Let's take a few minutes and talk about Howard Dean's chances in a general election matchup with President Bush in 2004. Everyone else seems to be talking about this (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and probably many other places that I'm too lazy to look for), but no one has quite addressed a couple of points that I think are important.
First, let's talk geography. A common theme among the Dean doubters is that parts of the country, especially the south, will not cotton to a Yankee like Dean. That may be so, but c'mon - the deep red South is going to be a tough nut for any Democratic candidate to crack, including the two who are from the South. The only Southern state that anyone is going to really pay attention to is Florida, anyway, and as we all know Florida is (how shall I put this?) different. More seriously, Florida is filled with retired Northerners, which makes it reasonably hospitable territory for someone who talks funny like Dean.
Secondly, so what if the South is basically unwinnable? Even counting Florida as GOP territory, the Democratic nominee can win the election by carrying the same states that Al Gore did plus any one more. That includes states like traditionally Democratic West Virginia, Ohio and Colorado, both of which will have high-profile Senate races to boost interest, Montana, which features a Republican governor whose popularity numbers make Gray Davis look like George Washington and a Democratic candidate for that office that nearly unseated Conrad Burns in 2000, and lest we forget, New Hampshire, a state whose residents ought to be reasonably comfortable with a candidate like Dean. Sure, it'd be nice to make Bush play defense, and sure, if he throws $200 million at the blue and swingy red states he'll have an effect. But let's not throw in the towel just yet because South Carolina and Alabama are Bush country.
Next, I have to question whether the conventional wisdom about the importance of geography and balance in a Presidential ticket isn't out of date. Everyone said that Clinton was nuts to pick a fellow Southern baby boomer as his VP. Everyone said that Bush was nuts to pick a fellow oilman from a deep red Western state as his VP. Both of them were thought to need a running mate who had appeal to other geographic areas to counter their own perceived weakness. Neither of those choices seemed to do them any harm. Is it maybe possible we're overvaluing where a candidate comes from these days? People move around a lot now. Are there that many people who are that suspicious of someone who's not from their neck of the woods? I'm not saying this isn't a factor at all, just that maybe it's not as big a deal as it once was.
And why are we so sure that Dean's home state is a geographic problem?. If John Judis' point is that Dean's primary appeal is to urbanites, I don't see why this is considered a limitation. 80% of Arizona's population is in Maricopa and Pima Counties, where Phonix and Tucson are. 70% of Nevadans live in Clark County, home of Las Vegas. Half of Colorado's population comes from the three counties that surround Denver plus the Colorado Springs area. Who needs the South if the West can be won?
Finally, let's not forget that the most important thing any candidate brings to the table is his or her ability to connect with voters and get them to punch the chad for them in November. Right now, Dean is doing that. He's got people excited, especially the base, which as we all know failed to turn out last year. He's got a good story line going in the press, and has donned the "straight talker" crown. Any number of these things could change between now and the election, but I'm gobsmacked at how people can look at all of this and think "electoral train wreck".
All that said, it's a long way from concluding that Dean is an electable candidate to concluding that he's the most electable one. Dean's newfound top-tier/media darling status is hazing the view of some other candidates who can make a good claim of electability. Mary Beth was impressed by John Edwards. Kris Lofgren thinks Dick Gephardt is The Man. Amy Sullivan is rooting for Wes Clark. Nathan Newman thinks we'll get John Kerry regardless. The first primary is still six months away, for crying out loud. Let's all take a good look at every candidate while we have the time so when we do choose we can feel good that we're picking the right one.
Dean supporters need to keep an open mind, too. Just because claims of Dean's unelectability can be reasonably argued away doesn't mean the issue is settled. There are legitimate concerns about Dean, such as his stance on the death penalty, his appeal to blacks and Indians, his support for non-Iraq military interventions and even his desire for a balanced federal budget. Dean supporters, and more importantly, Dean himself, need to take such concerns seriously. Ignoring such criticism, or worse being defensive about it, is a sure loser.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm supporting the Democratic nominee in 2004, whoever that may be. If the primary were to be held right now, I'd vote for Dean as I did in the MoveOn poll. But the primary isn't being held right now. Give everyone the time and patience needed to make their case, and may the best candidate win.Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 17, 2003 to The making of the President | TrackBack