I don't know what the title really means, other than calling it "Super Tuesday I" makes it sound like Bull Run or something--the prelude to the real Super Tuesday, which Terry McAulliffe may or may not have made moot in his attempt to shorten the calendar.
I've got several places I want to go with you tonight. If you need a coat as we roll back and forth across the virtual political landscape, I'll wait for you here...
The first thing I'd like to direct you to are the exit polls for the five states I listed below via Politicalwire--although they spread across the sphere like ebola after NRO's blog leaked it. There was some talk about it being a plant by Drudge to push the voting, but this seemed absurd on its face for at least two reasons: pumping up Edwards at Clark's expense makes little sense, since that's almost the worst scenario for the re-election campaign; and outside of the rarefied blog air, those who noticed almost universally said, "Eh, exit polls, they suck." Drudge as provocateur never got off the ground; most people saw off New Hampshire's numbers were and thus were skeptical. (And as far as I've seen, no one has sourced the numbers, which hurts credibility as well).
Go back and look at them now. That's the most glittering display of on-the-button polling I've seen in a long, long time. This was a diverse set of states with all kinds of late movement, and the tracking polls got the broad themes right but were hampered by undecideds and time-release numbers (the three day rolling poll, which smooths out trends but tends to lag behind reality). But you could have printed those numbers in the papers tomorrow, and been about 90% accurate.
Look at South Carolina. 44, 30, 10 turns out to be 45, 30, 10, with the trifecta finish.
Look at Missouri. 52, 23, 10 becomes 51, 25, 9, right order again.
Delaware: amazingly got Clark and Edwards right at 11, but missed the apparent mini-remorse of Dean voters. Kerry was a solid if not direct hit.
Arizona was predicted at 46, 24, 13, and it came out 43, 27, 14--overestimating Kerry and shrifting Clark just a tad. Order again exactly right.
Oklahoma was the least accurate of the five, but predict a three way tie and get a three way tie, and you gotta be happy. Another thousand Edwards votes and that prediction would have been nearly perfect.
One other note MSNBC gave over the air (I'll see what other exit polling gets published in the news bibles tomorrow), was that Kerry's overally favorability was stunningly high. In almost every one of the contests, 80% of voters said they'd be fine if Kerry was the nominee (I believe SC was the exception at a mere 70%). I would have like to have seen comparables for the other candidates, but that strikes me as rather unusual. Are the candidates all the same, or do 8 out of 10 voters share the same views on electability and the only difference is in how important that factor is to people's choices?
On to the results and the people, starting from the bottom:
I will be stunned if Dennis is not the lead story tomorrow. He had easily the best night of his political career, scoring not one but TWO 5th places finishes, including a rafter-raiser in New Mexico with five full percent of the caucus vote! Surely Joe Lieberman had to shake his head in wonderment: from 537 votes, to running behind Dennis Kucinich for President. Dennis did hit some rough patches; he was all but invisible in Delaware, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Missouri, where he ran just a couple hundred votes ahead of "Uncomitted," and almost four THOUSAND behind Dick Gephardt, who you may recall quit asking for votes already. Dennis will hang on in the primary race for a while longer I suspect, with a surprising amount of on hand cash and no freakin' idea what to do with it to buy a vote. See you for your 4% finish in Washington, D!
"Joe Fired" Lieberman
At least we can regain peace from bad Jo-jokes. If the state you are making your last stand in is not a state with which you have some sort of favored child aura, you have to know that if you tank, you die. Apparently he did not want to do his tanking in CT, which I can understand, so he flailed on the road where the painful speech was perhaps a little easier to make. Joe just had nothing to offer an electorate that was not about bridging the gap and working together. There was no blood, no red meat coming from Joe--like Kucinich, he was a political vegetarian. Plant-eating liberalism is not going to work in 2004. One side wants the other out; the other wants the first silenced forever.
The collected African-American voters of South Carolina did not let me down, refusing to let Al Sharpton's variously shared skin tone unduly influence their vote. I certainly could understand the impulsive joy in not voting for the middle aged white guy for the 200th time in your life. Hell, I'm white, and I'm getting tired of it myself. Al got about 18% of the black vote, which meant white guys got the other 72%. Al's convention time just got a lot shorter, but hopefully this means we can stop talking about which candidate best targets the black niche--and with the Southwest largely out of the way we no longer need to endure the ridiculous pandering to Hispanics that goes on there. Identity politics is one of the things that gets Democrats into trouble; let's hope the non-monolithic results from this evening force that concept from the agenda.
Dean Hard to have imagined a month ago that tonight I'd be putting him right after two irrelevancies and the political death of J-Lieb. But here he is, running on junk food and fresh advice, husbanding his resources for the all important Guam/Virgin Islands caucuses, when only 97% of the delegates will have yet been awarded. Dean thought he'd at least be able to cherry pick some delegates, likely from the Southwest. Well, that strategy worked if the number of cherries he was hoping for was seven. Dean finished 3rd in four of the seven contests, a fact that will probably find its way to my emailbox tomorrow when Roy writes us the internet postmortem, but he certainly got what he paid for this week. Potential embarassments in Washington and Michigan leave open the question of whether he will be able to limp into Wisconsin for a final stand. That is, if he isn't kicked out with prejudice (and then quietly thanked) after Michigan. How the mighty have fallen, indeed.
Poor Wes Clark was screwed from the get-go on this night. There is really only room for three stories on the primary news cycle--front runner/winner or front runner/loser, viable challenger, and guy-who-drops-out. Two of the three slots were already filled (not that you want to be Mr. Dropout), and if Clark could win decisively in a state where he had focused much of his energy and placed his primary HQ, he could at least share the third slot with Edwards, and maybe claim it for himself if Kerry won SC.
Alas, it was not to be. Not only did Kerry's close third take some of the steam out of any win Clark got, but Edwards got great buzz the last week of the campaign with much less effort than Clark. Once Edwards had SC, Clark had to put his candidacy far enough out in front in OK to make himself part of the overall story. Legitimately speaking, he is. He did well in the Southwest, challenging Kerry for the "Most veterans packed onto my campaign bus to lend me credibility" title. But he was not strong enough to claim a real share of "Kerry alternative," and sure enough, tonight's MSNBC front leads with Kerry, and sidebars the Edwards SC story, and J-Lieb's dropout. Clark is nowhere to be found. How long can he hang? He has to beat Edwards in Washington and Michigan, which is doable because Edwards does not have the money to really hit either, instead focusing on VA and TN. Clark doesn't have much of any organization though, so with Edwards being the 2nd story tonight, he will likely get a slight bounce, and then there's the death throes of Dean to deal with. Although he won a state, tonight was the spiritual exit of Wes Clark's campaign.
Tonight's performance was at once very impressive, and also a bit disheartening for Edwards fans. As someone else said tonight, if he can figure out a way to be from Washington AND Michigan this next week, he's really in business. Otherwise, he's trading on poll bounce and crossed fingers. I predicted that Edwards could force a two-man race with Kerry if he won two states, and he nearly did it, to the point that not calling OK a win for Edwards is a little silly. But I underestimated the sheer psychic power of Kerry's victories. Unless the money starts pouring in--and it will definitely continue increasing for a while--Edwards cannot run the retail campaign on a large scale like Kerry can. He's effectively conceded the next week's worth of primaries, and the inevitability train will only speed up if and when Dean and Clark both drop out, with Edwards not really participating. Edwards' last great hope is to hang on until March 3rd and try to make a big showing in California, hopefully earning a debate along the way (but I doubt Kerry will make that easy for him). But for Kerry's amazing good fortune in letting Gephardt and Dean stab each other in the eye, Edwards would be leading this race and thinking seriously instead of hopefully. The campaign is definitely alive, has its best momentum, and trades on a veritable font of charismatic campaigning. But it's big money time, where ad buys are your only way to meet most of the voters. That's a big challenge for the short-time Seneca, SC resident.
This was certainly a big, big night in John Kerry's political life. The nation and the world will assuredly begin the intense scrutiny that goes along with being a serious, highly likely contender for the presidency--a scrutiny that Kerry has so far been lucky to avoid for the most part. There are two things about tonight's performance that stick out to me. First is his 3rd place finish in Oklahoma, which will not get talked about much, but which I view as perhaps his biggest win of the night. Folks, John Kerry never had ONE staff guy working for him in Oklahoma. He bought one week's worth of ads, right after New Hampshire. I think he visited the state one time, over the weekend. In short, other than filing his candidacy, Kerry treated Oklahoma with the proper disdain of a Boston urbanite getting cowdung on his Blahniks. And he finished 3rd, in a near deadlock with two guys who worked an awful lot harder for their 30%.
I am also struck by how amazingly even Kerry's support is. Everyone else in the race has a niche or two where they dominate the polls, and at least one weak area where they come up short. Kerry does well with old people, young people, whites, minorities, men, women, right leaning Dems, left leaners, independents, Republicans for heaven's sake! But the one group that threatens to put Kerry over the top for the nomination is veterans. Veterans and veteran themes are beginning to dominate his campaign, and if you think that's the slightest bit coincidental, you're not paying attention. Poor one-limbed Max Cleeland is being dragged hither and yon to grasp John Kerry's arm with that one good limb, thrust it in the air James Thrash-like, and exorcise the demons that Saxby Chambliss laid upon him in the 2002 elections. And oh, help Kerry win. But Cleeland clearly loves it; you can almost see him repeating over and over in his mind, "paybacks are a bitch, paybacks are a bitch..." There's something larger to the presence of the veterans, however--something that goes beyond the normally craven use of demographic props in order to secure a voting bloc. If Kerry is smart he will carry the themes of veteran service not just to his campaign, but to his vision for the country.
The first broad resonance I'm beginning to feel from a Kerry vs Bush race is a major focus on courage, honor, patriotism and sacrifice. Again, it's no accident that Terry McAulliffe threw out the AWOL charge in order to help the media frame the debate. Various journos are treating the story like it's brand new, instead of one that was known in 2000 but barely glossed over. Why? Because Al Gore's service record wasn't any model of courage, so it wasn't a viable point of contention. With Kerry, the Democrats have realized it IS a point of contention, since instead of trying to get out of responsibility and shirking it once assumed, their guy signed up and killed people for us. But there's something more to the question of Vietnam service that makes it a special issue. As historical wounds go, Vietnam seems to be a ghost we cannot shake. We still have not come to terms with how badly, relatively speaking, we treated those who made the ultimate sacrifice for us. I've recently read articles that sought to quantify or at least make personal the stories of soldiers being spit upon, with surprisingly no luck--no media accounts of any such thing appear to exist. But that doesn't matter; as far as we're concerned we treated the men and women of Vietnam badly, and we feel guilty about what a lousy war we sent them to.
That picture is all the more starkly contrasted with the love fest for our current troops in Iraq, one that is certainly well deserved. For many of us who are too young to have personalized the casualties of Vietnam, those feelings of gratitude and pride are rather easily transferred from today's heroes to those we newly recognize as hero's fathers. And this is where Kerry comes in--he's BEEN THERE, man. You can see on the trail that he carries an aura with him, the same aura that lets you criticize the policy but "support the troops." Voting for Kerry is one more way to both support today's troops (presumably by not getting them entangled in choice wars), and more poignantly, validate yesterday's heroes that never got the support they deserved at the time. To elect John Kerry is to finally purge our guilty conscience, to elevate the forgotten soldier and trust that what he has seen, he is smart enough to avoid unless absolutely necessary. And returning to the crass, every veteran John Kerry signs up is one less veteran who would likely be otherwise predisposed to vote for Bush. Pulling veterans into the Democratic tent is a bold attack at George Bush's base, and once Clark drops out and the remaining veterans move to Kerry, it's an attack that just might work.
A parallel theme that Kerry would be wise to use is a framing of what Democrats consider patriotism vs the GOP's brand. Salon's Ruy Teixeira [click on ad to get one day free access] outlines what a stinker of a theme classic populism will be for Kerry if he persists with it. For one thing, he's already shown how hard it is to be against special interests while taking so much money from them. (I noticed tonight he had changed the word "special" to the word "big," which may be helpful but only dresses the issue a little differently.) Populism is zero-sum politics, and anytime you begin sounding like you're begrudging the haves what they have, you start losing people. There are other ways of dichotomizing the two approaches, in ways that don't sound like code for taking your money and giving it to other people.
As Teixeira notes, as soon as John Edwards is done with it, Kerry needs to snap up the "two Americas" concept and apply it further to the notion of what is considered patriotism. It's actually a very easy game to play: "It's not patriotism to make big profits off your country, but give your jobs and move your HQ to other nations. It's not patriotism to charge an arm and a leg for prescription drugs--unless you're Canadian. It's not patriotism to move the tax burden away from created wealth, and onto the backs of those who put in a full week's work--if they can find a job. It's not patriotism to tell your kids you won't leave them behind--and then make them pay for the ride. It's not patriotism to send our servicepeople to die by themselves and make us pay for it, when there could have been another way. And it's certainly not patriotism to tell me I'm a traitor for not liking your brand of patriotism!" And on and on. The key redeeming feature of this approach is that nowhere does it sound like you want to take things away from one group and give it to another. It's a populist appeal all right--but even when it tackles economic issues, it sounds like political populism.
I'm going to see if I can develop these twin themes of Vietnam-veteran validation and populist patriotism. I think that while economic issues may carry the day intellectually, on an emotional level war and remembrance will be a heavy deciding factor.