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Sunday, September 7, 2003

Dean and the Democrats.

I went to John Kerry's Boston rally last Wednesday to soak up the political vibes and see what kind of life my senator has in his campaign. He seemed a lot more lively than William Saletan says he was in South Carolina — ouch! — but I got the feeling that the audience was animated not by any strong feeling for John Kerry, but by simple passion for a new president in 2004. Many clearly disliked the Bush administration — the loudest cheer of the evening came in response to Kerry's promise that "when I am president, the attorney general won't be named John Ashcroft" — but even among Kerry's longtime supporters here in Boston, it seemed that most of us were really shopping for a winner — any winner.

(The experience confirmed something Andrew Pulrang observed: "What Howard Dean and any other Democrat who wants to win needs to do, I think, is challenge the Left ... "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" ... to move beyond hatred, beyond the (frankly) snobbish cultural animus we have for Bush. Attacking him as an idiot will only rally the people who like him. Maybe we should ignore him and focus on his administration. Just never refer to him. He's irrelevant.")

So is Howard Dean going to ride the insurgent wave into the White House? I doubt it, not because I don't like him or wouldn't vote for him, but because I think his most energized supporters may not live where they'll be needed most. It just doesn't matter how many hyped-up college kids there are in Massachusetts. My state will give its electoral votes to the Democrat, whether it's Lieberman or Dean or Edwards, just as my former home state — Utah — is so reliably Republican that candidates don't even visit.

I appreciated Richard Eurich's letter to the editor in the Boston Globe on Friday:

Joan Vennochi's column "Passion works for Democrats" (op ed, Sept. 4) suggests that presidential elections are won by candidates who mobilize their base rather than by those who tack to the center to pursue swing voters. Vennochi envisions a passionate candidate who will catalyze the Democratic base with emotion and energy. However, the president is elected by the Electoral College, not by popular vote, which means that base appeal is somewhat beside the point. The reality is that there are about 35 states that are either solidly Democratic or solidly Republican. The election is won or lost in the remaining 15 states, which include such electoral heavy-hitters as Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, and Florida. These states are up for grabs because they have large populations of swing voters. Swing voters control swing states, and swing states control elections. The Republicans understood this in 2000, when they slipped one past the popular radar by marketing Bush as a compassionate conservative. Bill Clinton, the only Democrat to win reelection in the past 50 years, also took this lesson to heart.

If the Democrats intend to win in 2004, they must deal in political realities rather than emotional catalysts.

I'm reminded of the Libertarians who decided they had had it being such a tiny minority in so many places — and started planning a mass migration to a state that they could actually hope to influence. Maybe that's what the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" should start doing: move devoted cadres from Democratic strongholds to the states where a Democrat needs just a few more votes.

Meanwhile, I'm holding out to hear from Wesley Clark.

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 7 September 2003 at 4:11 PM

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Next: Beam in the eye.

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