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Ruy Teixera on Clark and New Hampshire

I found Ruy Teixera's analysis of how Wesley Clark could win the Democratic nomination entirely persuasive -- The Emerging Democratic Majority WebLog - DonkeyRising.

I was a little surprised, though, that he seem to assume that all Clark's opportunities begin after the New Hampshire primary, in which he can do no better than third. That was my initial assumption as well, given that Clark is coming late into a state that is now pretty well chopped up by the various campaigns, mostly Dean and Kerry. But the role of independents in the New Hampshire primary seems to me to create an opportunity for Clark to get started early on one of Ruy's other suggestions, that he build a base among independents and Republicans in states with open primaries. In New Hampshire, these are the independents who gave McCain his resounding victory over George W. Bush, and there is a population there that, in 2000, was actually wavering between whether to vote in the Democratic or Republican primary, and ultimately swung over to the Republicans. One poll found that one-third of Republican primary voters had considered voting in the other contest.

This year if they want to vote, their only option is on the Democratic side, and even though these voters are often anti-tax, they are probably likely to have the same distaste for Bush that they showed four years ago, and Clark offers some of the same strengths as McCain. It's very hard to poll this group accurately, because their turnout is so unpredictable, but there were hints that they were initially impressed with Dean, in that Dean did better in polls that assumed higher turnout of independents. I could see them making the same switch to Clark that they made to McCain four years ago, because fundamentally, they're not Wellstone Democrats.

Clark also has the makings of a base among New Hampshire liberals, such as John and Mary Rauh, who were mainstays of the Bradley campaign, and who have each run strong races for office, with John Rauh coming within 15,000 votes of winning a Senate seat a decade ago, which is closer than any Democrat has come since. According to the New York Times, they hosted a house party for Clark but are still uncommitted. If he can seal that deal and some others, it gives him a base of volunteers and local activists, as well as votes.

I'm not predicting that Clark will come in second in New Hampshire. I think that's a long-shot. But even a third-place finish could set him up right away as the only alternative to Dean. Consider the following perfectly plausible outcome. First, assume Gephardt holds his slight lead and beats Dean in Iowa, which I think is likely. Then, assume New Hampshire turns out as follows:

Dean 38%
Kerry 19
Clark 18
Gephardt 11
Lieberman, Edwards, the rest, single digits

In that scenario, which is compatible with current polls except that it moves Clark up somewhat, Dean has totally wiped out Kerry in his neighboring state. It's hard to see where the Kerry campaign goes after a 2:1 defeat. Clark, on the other hand, has finished third but has a solid margin over all the rest, and Dean is strong but since he didn't win Iowa and had been expected to win New Hampshire, there's no real boost for him as they go into South Carolina and Arizona.

The New Hampshire primary is still three months away, and something is going to change. It could be a Kerry comeback. It could be the emergence of Edwards or Lieberman in the state. But I think a continued Kerry collapse, and some gains by Clark are the more likely events of the next few months. That makes Ruy Teixera's scenario for Clark stronger, although there will be many twists and turns thereafter.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on November 3, 2003 | Permalink


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