Matthew Yglesias:

Needless to say… it more and more looks like I was totally wrong about Howard Dean’s inevitability. Seems that I radically underestimated how much harm the endless repetition of his strange post-Iowa yelp would do. Perhaps he’ll be able to turn things around at the debate, but who knows. John Kerry? I’m not a huge fan (seems like the kind of guy who’s been around for a long time without having done anything really noteworthy), but he’s certainly the closest thing out there to the “generic Democrat” who keeps performing better in general election polls than any actual Democrat.

Honestly, Matt, I think both sides of the aisle sold the Democratic nominating electorate short. Dean lacks both the experience and temperament to be president; we should have realized that the folks who vote in the primaries would figure that out soon enough. As crazy as the primary system is, it does expose the character of the candidates over time. Iowa and New Hampshire do this extremely well, since candidates have to spend nearly two years there to establish themselves in the “retail politics” those contests require. So, as strange as it is to have the nomination contingent on doing well in tiny, lily-white, unrepresentative states, the process actually works.

My guess right now is that either Clark or Edwards emerges from the process. And Edwards is the more likely of the two, since Clark seems to have much of the capacity for self-destruction that has killed Dean.

The only thing Kerry has going for him right now is momentum–he’s likely to be 2-0 after New Hampshire–and the fact that the other two viable candidates are both vying for the moderate-Southern-DLC vote. But a Massachussets liberal–even one with an admirable personal biography–isn’t likely to survive the South. But I’ve been wrong before. . .

If it’s any consolation, Kerry, Clark, or Edwards will all be far better general election candidates than Dean.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Moe Lane says:

    “If it’s any consolation, Kerry, Clark, or Edwards will all be far better general election candidates than Dean.”

    Yes, but Dean still has the support of his base and lots of cash, for a Democrat. He won’t go gentle into that good night, and he’ll probably take at least one other candidate with him. Speaking from a partisan point of view, Kerry and Clark are raw meat anyway and the GOP would cultivate Lieberman like a rare hothouse flower if they could; that leaves Edwards, and, well, that works for me.

  2. James Joyner says:


    I agree. But Phil Gramm had money in 2000, too. All it does is buy advertising; you still have to have a product people like. I personally liked Gramm a lot; there were four of us.

    Lieberman is polling in the single digits in New Hampshire. He’ll be out of the race this time next week. Dean is going to do no better than second in New Hampshire; but he’ll come in fourth or lower in South Carolina. He’s done.

  3. mark says:

    Let’s not forget one of my favorites – Steve Forbes. More money than anyone and he didn’t do much.

    Perot? Perot? Perot? (in a Ben Stein voice)

  4. James Joyner says:


    Yep. All the talk of “buying elections” is nonsense. Did it help John Corzine and Michael Bloomberg? Oh, yeah. They wouldn’t be in office without their bankrolls. But, ultimately, all they did was convince voters that they were worth voting for.

  5. Steven says:

    Actually I think that Clark has the potential to have the same kinds of problems as Dean. He has said, and continues to say, some pretty wacky things himself. I will be curious to see how extended scrutiny will affect his standing.

  6. Moe Lane says:

    “I agree. But Phil Gramm had money in 2000, too. All it does is buy advertising; you still have to have a product people like. I personally liked Gramm a lot; there were four of us.”

    I’m not denying what you’re saying, but I think that you may be underestimating Dean’s support (I blog with one – she’s a bright, friendly, nice person who doesn’t call me names, but she’s also calmly prepared to follow the campaign over a cliff, if necessary). If Dean can get and keep 15%, he’s in this game until the convention, and then it all goes to sh*t faster than you can say “floor fight spills out into the streets: film at 11”.

    Which isn’t all that fast, really, but you get my drift.

  7. Kevin Drum says:

    Dean isn’t going to give up. No matter how well (or badly) he does, he’s in it to the end. Maybe he ends up as the spoiler.

    As for northern liberals, keep in mind that although they don’t survive the South in general elections, they often get the nomination just fine: Humphrey, McGovern, Mondale, and Dukakis all won the nomination.

    (And then got trounced. Sigh….)

  8. James Joyner says:


    You may be right on Dean’s tenacity. But, if he comes behind Kerry and Clark in New Hampshire, I think he implodes quickly.

    Good point–although only Dukakis did it in the “Super Tuesday” era.

  9. Make that five Gramm supporters. I still have my autographed sign in my closet.

  10. PoliBlog says:

    Voters Aren’t Stupid (and Other Revelations)
    James Joyner discusses the idea that manyt analysts (including myself) sold the electorate short in re: Dean. He notes that Dean lacks the temperate to be president, and it would seem that Iowans concurred with that assessment, and that the…

  11. New Hampshire update
    My prediction that John Edwards would get the biggest media bump because reporters like him better than the other candidates hasn’t been completely borne out. A quick Google search reveals that Kerry got more play out of Iowa than Edwards….