Monday, May 05, 2003

The Democratic Horse Race
Comments on the First Democratic Debate of 2004

This weekend, the Democratic candidates for president assembled for the first official debate in South Carolina. It was an interesting exchange, as the nine ambitious contestants lined up for the chance to play the real life game of "Who Wants to Be President?" While the candidates had assembled together at other public events, including a Children's Defense Fund program that was broadcast about a month ago, this was the first chance for all the candidates to get together for a full-fledged debate.

In the end, I believe the Democratic race will come down to three candidates- Howard Dean, John Kerry, and John Edwards. Determining exactly when the other candidates drop out is the $64.00 question, but hey... it's still very early.

Here's my vote for the way the horse race will emerge, in order of the final contestants:

1) My main man, HOWARD DEAN held his own, but he's still got a lot work to do. He has to convince the American people that he will maintain a strong military, and he will be able to lead these powerful forces. This will be THE major issue for many people in this post-9/11 world. Howard Dean is the smartest candidate among the Democrats, and he has the courage to tackle the complicated issues that face America. Having seen him twice in person, I am convinced that he's got the right stuff. This debate wasn't his finest moment, but it wasn't bad at all.

When Dean had the opportunity to ask another candidate a question, he sent out a complimentary question out to Bob Graham in a manner that emphasized the ineffectiveness of the other candidates. No doubt about it- Howard Dean is the maverick candidate that opponents and pundits are following very closely. His pointed comments are like direct missiles that cannot be ignored. Not surprisingly, no other Democrat pointed their questions towards Dean. I think they were afraid of him.

Howard Dean still has to learn how to control his facial expressions when the camera cuts to him. Luckily, he wasn't the only one with that sort of problem, and he'll be competing against G.W., a true master of goofy expressions.

2) JOHN KERRY did surprisingly well. He's in the "attack dog" mode by aiming directly at Howard Dean, but it's actually working in his favor, even thou he's somewhat "liberal" with actual facts. He still sounds like a stuffy politician, but he's hitting some very good points with smart energy policy ideas. He is a good opponent that is doing his best to transcend his "limousine liberal" label, and lord knows he's got a lot of ketchup money to play with, unlike Dean who has the massive grass roots support behind him.

Hmm...... Meetup vs. Ketchup? I think that's going to be the underlying theme of the 2004 Democratic nomination. Remember folks, you heard this phrase here first!

3) JOHN EDWARDS sounds much better than he did at the Sacramento Democratic convention in March. I'm getting tired of hearing about his "humble family background" for the 99th time, but at least he's toned down his Andy Griffith-style southern accent, which really seemed to be accentuated in previous speeches Nothing that he said really stood out, in terms of significant policy ideas, but I appreciate that he pointed out that ANY of the nine candidates would be a major improvement than what we have right now. John Edwards is a good ol' boy with a fresh face that claims that he will fight for the common American people, and his trial lawyer experience may actually come in handy. For what it's worth, he's also the strongest Democrat that fully supported the Iraq military action, and he's got lots of money to go the distance.

I'm guessing that Edwards will be Kerry's choice for vice president.

4) JOE LIEBERMAN may have the biggest name recognition, but there's no way he'll ever get the nomination. He will stick it out for a long time, but America is not ready to hear his whiny voice on a regular basis. He is proud of his attacks on Hollywood sex and violence, and if you saw Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine," you'll see him voice the opinion that Marilyn Manson is one of the big reasons why the Columbine shootings happened. Who is he kidding?

5) DICK GEPHARDT is Mr. Marconi & Cheese. You've known him for all these years, but what sort of effective Democratic leadership has he actually provided in his years in Congress? Supporting a major chunk of the G.W. Bush agenda? I don't think that's going to play well with the disgruntled Americans seeking to elect a worthy opponent to do serious battle against the Bush domination. Gephardt should be applauded for bringing up the health care topic, and the rather inspired idea of free education for teachers willing to work in oddball locations, but he really doesn't have a chance. He actually used the term "Bush-Lite" to describe his opponents, but for the most part he's really just talking about himself.

For what it's worth, I believe Howard Dean was the first candidate to use the "Bush-Lite" label and address the issue of health care.

6) DENNIS KUCCINICH is like the energizer bunny. He should be applauded for addressing the dangers of NAFTA, WTO, and the PATRIOT ACT, but he's still going over like a stack of lead balloons with the American public. He held his own quite nicely in the debate, but I don't think mainstream America is really ready to embrace such ideas, even if they do make a lot of sense in the long run. I do hope he stays in the race for a long run, as he makes brings up some very important issues that America really should face, and he makes Dean look like a Centrist.

7) BOB GRAHAM brings some fresh ideas on military and intelligence issues, but he's coming in too late, with too little to offer. I may be wrong, but I tend to think that the shame of Florida's problems will undoubtedly cast a long shadow over any of this former governor's achievements. If Wesley Clark or Anthony Zinni aren't asked to run on the VP position on the Dean ticket, then perhaps Bob Graham will get his chance.

I loved Graham's line about representing the "electable wing" of the Democratic party, which of course referred to Howard Dean's recycled Paul Wellstone phrase about the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party." That was a funny little jab that I think even Dean fans could appreciate.

8) AL SHARPTON provided some great relief to the debate. Comparing the Bush tax plan to Jim Jones' Kool-Aid brought some good laughter.

9) CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN's best moment was when George Stephanopoulos asked if she was trying to split the Sharpton vote. She brings a message of hope to a lot of people that this country really doesn't have to be run by a bunch of boring white guys. Until Oprah becomes a candidate, Braun's speaks for a group of people that really need to get out and vote. I hope she's able to motivate some new voters! Like Kucchinich, she's not afraid to criticize the poorly-written Patriot Act, which works for me. I think she'd be an excellent cabinet member on the Dean presidency.

The two wild cards of this Democratic race are the undeclared GARY HART and WESLEY CLARK. With a good year and a half before the election, there's still a chance that both candidates may enter the race, and change the dynamics of an already crowded field. The story continues to develop....
E.P. Monday, May 05, 2003