Wednesday, 12 November 2003

Lawrence gets results from OTB, VodkaPundit

I don’t have a hokey website like perennial SN foil Larry Sabato, but I do make slightly better predictions than James Joyner and Stephen Green. Quoth James:

I always thought that the race was going to come down to electable candidates because of the dampening effects of the early Southern primaries. I figured Dean could do well in the “retail” contests in Iowa and New Hampshire—although perhaps losing both of them to favorite sons Gephardt and Kerry—by energizing the base. But I thought, and indeed continue to think, that he’s not going to be very appealing in South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states.

... With so many of the primaries stacked at the beginning of the year, fundraising is even more crucial than ever. Right now, the only candidates I can see able to sustain a serious race against Dean are Gephardt—who pretty much HAS to win Iowa or he moves up three shades on the Toast-O-Meter—and Wes Clark, who has a pretty good team thanks to the Clinton Machine. But I don’t know who Clark’s base is at this point and Lieberman’s presumed base, organized labor, seems to be split between him and Dean. So the key is to survive the early primaries and hope there’s an “anybody but Howard Dean” movement. [emphasis mine]

Fundraising, organization, and exciting the base are going to hand this nomination to Howard Dean, and I’ve been saying that to anyone who’d listen to my drunken political ramblings in bars and on rooftops since mid-July. The key to both Iowa and New Hampshire is getting the base on board the campaign, and that’s something that Dean has mastered.

The problem for the anti-Dean forces isn’t that Iowa and New Hampshire will lock the nomination up; instead, the problem is that the post-New Hampshire winnowing process doesn’t effectively winnow candidates—it’s far too time-compressed. Anyone who has enough money in the bank now to last until Iowa can survive until mid-March, on the basis of the money they’re going to get from today until Iowa alone. Fundraising simply won’t dry up fast enough to stop candidates who lose in South Carolina from persisting through Super Tuesday and beyond.

The other problem for the serious anti-Dean candidates is that the weighted PR system adopted by the party for this round—you qualify for delegates if you get 15% of the vote in any congressional district—benefits candidates who can draw clear distinctions between themselves and the other candidates. There’s no clear substitute for Dean in the field. On the other hand, Kerry is essentially interchangeable with half-a-dozen other white guys in suits in the field; the “I like an establishment Democrat” voter has no clear favorite, so they’ll just spread their votes around four or five different ways. The other likely beneficiary from the allocation rules is Al Sharpton, who will get a lot of his delegates from states that are unwinnable by the Democrats in the general election—particularly since the delegates aren’t allocated equally by congressional district, instead extra delegates are allocated to congressional districts that vote for Democratic presidential candidates.

Unless most of the “establishment Democrats” like Clark, Kerry, Gephardt, and Edwards can come to an agreement—and soon—that essentially has everyone except one of them drop out to maximize the “anybody but Howard Dean” vote, I don’t see any way for anyone but Dean to capture an overwhelming majority of the elected delegates. And even if Dean fails to capture an outright majority (including the superdelegates), I find it exceptionally unlikely that the Democrats would be able to get away with brokering the convention to nominate either a “white knight” candidate or a candidate who lost head-to-head with Dean in the primary process—frankly, I think the Dean base would abandon the party if it came to that. So, for now, it’s essentially Dean’s nomination to lose.

And Matthew Stinson points out the second half of the Dean Catch-22: his complete and utter unelectability.

Incidentally, this site has a wealth of information on the primary process for both parties.