An improbable outcome is at hand...or is it? The latest tracking polls show that formerly dead-in-water John Kerry might actually win Iowa, which may change the dynamic of this race. It seems likely that Dean's more energetic supporters will come out and defeat Gephardt and Kerry in Iowa, but who knows? Regardless of what happens in Iowa, I still think it'll come down to a Dean/Clark race and so will have something more extensive to say about them individually. (I keep swinging back and forth on Dean, and so the anti-Dean draft I had written two weeks ago is functionally worthless...)
As Iowa approaches and pretenders drop by the wayside, a breakdown of the non-Clark/Dean Dems (excluding no-hopers Al Sharpton, Carol Mosely-Braun, and Dennis Kucinich), many of whom will then fade into Paul Tsongasland:
Strengths: Most detailed and thought-out domestic policies; ties policies and biography ("son of a mill worker") seamlessly into the most compelling Big Theme ("Value Work, Not Wealth") of any of the candidates; the most natural politician of the group, engaging and charming; Clintonesque; woulda cleaned Bush's clock in 2000.
Weaknesses: This is not 2000; does not project strength on foreign policy; too youthful-looking and pretty, aka "Breck Girl" -- 'nuff said.
Past Dem candidate he most resembles: Al Gore, 1984, Bill Clinton 1992
Fantasy scenario: Finishes over 16% in Iowa, generating buzz and momentum, does respectably in NH, wins South Carolina, and becomes the press and pundit's choice to be the Anti-Dean, riding money and momentum to a long, hard-fought nomination win, possibly at the Convention.
Likely scenario: Does well in Iowa, but finishes second to Clark in SC, effectively ending his candidacy; becomes popular media choice as VP choice for Clark or Dean.
More electable than Howard Dean?: Yes.
In a nutshell: Great candidate, wrong year.
Strengths: War hero; stature on nat'l security issues; experienced; tall, commanding presence; strong command of the issues.
Weaknesses: His initials are "JFK"; speaks like a pompous debate club nerd doing mock Lincoln-Douglas; looks (a) "too French"; (b) like a talking cadaver; (c) like a squished grape; about as "everyman" as Chris Eigeman; stock "condescending, blow-dried, Ivy League, Yankee" liberal out of casting call -- at least he's not "effete".
Past Dem candidate he most resembles: Joe Biden, 1988; Bob Kerrey, 1992
Fantasy scenario: Wins Iowa, becomes "comeback kid" and finishes a strong second in NH, knocking out Clark; convinces rich wife to front him some dough and rides "anti-Dean" sentiment to a win, possibly at the Convention.
Likely scenario: Less committed supporters mean a close 3rd in Iowa, with Edwards and a wounded Dean becoming the story; does not close the gap on Clark in NH and drops out after Feb. 3.
More electable than Howard Dean?: No.
In a nutshell: schizophrenic campaign (JFK highminded rhetoric w/ Everyman pandering and anti-Dean lowblows) lost me.
Strengths: Strong labor support; established Democrat; triangulated on Iraq War; gaffe-free.
Weaknesses: See line below + creepy eyebrows.
Past Dem candidate he most resembles: Walter Mondale, 1984
Fantasy scenario: Finishes 1st in Iowa, becomes anti-Dean after defeating him in Michigan; wins the key industrial states in March and becomes nominee at a brokered Convention.
Likely scenario: Finishes 2nd or 3rd in Iowa and drops out after Feb 3 when he runs out of cash.
More electable than Howard Dean?: No.
In a nutshell: Has "respectable loser" written all over him. Dislike his paleoliberal inclinations and labor pandering ("global minimum wage" -- wtf?) -- I'd rather lose with Dean or Edwards.
Strengths: Most moderate Dem; high name recognition; neutralizes Bush by taking him on from the right on foreign policy; TNR endorsement.
Weaknesses: wimpy, schoolmarmish Uncle vibe belies tough man rhetoric; no presidential presence; hated by the Dem activist base; TNR endorsement.
Past Dem candidate he most resembles: Earnest Hollings, 1984
Fantasy scenario: Dean, Clark, Edwards, Gephardt, Kerry all perish after terrorists attack a Dem debate in SC; Lieberman, who missed the debate due to a fundraiser with an anti-Hollywood values group, becomes nominee by default.
Likely scenario: No traction anywhere, Lieberman, tired of getting booed, drops out after Feb. 2.
More electable than Howard Dean?: a resounding No.
In a nutshell: Shut up you scolding bitch.