Okay have to say

November 10, 2003 10:49 p.m.

Okay, have to say it. I’m still not convinced. Everyone I know seems to think that Howard Dean is close to having the Democratic nomination all wrapped up. AFSCME’s apparent endorsement, for instance, seems premised almost entirely on the perception that Dean’s going to be the winner.

But I just don’t see it.

I’m not saying there’s another candidate who I’d say is more likely to win. I just think Dean’s strength is overstated.

A few points and then we’ll follow up with other posts later.

First: Every primary and caucus this year distributes delegates proportionally. You get 30% of the vote and you get 30% of the delegates. So winning a primary by a couple points in a big field isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.

Second: I continue to think that Dean’s style of candidacy only has a real purchase on a portion of the Democratic primary electorate. And I think he has most of those people already. Yes, this is a standard criticism of Dean: he’s the candidate of the Starbucks crowd (not that that’s a criticism: I write about half of my posts from the neighborhood Starbucks) and so forth. And the endorsements of SEIU and AFSCME are supposed to change that — giving his candidacy a broader demographic sweep.

But I remain unconvinced. I’m not sure Dean can break out of the very energized and mobilized constituency he already has. And that’s what strong showings out of Iowa and New Hampshire are supposed to accomplish.

Third: Our models for primary campaigns are based on frontrunners who are supported, by and large, by the party establishment. That’s not the case here. And that makes a difference. So there’s an asterisk by his frontrunnerdom.

Fourth: Dean clearly now has the biggest constituency. It’s activated, mobilized and it’s big. But he’s in a large field. I think there’s a much larger slice of the Democratic primary electorate that doesn’t want him than the one that does. And as the field narrows, that will become the salient fact. (Isn’t #4 kind of like #2? Okay, maybe a bit.)

Fifth: Electability, another salient fact.

Now, many things I write on TPM, I write with great confidence. This isn’t one of those cases. For a host of reasons I find this primary campaign very hard to get a handle on. And it’s quite apparent to me that I could have this all wrong. What I’m telling you is just what my gut tells me.

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