The Good: Gephardt has the benefit of a favorable primary calendar, with midwestern-friendly states such as Iowa, Arizona, Missouri, New Mexico and Oklahoma on the first three caucus/primary dates. He’s experienced and can claim the same small town, fighting-for-working-people argument as Edwards.
The Bad: Old and uninspiring, except for a few brief moments thus far in the campaign. Easy to portray as an interest group-beholden liberal who has flip-flopped on major issues in the past.
Gephardt grabbed the spotlight, briefly, by being first out of the gate with a healthcare proposal. He held center stage until the first debate, when his rivals lustily seized the opportunity to portray his plan — and him — as an unweildy (and unpassable) product of old liberalism.
Lieberman said Gephardt’s plan was “a big spending liberal idea of the past.” Edwards said it “takes almost a trillion dollars out of the pocket of working families.” Others lit into him as well, saying the plan would break the bank and was bad for the party.
Beyond the health care issue, Gephardt hasn’t put forth any bold, cutting-edge proposals. Other ideas, such as an international minimum wage, just haven’t caught on. The rest are a laundry list of traditional special interest issues.
The Verdict: The health care debate provided a blueprint for the rest of the campaign: Whenever Gephardt puts forth a proposal that garners any interest, his rivals will step in, gang up on him, and then offer their own (better) plans.
They know Gephardt has a primary advantage. Consequently, they will lowball their chances in Iowa so much that the second-place finisher (Kerry or Dean) gets more of a “bounce” going into New Hampshire than Gephardt does.
Unless he can get fiery on the stump a la Dean, Gephardt’s victory in Iowa will not carry through to a higher standing in New Hampshire. There, the battle between Dean and Kerry will take center stage, with the winner gaining palpable momentum into Super Tuesday. However, if Gephardt can place third in that contest, then he will likely take his share of states on Tuesday. Any worse than third, and he’s in serious trouble.
The Odds: 5-1
The Good: Graham has homeland security credentials and hails from Florida, a must-win state for democrats.
The Bad: Zzzzzzzz. He’s is even more boring and uninspiring than Gephardt and Lieberman.
Graham is this year’s Orrin Hatch. What’s his vision? Nobody knows, or cares.
The Verdict: Graham will be the default choice for VP (unless Evan Bayh slips in). Mission accomplished.
The Odds: 12-1
The Good: Kerry snapped up lots of campaign talent early, and has done a good job of cultivating a de facto frontrunner status, even though he isn’t first in announcing his run (Dean), raising money (Edwards) or political experience (Gephardt). Being a Vietnam “war hero” certainly helps as voters look for candidates who have credibility on the national security issue.
Kerry has also shown brief flashes of being likeable.
The Bad: Kerry is the anti-Clinton; He seems unable to articulate clear views that resonate with voters — and then stick with them. Instead, Kerry takes a position and then continually nuances it, which obfuscates his stand and leaves him open to the popular charge that he’s an aloof, overpositioning stiff who tries to have it both ways time and again (and again). This does not bode well at a time when the opposing party is winning elections with bumper-sticker arguments. (“It’s not the government’s money, it’s your money!”)
Kerry made a huge blunder by challenging Howard Dean rather than ignoring him. His move elevated Dean from insignificant gadfly to top contender.
Kerry also seems overcoached. He stumbled badly when he called for “regime change” in the U.S. while the country was going to war. (Which campaign aide planted that idea? Visions of Gore.)
There’s still plenty of time, but Kerry’s campaign still hasn’t recovered from these two mistakes.
The Verdict: He doesn’t have to place second in Iowa, but the early win over Dean would help. New Hampshire is the key contest though, and if Kerry doesn’t win there, his campaign will be put on a permanent defensive. His people will spend more time answering questions than regaining the momentum. If he loses, he might was well pack it in.
If Kerry wins in N.H., he kills off Dean and heads into a Super Tuesday showdown with Gephardt. Survive Super Tuesday, and he wins.
The Odds: 5-1
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