be doing well right now, those of Huckabee and McCain, were both written off not long ago as completely inept and hopeless). And a lot of the excessively positive talk about specific campaigns is a function of campaign spin and the endless desire of the chattering classes to identify the Next Big Thing and Next Big Gurus in politics. The truth is, as Stoller suggests, that campaigns are a messy business full of guesswork and unintended consequences.
But I would issue one demurral about the current Democratic contest in Iowa. Best I can tell from talking to people with experience there, the Big Three candidates’ ground-level organizations are all exceptionally well-run by historical standards, benefitting from a lot of prior Caucus experience. But even so, guesswork and such accidents as the weather on January 3 may ultimately determine the outcome by confirming or rejecting the turnout models on which campaigns must inevitably rely.

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