So more about my

January 19, 2004 5:16 p.m.

So more about my chat with Dick Bennett at ARG.

As I’ve noted in some earlier posts, the big question I’m trying to get a handle on (and I’m sure I’m not the only one) is just why Kerry is surging right now. Not just in Iowa, but in New Hampshire too — which is really the bigger question in my mind.

One thing Bennett pointed out struck me. By his numbers, each of the major Democrats in the race is quite popular with New Hampshire voters. (He says the only one who has significant negatives is Lieberman.) So if you talk to Dean voters or Clark voters, they like Kerry too. And vice versa.

Bennett’s theory is that this whole race is about who can beat Bush, and that candidates like Kerry — until quite recently — have been completely missing the boat by talking about their plan for the environment, or their plan for this, or their plan for that.

What people care about is who can beat Bush. Beat Bush, they reason, and everything else will fall into place. So who cares what your plan is.

As I’ve noted earlier, I had been thinking that Kerry would have a very hard time (perhaps an all but impossible time) winning back a large following in New Hampshire after he’d lost it.

But that logic was based on the premise that people had found Kerry wanting, had decided they didn’t like this or that thing about him. If that were true then you figure they wouldn’t go back to him. So if they left Kerry for Dean, and then soured on Dean, they’d go to Clark or perhaps Edwards rather than going back to Kerry.

But if Kerry’s approval ratings remain high and if he looks like a winner coming out of Iowa — someone who knows how to win a campaign and someone who might be able to beat George Bush — then many of those old Kerry supporters who’ve been ditching him over the last several months might be willing to hop back on board. And quickly.

Bennett gave me the sense that he thinks Kerry could quickly jump back to the levels of support he had last year. At that means up in the thirty percent range.

Two other points. Bennett’s view was that Gephardt and Edwards are too low in the polls now in to take full advantage of a big bounce out of Iowa.

The sense I get right now is that this is a Clark/Kerry race in the state. Not because Dean isn’t in it too. Of course he is. But because Clark and Kerry are after the same group of voters. That fight could get pretty intense.

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