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Monday, July 21, 2003

The Dean Effect

Ryan Lizza writes in the latest New Republic on the possible implicationsof Howard Dean's emergence for the other candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for president. The Kerry campaign argues unconvincingly that Dean's strength helps them by defining the race, and Lizza, quoting several times from campaign manager Jim Jordan, makes the interesting comparison of Kerry's strategy to that of George Bush in 2000 fending off John McCain. The point in dispute:

"This leads to the final part of Kerry's strategy: containing Dean as the candidate of the liberal fringe. Jordan argues, 'The data that's emerging shows very, very clearly that our largest structural advantage is that Senator Kerry is drawing support across the ideological and economic spectrum that's unlike every other candidate. Dean is drawing his support almost entirely from the left wing of the party. [Dick] Gephardt is drawing his support almost entirely from downscale and blue-collar voters.' If this is true--and a pair of recent Zogby polls of New Hampshire and Iowa voters supports the thesis--it's significant, because the current conventional wisdom is that Dean and Kerry are fighting over the same small group of elite, liberal voters with neither of them expanding outside that base. 'That's empirically not true,' Jordan insists.

"The assumption that it is true is driving the strategies of all the other campaigns, however. None of the other candidates seem frightened by Kerry's and Dean's top-tier statuses as long as both men are fighting to win over the left-liberal wing of the party. 'They are vying over the same votes,' says an aide to a rival campaign. 'We're going to send them two left-handed boxing gloves.' 'Dean and Kerry appeal to the same demographics,' says a top Gephardt adviser, 'white, well-educated, eastern, liberal voters--NPR listeners, Volvo drivers.'"

Why are the non-Kerry folks right on this? First of all Jordan's reliance on poll data at this stage is questionable. Polls in general are not so illuminating at this stage, much less polls with extensive breakdowns by demographic groups. In the end, when people start really paying attention to the race, the support from groups may well fit a pattern that is plausible though just not evident in the data quite yet, such as the thesis put forth by Gephardt's aide.

Second, geography strongly suggests a Kerry-Dean showdown in New Hampshire, a state bordering the home states of each candidate. A loss in your own back yard looks very bad, and I think the loser in New Hampshire will suffer a crippling blow in terms of people simply no longer believing he can win the nomination.

TNR has another article this week arguing that Dean is bad for the Democratic party, and it is only available to subscribers.