Friday, January 09, 2004

Harkin Endorses Dean In Iowa

Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, who The New York Times calls "the most politically influential Democratic lawmaker in Iowa," has decided to come out and publicly endorse Howard Dean's candidacy for the Democratic nomination. There had been much speculation that Harkin would endorse Dean, but because of Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack's refusal to endorse any one candidate, many Iowa-watchers suspected that Harkin might do the same.

Harkin's endorsement could not have come at a better time for Dean. Tapes were recently dug up by NBC News of Dean dismissing the Iowa caucuses in 2000, saying that "they are dominated by special interests" which "don't represent the centrist tendencies of the American people," but rather "tend to represent the extremes." Dick Gephardt charged that the comments "would lead one to believe that [Dean] is cynically participating in these caucuses."

In response to the tapes, Senator Harkin commented that he was not bothered by the comments. For his part, Dean was quick with an apologetic explanation, saying, "Four years ago, I didn't really understand the Iowa caucuses... I wouldn't be where I am without the Iowa caucuses."

Update: The Harkin endorsement is a huge blow to John Kerry, who announced yesterday that he would "receive the endorsement of a prominent state leader" today in Iowa. Well, the announcement came and went, and so far, no media has actually covered it. The Kerry endorsement came from Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who the Kerry campaign called "the only statewide elected official to back a candidate." Of course, that was true for a few hours before Harkin officially endorsed Dean.

Even more embarrassing to Kerry, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch a few days ago reported that Tom Miller "said he believes now that Dean will win by virtue of his support in rural precincts around Iowa."

posted by Scott | 1/09/2004 | |

A DemWatch Endorsement

To endorse or not to endorse. That has been the question. Actually, there have been many questions tied to this one. Is DemWatch a news site or an opinion site? Will my endorsement even matter? Does it matter if it matters? Will I alienate my readers who support other candidates? Does it matter if I do? Has my writing already been biased by my preference? Is it fair to write what may be biased 'news' pieces without making my actual preferences known?

It has been quite a difficult decision, but I've ultimately come to the conclusion that if I believe that one candidate would make a better President than another, I really ought to say so.

Of the nine candidates running for the Democratic nomination, I believe that Wesley Clark would make the best President of the United States of America.

I am not, however, a strict Clark partisan. As some of my readers know, for a time, I contributed to the original Dean Nation weblog.  My opinion of Howard Dean has not changed so much since that time.  I believe that some of the criticism of Dean is absurd to the point of being damaging not just to Dean and his supporters, but also to the Democratic Party.  To claim--within the party, even!--that a moderate liberal like Dean is not electable is a virtual selling out of all of the things that make the Democratic Party the force for progressivism that it is.  What's worse, I do not believe that many of the people who say Dean is unelectable even believe it.  At best, it's a sloppy scorched earth policy that is not very becoming of a major political party.

So why Clark and not Dean?  For one, I think Clark is a much more well-rounded candidate.  Both of them have the advantage over the rest of the crop of candidates that they've already been chief executives of sorts, Clark as SACEUR of NATO and Dean as Governor of Vermont.  Different positions, indeed, but both good preparation for the Presidency.  And better preparation than serving as Representative or a Senator, where one's constituency and, more importantly, responsibilities are much more limited.

There is another considerable reason Dean's star faded in my eyes.  This is undoubtedly going to anger some of you.  Howard Dean reminds me of George W. Bush.  Each man has an incredible confidence in himself which breeds a stubbornness that borders on the obstinate.  It's quite a contrast to the 1988 race, when neither Bush, Sr. nor Michael Dukakis really seemed to have any conviction in the rightness of their ideas.  Both Bush and Dean seem quick to anger, but neither has really been caught flying off the handle.  This is another contrast to the '88 race, in which the two wet noodle candidates gave the contest all the excitement of a game of shuffleboard.

It is for this reason that I believe Howard Dean to be electable. The nation is ideologically split. The 2004 race for the White House is not going to come down to policy, but rather to mobilization of supporters. Bush's attitude and confidence energized the GOP. Dean, with similar attributes, can do the same for the Democrats. Some would argue that he's already done it.

Attitude, however, is not the only thing that energizes voters. For one thing, I think there's a difference between anger and frustration. And frustration, I believe, is what a majority of Americans feel towards the current Republican leadership. Howard Dean is angry. I don't blame him or think he's wrong for being angry. But when I hear Wesley Clark raise his voice in debates and interviews and campaign appearances, I hear someone who is frustrated. I hear someone who's just had it with the blundering leadership in the White House. This frustration which Clark so effectively vocalizes has a greater chance of attracting voters from all ends of the political spectrum in November than Dean's anger or Bush's cockiness.

What candidates like Kerry, Gephardt, Lieberman, and Edwards bring to the table is the classic pitch, "He's doing it wrong and I can do it better." But politics is as much about personality as it is policies. Each man offers criticisms and proposals and believe that this makes his case. It does and it doesn't. First, you've got to get the people listening--that's where the personality comes in. Then, once you've got their ears, you put forth your ideas. None of these candidates really managed to do this effectively. John Kerry had the ear of the people in 1971. In many senses, it seems that he thinks he never lost the people's attention. He did.

Dick Gephardt's situation is a similar one. As a strong Presidential candidate in 1988 and House Majority Leader from 1989 to 1995, Gephardt does command considerable respect. He came into the race heavily favored by labor unions, which guaranteed a built-in audience. But he never really took off from there. He was the first candidate to put forth an intricate universal health care proposal, but many moderates saw the proposal as too radical and his support of the Iraq war alienated liberals.

Joe Lieberman had the ear of the people as the Vice Presidential candidate in 2000. While he received a lot of attention early in his candidacy based on name recognition, it was his ideas that Democrats rejected. Al Gore and Ralph Nader both ran as progressive populists in 2000 and their vote tallies, taken together, represented a landslide for progressive ideology. Lieberman's argument that what the Democrats need in 2004 is a rejection of liberalism is patently ridiculous. His failure to perform despite his clear advantage is proof of that.

John Edwards seemed to suffer most from "if you build it, they will come" syndrome. On paper, Edwards looks perfect. He is a young, attractive, energetic Southern Democrat with humble roots and a proven history of fighting for the underprivileged and oppressed. Everyone from Ralph Nader to Bill Clinton had sung Edwards' praises. But that was never enough. By and large, he just never energized a large enough pool of supporters. In other words, he built it, but they didn't come.

Wesley Clark offers a welcome variation on the themes of the other campaigns. He did not come to the campaign out of blind ambition. He came to resent the way the Bush administration had treated Americans. Bush promised a humble foreign policy, but delivered belligerence. Bush promised compassionate conservatism, and instead looted the federal treasury like a true practitioner of crony capitalism--gutting environmental protections, educational programs, and running up a deficit that even the International Monetary Fund now says threatens the world economy--all in the name of tax cuts that disproportionately favor the super-rich. Wesley Clark is running for President not only because he's frustrated, but because others are frustrated as well.

This was shown quite powerfully by the Draft Clark movement that brought him into the race. Some argued that the draft was a publicity stunt, a ploy by Washington insiders to sneak Clark into the race. Others claim that Clark is really just a Clinton puppet, thrown into the race to espouse Clinton's Third Way views. Even if there is some truth to be found within these charges, the fact remains that among the signatories of the Draft Clark petitions, many were Americans who simply believed that Wesley Clark would make a good candidate for President.

Once Clark was drafted, there was an odd period--during which Clark lost a lot of ground in national polls--when exactly what Clark stood for was not perfectly clear. What we knew was limited, but telling. Clark opposed the handling of the Iraq war as well as the controversial USA PATRIOT Act. He had filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of the University of Michigan's admissions policy which many, including the White House, claimed was an illegal quota system and not a legitimate affirmative action program. We also knew that he was a major agitator in the American military establishment to halt genocide in the former Yugoslavia during the last decade. While Clark was not registered as a Democrat, he declared on HBO's 'Real Time with Bill Maher' that he was proud to be a liberal. And that was about it.

Despite the initial stumblings, Clark was quick to formulate and release a number of policy proposals based on a platform he called 'New American Patriotism.' Some of his more cynical critics charged that the phrase was trite and lacked real meaning. To me, the same might be said of 'The New Deal,' 'The New Frontier,' or 'The Great Society.' All are rallying cries, meant to bring together Americans with the idealistic goal of fundamentally transforming our society for the better. Clark's proposals have included universal preschool, the strengthening of environmental laws, deficit reduction, taking steps towards universal health care, and most recently, simplification of the tax code accompanied by tax cuts for working families and small hikes for the wealthy. None of the proposals are very radical, but that's exactly why they should succeed--they are not pie in the sky. To the average voter, all of the Democratic candidates' policy proposals are going to sound the same. So then it's a matter of who can make the case for progressive governance to the American people most effectively. I believe that it's Wesley Clark.

Wesley Clark has proven his abilities as a leader. On top of his proven strengths in foreign and defense policy, he has put forth some truly innovative progressive policy proposals. In making the case for his candidacy, Clark has exhibited a good balance of forward-looking optimism and righteous frustration with the status quo. When all of the factors are considered, Clark would not only make a strong challenger to take on George W. Bush in November, but he would also make a fine national leader during a time of great uncertainty that teeters on the brink of crisis.

* * * * *

Having made my preference known, I will keep DemWatch as fair and non-biased as it has been. Many of you have written to me in the past, asking who I support. I've made a rule of being honest, but first asking who you thought had my backing. I'm proud to say that the guesses have included every candidate in the race. That tells me I've done a pretty good job in keeping my preferences and my reportage safely sequestered.

No matter who I prefer to win the nomination, I plan on working very hard to make sure that the Democratic nominee--Dean or Clark or Lieberman or Sharpton--is elected President this coming November. With things getting kind of bitter out there, I urge you to do the same.

Scott D. Shields

posted by Scott | 1/09/2004 | |

'Major' Iowa Endorsement For Kerry Coming Friday

The campaign of John Kerry has announced that "a prominent state leader" will be endorsing the candidate in Davenport, IA today at 1 p.m. No one knows exactly who it is, though Taegan Goddard at Political Wire says his readers are guessing Tom Harkin and "a prominent journalist" is guessing House member Leonard Boswell.

I can't really comment with any certainty on who will be endorsing Kerry today, but here's what I do know. Davenport, Iowa is not actually represented in Congress by Leonard Boswell. That may not be too important, but it's something to keep in mind. More important may be the fact that Kerry rival Howard Dean has given considerable assistance to the Boswell campaign, using his campaign's internet fundraising machine to pull in over $50,000 for Boswell in one day last month.

The speculation that it will be Tom Harkin endorsing Kerry seems even more off the mark. Just yesterday, the Des Moines Register reported that Harkin was at one point leaning towards Dean, but stopped short of making an endorsement. He remarked on CNN, "I've been called by a lot of people, as you can imagine." That's got to be the understatement of this campaign season.

And The New York Times, also reporting Thursday on the power of a Harkin endorsement, reminded us that the Kerry endorsement will not be coming from the state's Democratic Governor, Tom Vilsack. The Governor has pledged to stay neutral during the caucuses.

posted by Scott | 1/09/2004 | |

New Iowa Poll Results Released

A new Research 2000 poll out of Iowa puts Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt in a virtual tie for the lead with 29% and 25% support, respectively. The margin of error is 5%, but I don't think anyone doubts that Dean is certainly the candidate with the most steam going into the caucuses.

John Kerry actually turned in a surprisingly strong showing in third place with 18%. No other candidate broke double digits. John Edwards was fourth at 8%. Dennis Kucinich has 2%, which ties him with Joe Lieberman and puts him behind Wesley Clark, who has 3%. That can't be reassuring for Kucinich, as neither Lieberman nor Clark are actively participating in the Iowa contest.

These numbers come as their has been increasing chatter from Clark supporters about mounting as last ditch effort to give Clark a decent showing at the caucuses. You've got to give his Iowa backers credit for sticking with their candidate after he essentially blew off their state, but this sort of a hill charge doesn't seem like it's going to have much impact. However, if Edwards is seen as a lost cause in Iowa, Clark may be able to place fourth. Not bad for a state he hasn't even been campaigning in. Should this happen, he will certainly steal some of the winner's media thunder. It will probably be a little late to help his performance in New Hampshire, but it may give him a boost on February 3 and beyond.

posted by Scott | 1/09/2004 | |

The New Republic Endorses Lieberman

I've refrained from posting on this basically because I was speechless. I had no idea how to respond to this news. The endorsement reads as if it had been written by Zell Miller or any number of Republican strategists ever so kindly offering their assistance to the Democrats.

Long story short, it seems like less an endorsement of Lieberman and more like a scathing review of the Democratic Party, complete with shots at "liberals," "teachers unions," "party activists," and "entrenched party interest groups."

My problem here is not so much with Lieberman, but with The New Republic. Lieberman is a moderate Democrat, just liberal enough to be described as such. He's an unapologetic hawk and a serious defender of families from poisonous GOP economic policies as well as what he sees as poisonous Hollywood immorality. That's who he is.

But for TNR to say that "the principles [Lieberman] has espoused will once again guide the Democratic Party" is nonsense! When did those views guide the Democratic Party? They write of 2000 that "the nomination of Al Gore and Joe Lieberman had seemed to secure the New Democratic legacy." However, it was Gore's rejection of that legacy at the Democratic convention in favor of a fiery, more traditional Democratic populism that won him more popular votes than any other candidate in history outside of Ronald Reagan's reelection landslide in 1984.

So TNR's endorsement doesn't seem to base its reasoning on who's best suited to win in 2004. Nor does it seem to take into account who the voting base of the Democratic Party actually wants to choose as their nominee. The endorsement seems to be based on which candidate is most willing to burn down the House of the Democrats. And not only does that strike me as weird, it also strikes me as a more than a little scary.

PS - It should be noted that other editors make dissenting endorsements. Michelle Cottle is for Edwards, Michael Crowley supports Gephardt, J. Peter Scoblic backs Clark, and Jonathan Cohn is brave enough to write on behalf of Dean.

posted by Scott | 1/09/2004 | |

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Polls, Proposals, Endorsements, Etcetera


A new Gallup poll now has Howard Dean and Wesley Clark essentially tied (factoring in the poll's margin of error) for the national lead among Democrats. The poll shows major movement for both candidates. Last month, Dean's lead over Clark peaked at 21% (31% to 10%). Just a few days later, Dean's lead was cut down to 15% (27% to 12%). The most recent poll results of 24% for Dean and 20% for Clark put the two candidates at the top of the pile and, most importantly, mean that no other candidate is likely to win the Democratic nomination for President. Aside from Dean and Clark, only John Kerry and Joe Lieberman are showing numbers in the double digits.

And according to American Research Group's tracking poll, Clark's successes can be translated to at least one of the early primary states. In New Hampshire, Dean's lead is ever so slightly slipping from 39% (1/2-1/4) to 36% (1/4-1/6) and Kerry's sorely-needed second place spot also seems not to be so safe as he has dropped from 14% to 13%. Meanwhile, Clark's performance has improved dramatically, from 12% to 16%, giving him a solid shot at finishing in second place. This would essentially knock Kerry out of the race as his campaign does not have the kind of February 3 strategy that Clark, Lieberman, Edwards, and now Gephardt seem to be relying on. Essentially, Kerry seems to be oddly giving up on New Hampshire by focusing so much of his effort on Iowa.

Say what you will about the polls and momentum and strategy and fundraising. It's now all about votes. I expect us to have some sort of idea where the race is heading after the voting is over on February 3.


The biggest problem people seem to have these days with Howard Dean is that he wants to raise taxes on the middle class. Or at least that's what everyone who does not support Howard Dean is saying he wants to do. Is it true? Eh... kinda. Dean's claim is that there was no real tax cut because the cuts in the federal income tax were cancelled out by the increased tax burden at the state and local level to fill the gaps in funding. Therefore, the cuts he's getting rid of aren't real cuts. But if federal funding of states and municipalities doesn't go up the instant federal tax rates are increased to their pre-Bush levels, he is technically raising taxes. Rather than arguing that his hikes aren't really hikes and that Bush's cuts aren't really cuts, he probably ought to debate the logic behind Bush's cuts in the first place. But I digress...

Rather than just sniping at Dean and modifying Bush's tax cuts as the other candidates have chosen to, Wes Clark is talking about a total overhaul of the federal tax code. The proposal, which you can read about in-depth at Clark's website, would (by independent estimates) mean that 3.2 million Americans would no longer have to pay federal taxes, 31 million families would see a tax cut, one tax credit would replace a number of varied systems already in place, and those earning more than $1 million a year would have to pay a 5% surcharge. It could be a winner in terms of taking away the GOP advantage on tax issues.


As if you haven't heard by now, former New York Knick, New Jersey Senator, and Democratic candidate for President Bill Bradley has endorsed the candidacy of Howard Dean. This is not nearly as surprising as the Gore endorsement, as many of Dean's staffers are former Bradley supporters. However, it definitely sends a message to both primary voters and the general electorate that both of the 2000 candidates for the Democratic nomination have endorsed the same man. The Gore/Bradley race was quite bitter and, early on, exposed a sharp divide between the DLC wing of the party which backed Gore and the party's more educated, liberal wing which backed Bradley. (Paul Wellstone, whose championing of "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" Dean has emulated, endorsed Bradley in the 2000 race.)

The closest thing to a Clinton-endorsement Wes Clark is likely to get came down this week from the Buffalo Soldiers, a group of black veterans who have been working as political organizers for Clinton-backed causes and candidates since 1982. Member Michael McCray commented to the SC paper The State, "We're just glad President Clinton asked us to work for the right guy." A number of clarifications were issued on the comment, but it seems what many of us has suspected is true. Clark is Clinton's man in 2004.


Hmmm... I didn't really give this much thought when I penned that headline. Well, we've apparently lost the Texas redistricting battle. That sucks.

Oh yeah, and God apparently uses the word "blowout" when he's talking politics. At least that's the word from Pat Robertson. On his "700 Club" television show last Friday, Robertson's recounting of one of his conversations with God have revealed that He is quite the pundit. "I'm hearing from the Lord it's going to be like a blowout election in 2004. It's shaping up that way." Interesting. I wonder if the oddsmakers in Vegas have revised their numbers accordingly.

posted by Scott | 1/07/2004 | |
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