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The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Monday, December 08, 2003

It now seems to be a consensus in the conventional wisdom that Dean is inevitable. He will win in Iowa and New Hampshire and never look back. It might be worth noting that this is the collective insight of pretty much the same people who figured that Clinton would be forced to resign, that Bradley would give Gore a real race, that Bush couldn't recover from losing New Hampshire, that Bush was a moderate, and many more equally profound insights. The latest from the usual gang of idiots is the usual bit of idiocy.

Dean is by no means a certain winner in Iowa, and even New Hampshire is still a possible source of grief. There are few more perilous roles in politics than heavy favorite in the New Hampshire primary. They almost always do worse than expected and often lose outright.

John Kerry is the most recent to have that title, only to watch his campaign slowly disintegrate.

Dean has not yet emerged as a clear first in the polls, still leading Clark by less than the MOE. A candidate who is so widely seen as a sure winner, and generally has been for at least a month, really should be opening a big gap, but Dean's gap over Clark in the most recent national poll is 0, with two more hopefuls inside the MOE. Clark is in a solid second place in polls, fundraising, and grass roots support. He is now running paid ads in several of the Feb 2 states, something only he and Dean can afford. The final quarter fundraising numbers, which will be published just before Iowa, should establish that the race is largely between him and Dean. There is even a chance that Clark could beat Dean; the Dean campaign seems to be preparing for an announcement that its totals will be down from the $14.5 million of last quarter and Clark is expected to pull in over $12 million.

Dean and Clark combined pull the support of only about 30% of Democrats nationally; the key to a Dean-Clark race will be which is in a better position to draw support from the 70% either undeclared or supporting other candidates. Here Clark seems to have several edges. The serious candidates most likely to fold first are currently Kerry and Edwards. Kerry based his campaign in substantial part on his status as the only combat veteran in the race; Edwards emphasized the importance of nominating a southerner. Both men's support seems likely to flow to Clark. If Kerry does drop out immediately after New Hampshire, his supporters will probably give Clark a critical boost of a few points in the Feb 2 states. Lieberman is likely to come next, and Clark should do far better with Lieberman voters than Dean.

Another indication is that Clark shows better favorable/unfavorable ratios than Dean. The most recent poll that included both, about a month ago, had Dean with just over half favorable from those with an opinion at 26% - 24%. Clark had a big favorable edge at 34% - 20%.

Clark can and almost certainly will win in a two way race with Dean. A continued large field after Feb 2 will give Dean more primary wins, but fewer delegates. It seems likely to lead no candidate reaching the convention with a majority or near majority. If Dean and Clark are one-two, they might both offer the Vice Presidency to the number three man, probably Gephardt. Gephardt, being no fool, will take Clark's offer. A Clark/Gephardt ticket is highly electable - the 2000 blue states and the candidates' home states add up to 278 electoral votes; the ticket would also be competitive in pretty much all the swing states.