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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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Friday, January 23, 2004
Howard Who?

The race continues to change at amazing speed, and what is changing most is the crashing status of Howard Dean. Even Matthew now admits that Dean is looking distinctly evitable.

The Tuesday spin was that Iowa was a disaster for Clark, because the name of the game was to emerge quickly as the anti-Dean. I bought into that some myself, and on Tuesday still regarded Dean as the front runner. That's already looking inoperative. We're now facing a real possibility, that would have seemed preposterous only days ago, that Howard Dean won't be a major factor in the race.

Dean appears to be heading for another bad evening in New Hampshire, where I expect he'll do no better than 3rd. Even if he does pass Clark up for 2nd, except in the unlikely event he actually wins, it doesn't mean a great deal.

The key question, on which we have no polling so far, is how Dean's standing in the crucial Feb 3 states has been holding up. In the four states that have useful polling data, Dean and Clark were the top two, usually with significant separation from the field. Kerry was generally invisible, and so, except in South Carolina, was Edwards. In Missouri, Dean was a distant 2nd to Gephardt, a few points ahead of Clark. My strong suspicion is that much of Dean's support in those states was soft and has now melted. If I'm right, Dean coming into Feb 3 with only negative momentum will crash for the 3rd week in a row, and that will all but kill him as a serious candidate.

Can Clark take advantage? With no polls, Clark's support might be melting in the Feb 3 states as much as Dean's. But I suspect it isn't. Clark's dropping in national polls, but he isn't advertising nationally. He is advertising in NH and most or all of the Feb 3 states. In NH, Clark is down from his peak level, but at or above where he was when most of those polls showing him a 1st or strong 2nd were taken. And in the last few days, Clark is moving back up in some (but not all) NH polls. Also, Clark retains enviable favorable/unfavorable ratios in the latest polls, while Dean's are plummeting along with his preference numbers.

Kerry and Edwards don't have the campaign infrastructure, in paid and volunteer staff, that Clark does in the Feb 3 states. Due to tight money, they aren't advertising as heavily. And the states themselves, 6 out of 7 either swing states or solid red states, are ones where Clark should do well.

Feb 3 will be a Waterloo for both Dean and Clark. But it's looking as if Clark is set for the role of Wellington, while Dean is leaning to the Bonapartist side. Depending on how far Kerry has moved up in the Feb 3 states, I see a real shot of Clark picking up 4 or 5 wins that day. And his major competition may be coming from Kerry and Edwards more than Dean.