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Iowa is key battleground for Dean

By Carol Devine-Molin
web posted January 19, 2004

Political junkies of all stripes are enjoying the Iowa caucuses that are shaping up to be extremely competitive, with the latest polls reflecting a tightening four-way race among Democratic presidential hopefuls. It just demonstrates that we can't trust the conventional wisdom of political pundits who claimed that Howard Dean was the unbeatable frontrunner. It's axiomatic in elections that a week, even a day for that matter, can be an eternity. Instead of being the presumptive winner, now the pundits are saying that Dean has lost the "Big Mo." Or has he? As an aside, the "Big Mo" refers to "momentum," not "mojo," for those of you who are stymied by political colloquialisms.

In any event, here's the latest Zogby tracking poll data (1/18/04) that's available as of this writing -- John Kerry is ahead at 24 per cent, followed by Howard Dean at 23 per cent, Richard Gephardt at 19 per cent, and closely trailed by John Edwards at 18 per cent, which is all within statistical striking distance of victory with a margin of error at 4.5 per cent. Well that doesn't look like Dean has lost the "Big Mo"! In fact, I think he's managed to regain his stride in the past few days. And local polling in Iowa has Howard Dean in the lead with 22 per cent, followed by John Kerry at 21 per cent, and Gephardt and Edwards neck-in-neck at 18 per cent. Oh dear, so many polls, so little time. Essentially, we are being told that any of the four contenders can walk away triumphantly. But that's the superficial critique, not the analyses of those that are truly in-the-know.

Is a Dean victory a Republican dream?
Is a Dean victory a Republican dream?

Rich Lowry of National Review magazine correctly pegged the sentiments of many Republicans in last month's cover story about Howard Dean entitled "Please Nominate This Man." Lowry suggests that Dean is still not ready for prime time, and questions Dean's ability "to reposition himself to the center" if he acquires the nomination. Dean is certainly running to the Left in order to capture Democratic primary votes, although as Lowry points out, "Dean governed in Vermont terms as a budget-balancing moderate." Once upon a time, Dean was a free-trader, pro-business type of guy who opposed gay marriage and gun control, but he's apparently eschewed those views, leaving himself opened to charges that he's one humongous phony. Oh well, never mind.

Dean now represents the extreme Left-wing of his party, as he attracts activists for whom the war in Iraq is the defining issue. He is the consummate populist firebrand who has successfully tapped into the anti-Bush, anti-war anger percolating among the Leftists. Sure, he rants about the economy, jobs and healthcare (and he's very liberal on the social issues), but make no mistake, the war in Iraq is pivotal to his appeal. That's why his poll numbers suffered with the captured of Saddam Hussein, which represents a clear-cut victory for President Bush. However, Howard Dean has an overarching problem affecting his message -- he's into broad-brush strokes with unabashed emotion as his shtick rather than details. And many Iowans are apparently looking to John Kerry and perennial Richard Gephardt for something more substantive. And, of course, Dean's enemies, the Clinton and their cohorts, have sought to exploit Dean's weaknesses.

In truth, many stalwart Republicans would like nothing better than for Howard Dean to become the Democratic presidential candidate for three main reasons: a) Dean possesses that "over-the-top" emotionality that makes him appear on the verge of a nervous breakdown, b) Dean is bent on ridding the Democratic Party of the Clinton death-grip if he garners the nomination, vowing to purge Bill Clinton's money-man Terry McAuliffe from his high perch within the party, and, c) On pure entertainment grounds – Even Republicans enjoy how Dean revs-up his supporters, the "Deaniacs", into full-fledged frenzy as he chants, "You have the power, you have the power to take the country back!" There's something about Dean's anti-establishment sensibilities that's charming – perhaps a throw-back to the hippie-dippy era. Heck, the Republicans don't want him to win, and don't think he can win in a center-right nation. However, it doesn't mean that we don't enjoy watching his campaign antics.

Ah yes, with Howard Dean as their standard-bearer, Democrats would be poised to engage in another "McGovern" self-destruct debacle that would surely drag their party so far from the mainstream that it would take years for it to recover. Essentially, Howard Dean is unelectable as POTUS -- the American electorate readily grasps that Howard Dean's experience as governor of Vermont (population a bit over 600,000) is completely inadequate to tackle the challenge of the presidency. It doesn't get any better than that for numerous GOP-types who are just about ready to do the Ren and Stimpy dance of happy-happy, joy-joy if Howard Dean wins in Iowa. Now, we're cautiously evaluating the morphing political landscape that has made the outcome of the Democratic primaries somewhat fluid.

But what do veteran political soothsayers have to say about Howard Dean's chances in Iowa? Interestingly, the smart money is still on Howard Dean winning, which would provide him with tremendous lift going into New Hampshire where he's already doing well. Here's the deal – Dean has the largest and strongest organization in Iowa, fortified with the support of the unions. Experienced political strategists say that Howard Dean has the "hard count" reflected in his campaign's internal numbers. The Dean camp reportedly knows who's voting and how many, and they're sanguine that they're going to pull the rabbit out of the hat in Iowa.

You have to applaud Howard Dean's courage (and his adept use of the Internet). He's managed to make powerful enemies, specifically the Clintons, who don't take kindly to an upstart like Dean who wants to marginalize their influence in the Democratic Party. Political expert Dick Morris explains that the Clintons, abetted by their pals in the mainstream liberal media, conducted a "mob hit" on Dean in recent weeks, propagating a bunch of negative stories about him that have had their intended impact. However, Senator John Kerry, the establishment candidate, is getting a taste of deleterious news stories as well, with talk that he would scale back the Department of Agriculture and diminish farm subsidies. And that's not a good story to have floating around, if you're campaigning in Iowa.

Carol Devine-Molin is a regular contributor to several online magazines.

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