Democrats Offer Weakening Field of Candidates
Four Democrats have entered the race to oppose George W. Bush in 2004: Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, the Vice-Presidential candidate in 2000; Massachusetts Senator John Kerry; North Carolina Senator John Edwards; former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri; and Former Governor Howard Dean of Vermont.
John Kerry was first elected in 1984 with 1,393,150 votes (55.05%); re-elected in 1990 with 1,321,712 (57%); re-elected in 1996 with 1,334,135 (52.19%) and re-elected in 2002 with 1,605,976 (72.3%) without a Republican opponent. [By contrast, the last Senator to be elected president, John F. Kennedy, was re-elected to the Senate in 1958 with 1,362,926 (73.2%) against a Republican candidate. In 1958, the voting age was 21 and the population of Massachusetts much, much smaller. Kennedy ran 5th out of 34 senate candidates in 1958, and just barely managed to squeak past Vice-President Richard Nixon. In 1960, no Vice-President had been elected directly to the presidency since Martin Van Buren in 1836.]
Lieberman, was first elected to the Senate in 1988 after serving as Connecticut's Attorney General and a State Senator before that. He beat the independent Republican Lowell Weiker 50% to 49%. Weiker then went on to become Governor of Connecticut as an independent. Lieberman was re-elected in 1994 with 67.03% of the vote. He ran 7th out of the 34 Senate candidates. In 2000, Liberman was chosen to be Vice-President Al Gore's Vice-Presidential running mate. Although the Democrats won the popular vote, and many think the election, Joe Lieberman contributed mightily to the ticket's defeat. First, he ran for re-election to the Senate at the same time he was running for Vice-President. This tended to undermine some voters' confidence in the integrity of the ticket. Lieberman was re-elected to the Senate in 2000 with 63.2% of the vote running 13th out of the 33 senate races that year.
An Orthodox Jew, Lieberman helped George Bush into the Oval Office by appearing on nationwide television during the fight over the Florida vote count and agreed that it was alright to count the military ballots without postmarks (most of which were for Bush) and refused to fight for the counting of civilian absentee ballots with post marks (where Gore's percentage was higher.) Maybe the knowledge that he had been re-elected to the Senate took the edge off his fight for the Vice-Presidency.
Having left the voters in the lurch, Lieberman has been a staunch supporter of the war against Iraq and Israeli aggression generally. At the moment, Lieberman is the strongest Democratic candidate, not the least because the Republicans will smooth his way to the nomination because he will lose the General Election handily in November.
The third Senator, John Edwards from the Tar Heel State of North Carolina, was elected to the Senate in 1998 with 51.15% of the vote. He ran 29th out of 33 Senate victors. Edwards was a successful lawyer in class action litigation before coming to the Senate. He is the weakest of the Senate candidates.
It is interesting to know the symmetry between the Senate candidates: Kerry, Lieberman and Edwards. They each come from different classes: 1. 2. and 3. Edwards ran in 1998, Lieberman in 2000 and Kerry in 2002. What could be neater?
The lone candidate from the House of Representatives is former Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt. Gephardt won re-election to the House in 2002 with 59.1% of the vote, the lowest percentage of any winning candidate for the House from Gephardt's native Missouri. All the other winners were in the 60% and 70% range.
Forget Gephardt. He has the connections in Washington and will be able to raise money, but this will not translate into votes. No member of the House has been elected to the Presidency since Gerald R. Ford was appointed to the office. And Ford is the progenitor of the Bush clan, so I don't think the voters are going to make that mistake again. Service in the House is essential to election to the Presidency if the candidate is coming up through the congressional ranks. Otherwise it's the Governors.
The only Governor in the race so far is Howard Dean of Vermont. Elected Governor in 1992 with 75% of the vote after serving as Lieutenant Governor, he was re-elected every two years (Vermont is one of the few states that still has a two year Governor's term) with 68.69%; 70.50%; 55.66% and 50.45%.
Nevertheless, four of the last five presidents have been Governors: Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Bush. Also, the power of small states was dealt a devastating blow by the Supreme Court's intervention in the case of Bush v. Gore (see American Voters Pull Together to Make Tough Choices).
So, in spite of Dean's declining popularity in Vermont, the proximity of his state to the first, historically important New Hampshire primary, the fact that he is a medical doctor, and the fact that he is a Governor, all make him a candidate to watch.
At the moment, the Democratic race is between Senator Joe Lieberman and Governor Howard Dean.
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Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf