Sunday, March 23, 2003

Woodlief 2004 piece in the Boston Herald:
There is a pretty good Wayne Woodlief piece in the Boston Herald this morning about how the front-loaded Democratic primaries could cost the party in 2004. Here is the link: ["Hasty nomination will cost Dems in 2004"] but unfortunately, you can’t get it for free because of the Herald’s new "pay to read" policy for columns.
Essentially, Woodlief advocates a regional primary system, which isn’t a bad idea.
In some ways, the process already has regional primaries. Over the past few years, there has been a traditional Super Tuesday multi-state southern primary created to solidify victory for southern candidates. The New England states, sans N.H., have also lumped their primaries together, with some western states also considering regional primaries.
But in 2004, unless something changes, Woodlief suggests that the front-loaded primaries may have a Democratic nominee decided by March 2 – extremely early in the process – and just six weeks after the Iowa caucuses, tentatively scheduled for Jan. 19.
The six weeks in between "would largely be a jet-setting, advertising, TV and tarmac campaign, with clever slogans trumping depth of ideas," Woodlief worried. Big states like California, New York, Ohio, Georgia, and all of New England, will vote on March 2, further proving that the money will be more important than message.
But let’s be honest, the Democratic National Committee [DNC] consolidated the process because they want the primaries to end early. Terry McAuliffe, the man behind the Dems disastrous 2002 mid-term election losses, and others, mistakenly believe that their chances will be better to beat Bush if they spend the months before the convention rallying around one candidate, ala Clinton in 1992. But the DNC is not alone in this strategy. Many secretaries of state across the country want the primaries moved up early so that media companies in these states can benefit from the millions that will be spent on TV and radio ads. Everyone knows about WMUR-TV Channel 9’s new broadcast studios in Manchester, N.H., nicknamed "The House Steve Forbes Built," since he ran millions of dollars worth of ads on the station.
However, the worst part about a front-loaded primary is that voters will be influenced by the Washington political and media establishment choosing an "elect-able" candidate and foisting this candidate on the voters. This will most surely guarantee that the Democratic nominee will be a corporate shill, one step below Bush, and the Democrats will continue the tradition of alienating voters and ignoring the economic issues of working families.
As it stands now, nine candidates are serious contenders: Former Vt. Gov. Howard Dean, N.C. Sen. John Edwards, Mo. Rep. Dick Gephardt, Fla. Sen. Bob Graham, Mass. Sen. John Kerry, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Conn. Sen. Joe Lieberman, former Ill. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, and the Rev. Al Sharpton, from NYC.
However, with such a diverse stable of candidates, the primary process might be a bloodbath instead of a quickie.
Hypothetically, Gephardt will win Iowa as he did in 1988; Kerry and Dean will split NH; Edwards, Graham, Moseley Braun, and Sharpton will split South Carolina on Feb. 3; with Gephardt taking Missouri, and Arizona probably being a toss up. Since Democratic primaries are not winner take all, coming in second and third will be important for any candidate trying to survive to the March 2 primary and in the long-term convention delegate race. On that date, Kucinich will probably win Ohio, with Graham, Moseley Braun, and Sharpton splitting Georgia, and Kerry, Dean, and Lieberman taking their home New England states. California is a toss up but a monster of one.
Since the race is still very early, things could change.
Note that in the 2000 Republican race, numerous “heavy hitters” who dipped their toes in early in 1999, were gone before one primary vote was cast. Despite raising millions, Elizabeth Dole [$5.1 million], former VP Dan Quayle [$4.1 million], and former Tenn. Gov. and 1996 candidate Lamar Alexander [$2.4 million] dropped out early, with Alexander bitterly complaining that then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush was sealing up the primary process a year early: "If we are not careful, we'll end up with only a race between the rich and the already famous," he said.
But Woodlief missed a big point while addressing the media vacuum for Democrats.
He noted that Dems "risk losing lots of free media time by not having a spirited race during the spring and summer," adding 'You know, the kind of attention Bush and McCain attracted in the 2000 campaign long after Gore (having blown Bradley’s tires off early) had subsided from the spotlight.'But this all depends on how the media covers the race.
In 2000, the Republicans had numerous primaries and debates between the Iowa caucuses and NH primary, while the Democrats had a lull between the Feb. 8 Delaware primary, and March 7 when 16 states had primaries and caucuses. This pause, and the way the media jumped on the McCain "Straight Talk Express," essentially deflated the Bradley campaign and led to his demise. Sure, Bradley didn’t win Iowa [35 percent] or NH [48 percent] but he did very well against a sitting vice president. Had McCain lost to Bush in NH – sure, shockingly doubtful – Bradley would have been the story that night. In fact, McCain factor or not, Bradley barely lost to Gore and the media scarcely acknowledged it.
Hindsight being what it is, had Bradley been the Democratic nominee – instead of the ever twisting and exaggerating Gore – he probably would have won the presidency for the Democrats. Bradley was better on the social issues and politically closer to Ralph Nader than Gore so the Greens would not have been a factor. Bradley would have easily beat Bush in the debates. Bradley would have considered a conservative vice presidential candidate – probably a southern governor similar to Lieberman. But this would have brought balance to the ticket, instead of tilting the ticket even more to the right, as Gore did.
Despite being a "southern candidate," Gore lost every southern state [sans Florida, heh, heh], including his home state of Tennessee and Clinton’s home state of Arkansas. Gore was a bad candidate, who ran a bad campaign, lost every southern state, but almost won the presidency nonetheless. This proves that a northern Democrat can win the presidency with one or two southern states. Some Democrats – like Kerry – are looking at this and planning accordingly.
One other point to make about the Woodlief piece, however petty, is that the regional primaries were not "first sprung in 2000." The regional primary idea has been floating around for awhile.
Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt proposed a western regional primary back in 1996, to counter the perceived power of the southern and New England regional primaries. In 1998, PBS' "Newshour" ran a piece about California and other states moving their primaries up earlier in the year, and possibly considering a regional primary process instead. In 1999, the Republican National Committee [RNC] created a group to study regional primaries. These studies led to "The Delaware Plan" [or inverted pyramid plan] wherein states would be divided by population into four groups, with the smallest population state voting first, which was defeated by the RNC. However, this could be considered by the Democrats as a way to guarantee the return of retail politicking.