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Clark and Lieberman Are Out of Iowa. What's Everyone Else's Excuse??

So Clark and Lieberman have decided not to contest the Iowa caucuses. Good for them.2 Top Democrats Will Not Contest Iowa's Caucuses
This is not a risky move, nor should they have to apologize for it. The Iowa caucuses are a mugs' game. They are about organized constituencies -- labor, agriculture to some extent, organized liberals and very active Democrats, and not the kind of voters that a candidate has to reach in November. No one in Iowa can spontaneously decide they like a candidate and go vote for him. It requires giving up an evening, at least -- something regular people don't do. A candidate who doesn't have an organized base in one of the groups that can deliver people to the caucuses, particularly labor, will have little to gain from Iowa in exchange for a lot of work in a cold place. Iowa is still living on the legend that it created Jimmy Carter, the last Democrat who won the Iowa caucuses and went on to win the presidency. But Carter made the caucuses -- it was only the second time they'd been run -- and used them to take the field by surprise. That's not possible anymore, as presumably Carter's old Iowa mastermind, Tim Kraft, will find as he works the state for Dean.
So it's about time Clark and Lieberman got out. Now how about Edwards and even Kerry? What do they have to gain in Iowa? Nothing. Leave it to Dean and Gephardt to fight over a minor prize. And for that matter, it's a trap even for Gephardt (who I think will win). He's got everything to lose; if Dean beats him solidly in Iowa, he's all but finished. But if he wins, he's still just another in the top four, which is what he is right now. And Dean? If he wins, he remains a formidable front-runner, which is what he is now, and if he loses, there's just a little more at stake in New Hampshire.
The Times editorial criticizes both Iowa and New Hampshire, but that's a little unfair. New Hampshire is a real primary, in which all kinds of people, not just those organized through interest groups, can and do vote. And Republicans and independents can vote in the Democratic primary, which is a big deal and an interesting test of a candidate's ability to reach beyond core Democrats. (And the group that I'm watching to see if they get interested in Clark.) True, it's not a diverse state and true its Democrats lean left, but it's still great to give candidates their first test in a state that's small enough that a candidate can really meet a lot of voters and be seen at a lot of events. Democrats could start the process in a state like Missouri or Illinois or New Jersey, but then we'd just have a television campaign from day one.

Now, back to Lieberman and Clark: The one who had a tough call to make here was Lieberman. Not that Iowa was going to be "Lieberman country," but if not there, where? He won't stand out in New Hampshire, almost certainly coming in behind the other two New Englanders and quite likely Clark and Gephardt as well. Like everyone else, he's looking at South Carolina, which is certainly going to be the first primary that will really shake out the field, but that seems to be based on a mistaken idea that there is such a thing as a "DLC voter." There really isn't -- not in a Democratic primary. The South Carolina primary will be at least 50% African-American voters. Of the rest, most will be those random liberals one finds anywhere, around Columbia or Charleston. Not that "NASCAR Dads" aren't important -- they are in the general election, not in the primaries.
I like Lieberman. He was my state senator when I was a little kid, and I worked with him and his staff a lot when I worked on the Hill. They were great to work with for two reasons: they were never nasty about getting credit, and they were always serious and dedicated. He's a truly decent person with a record in the Senate that belies his self-styled image as the conservative in the race. For example, his voting record from the League of Conservation Voters was 82% last year, 100% the year before, better than Dodd's, and he's done more on the environment than any of the others. I think he's also done more on campaign finance reform than anyone except McCain, Feingold, and Senator Levin. Unlike several other Senators, he hasn't split with the party to back Bush on anything that I can think of. So why do so many people I know glibly declare that they'll vote for any Democrat against Bush "except Lieberman"? Or, another way to put the question is, why has he chosen to portray himself in presidential politics in a way that sacrifices much of the advantage of what he's accomplished over the years?
It's too bad. I think if he campaigned on his record, he'd reach a lot of people who are now attracted to Kerry or Gephardt or Edwards. But presidential politics is a matter of finding a niche, and he's chosen a niche that is, unfortunately, a bit of a trap. He'll still be a good Senator for a long time.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on October 21, 2003 | Permalink


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I think Joe has gotten a bum rap generally, too. (MeteorBlades on Kos has an exhaustive voting records comparison -- and if he included people like Breaux, Landrieu or others, it would have been even more dramatic.)

But I can never forgive Joe for running for Sen. at the same time as VP. First, had Gore "won," Joe's decision would have turned the Senate Republican. Second, it deprvived CT of an excellent Sen. in Blumenthal. Third, it even might have cost Gore some votes, even perhaps 500 in Fla.

It really was the height of arrogance -- why was Joe personally being Senator so much more important than control of the Senate?

Posted by: Claudius | Oct 22, 2003 9:41:54 AM


An interesting POV on Clark and Lieberman leaving Iowa. They hardly even note that Lieberman decided to stay out of Iowa -- seeming to be of the opinion that Lieberman is pretty much already out of the race. They also seem to question the wisdom of Clark leaving Iowa... they seem to imply that he could've won it. Hmmm.

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