Don’t count out Dean
Despite his disappointing third-place show in Iowa, I’m not ready to write off Howard Dean. I still predict he wins the Democratic nomination, though I’m less sure than I was 10 days ago.
What really hurts Dean about the Iowa results is they killed his chance at at a first-round knockout — de facto wrapping up the race by next week (an opportunity he alone had) with victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, the “inevitability” factor and choking the other candidates’ abilities to fund themselves and compete in the bigger states. It’s now a real fight, though one I still think he can win because he’s got the one thing no other candidate has — certain legs. Dean has the money, the 50-state organization, and the followers willing to take a bullet for him, that make it a given that he can stay in the race *as long as he wants.*
John Kerry and John Edwards have to rely entirely on the bandwagon, the bounce, the big Mo, positive free media, and all that. Like John McCain in 2000, they are basically riding a wave that can crash and could not stand a bad showing in New Hampshire or South Carolina. Dean can — he is not a prisoner of fortuna. I compare fortuna to one of those raging rivers, which when in flood overflows the plains, sweeping away trees and buildings, bearing away the soil from place to place; everything flies before it, all yield to its violence, without being able in any way to withstand it; and yet, though its nature be such, it does not follow therefore that men, when the weather becomes fair, shall not make provision, both with defenses and barriers, in such a manner that, rising again, the waters may pass away by canal, and their force be neither so unrestrained nor so dangerous. The candidate who relies entirely upon fortuna is lost when she changes.
A candidate can do well in the saturated “retail” politicking environments of Iowa and New Hampshire but, because of lack of funds, organization, and/or media charisma come a cropper when the states become bigger and the primaries come in faster clumps (a factor that will affect 2004 more than ever). These assets, these dams and dikes that Dean has built up against fortuna, his popularity among the party base, means he can he stay in as long as he wants, wait for the other candidates to exhaust themselves or drown in fortuna’s raging river.
The only way Dean loses is if the party base throws him overboard. I just don’t see that, though I admit there’s now a serious possibility; something I would have denied 10 days ago. I admit that I fantasize at nights about an Al Sharpton win and the resulting 50-state Bush landslide, but apparently Dean and his shouting act to his supporters last night, when he made Michael Moore on Oscar night look sane and reasonable, play well to the choir. No other candidate appeals like Dean to the Democrats’ id.
The outstanding examples of pre-voting favored candidates who survived early stumbles are Mondale 84, Dukakis 88, Bush 88, Clinton 92, Dole 96, and Bush 00. In practically every election since I’ve been in this country, a candidate in one of the two parties was the clear favorite before any votes were cast and had all the logistical advantages but lost in Iowa and/or New Hampshire to mostly-superior candidates who had virtue but no assets. They all eventally won because their “secular” advantages prove crucial in the bigger states. Victors in Iowa and New Hampshire in the “Where Are They Now” category from 1988 and 1992 include Paul Tsongas, Bob Dole, Tom Harkin, and Richard Gephardt, plus John McCain in 2000; and that “defy expectations” darlings have included Pat Buchanan in 92 (have I mentioned that I stumped for him in the runup to the 1992 Texas primary), Steve Forbes in 96, Gary Hart in 84 and Pat Robertson in 88.
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