The following table shows, for the four leading Democratic candidates, (a) which ones have certain qualities that, various pundits assure us, improve their chances of picking up votes in the primaries; (b) how they are faring in various tracking polls that were taken over January 21–23.
|No spending cap||no||yes||no||yes|
|Did well in Iowa||no||no||yes||yes|
(“No spending cap” is important because it means that Dean and Kerry, who have refused the strings that come with government campaign finance, can spend as much money as they can raise in the primary season, which means they might be buying 30-second commercials after Clark and Edwards have run into the spending caps.)
If you’re a Democratic voter, depending on how much weight you attach to various qualities in a candidate—and these qualities don’t have any mapping onto a “liberal/moderate” axis—you could reasonably prefer these four candidates in any order. So even thought Kerry is likely to win the NH primary, that leaves three other candidates competing to become the anti-Kerry. Who will attract the majority of the voters who don’t go for Kerry? As more candidates drop out of the race, who will their supporters gravitate toward, and will this process lead to someone other than Kerry being nominated? If only some mad scientist could stitch together a Superdemocrat with Dean’s grass-roots organizing skill, Clark’s military credentials, and Edwards’s economic populism….
This mess does have one silver lining: as long as the political press is covering how the Democrats are jockeying for position, there isn’t so much space left over for Bush’s campaign maneuvers—and as long as Bush’s team isn’t sure who they’ll be running against in the fall, it’s harder for them to put out messages tailored to undermine that person.
tracking polls via Mark Kleiman