Some random thoughts about the Democratic primary race.
I had lunch today with someone who is not a politician but a fairly prominent Washington Democrat -- certainly not someone from the party's liberal wing. And in the course of answering a question, I said "If it [i.e. the nominee] ends up being Dean ..." At which point, with the rest of my sentence still on deck down in my throat, my friend shot back : "It's Dean."
It was effortless. He wasn't happy or sad about it. He wasn't trying to convince me -- more like letting me in on something I apparently wasn't aware of yet.
We went back and forth over the various factors that play into the race. But the conclusion was that Dean is just in the zone, hitting on every cylinder, doing almost everything right tactically, and having the added benefit of having tons of money. Plenty of candidates have money and go nowhere because they don't know what to do with it. But at least at the moment that doesn't apply to Dean -- and that's certainly related to the fact that the money itself stems from campaign ingenuity, thus creating a sort of virtuous circle of fundraising success.
(I also keep running into McCain types who are very into Dean -- something which is on one level pretty surprising, but on another not surprising at all.
I was reminded of this when I read this post by Eric Alterman about John Kerry's campaign -- a meditation on a meeting Kerry held recently with Alterman and a bunch of other journalists, intellectuals and scribblers at Al Franken's apartment in New York. The broader theme was reconciling Alterman's belief that Kerry could beat President Bush and could even be a great president with the reality that Kerry's campaign appears to be disintegrating in New Hampshire. And because New Hampshire, essentially everywhere.
Alterman says Kerry ...
still has the problemâperhaps unsolvableâof how to break through to Dean voters in the short amount of time he has left when the media has their storyline already and no candidate gets to say anything that lasts more than a few seconds.
I like Kerry -- I find the smarm attacks on him revolting. But, in a situation like this, it's really hard for me to see how you can recover the support of voters that you once had in New Hampshire, but then lost.
I think Clark clearly has momentum. But he'll need a lot of momentum to make a fight of this.
Edwards and Lieberman? Somewhere between off the map and non-existent.
I find myself torn because I see great promise in the resurgence of energy among grassroots Democrats -- something that has made Dean's campaign possible, but which he himself has also significantly helped to catalyze. The novel methods of fundraising and networking are extremely important -- something that Dems allowed to atrophy literally decades ago. And I definitely think that the going models that Democrats have in DC just aren't working, demonstrably aren't working.
Yet my wariness remains -- on various counts.
Of late, a lot of folks, playing off the McGovern analogy, have started talking up the Goldwater one. Perhaps the Dems lose this one, but it's a campaign that germinates into a political realignment one or two or three elections later.
The problem is that I'm not sure we can afford another four years of this. And I don't consider that hyperbole, but cold fact. Plus, I think Bush is beatable.