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Why Kerry is winning the Democratic nomination

By Rachel Alexander
web posted February 4, 2004

Democratic presidental hopeful Sen. John Kerry walks on the stage before he addresses the crowd on February 3 in Seattle
Democratic presidental hopeful Sen. John Kerry walks on the stage before he addresses the crowd on February 3 in Seattle

It is apparent that John Kerry will win the Democratic nomination instead of Howard Dean or anyone else, although it is not immediately understandable why, other than the superficial retort, "it is because he has the best chance at beating Bush." It is not because Kerry is less liberal than Howard Dean – because he probably isn't - nor is it mainly because Howard Dean has behaved temperamentally. The crux of the matter is quite simple, actually embarrassingly so. Kerry will win the Democratic nomination because Kerry's combination of attractiveness and leadership charisma outweighs that of the other candidates.

We learned with the election of former President Clinton in 1992 and 1996 that charisma and looks count nowadays more than experience, intelligence, or integrity. Likewise, we saw how that hurt Gore in 2000 – Gore's lack of charisma reduced his attractiveness to voters. Particularly noticeable since Clinton entered office, the nation has increasingly turned to charisma and attractiveness as the determining criteria for public office.

Women are even more guilty than men, they supported Clinton in larger numbers than men; there was a 4 percent gender gap between men and women that year, although men also voted for Clinton over Bush. It is predominately reported that the gender gap first emerged in the 1980 election between Reagan and Carter, when there was an 8 percent gender gap, but this is not entirely correct. Women started voting more for the more attractive candidate back when Kennedy ran against Nixon in 1960, after the first televised debate gave them a real glimpse of the candidates' charisma, or lack of it. Although Nixon ultimately carried women's vote, he did so narrowly.

Evidence that the nation as a whole has prefers more attractive people in the limelight became apparent in recent years when CNN laid off some of its veteran journalists and replaced them with models. Not surprisingly, other networks have increasingly begun hiring more and more journalists who look like they might be models. Cosmetics companies no longer hire as many models for their advertisements; there are so many attractive women in other areas of public life that it is no longer necessary to look to that narrow industry to find the most attractive people. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other Hollywood celebrities are increasingly becoming elected to office, and people talk seriously about The West Wing's president, Martin Sheen, becoming the real president.

Common sense would hold that a more moderate Democrat has the best chance of beating George Bush in the general election, right? Not anymore, in this new era. Kerry has consistently been rated one of the ten most liberal Senators, some say even further left than Ted Kennedy, whom he votes with 95 percent of the time. Americans for Democratic Action, a radical left wing group, gave Kerry a 93 percent lifetime rating, while they gave Ted Kennedy only an 88 percent lifetime rating. The American Conservative Union gave Kerry a lifetime rating of 5, barely better than Ted Kennedy's rating of 3. Oddly, however, Kerry's ultra-liberal voting record doesn't seem to be a campaign issue among the Democrats.

Howard Dean claims that he is qualifies as the liberal candidate, the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," strongly criticizing Kerry's vote in 2002 authorizing the U.S. to go to war in Iraq. However, Dean may actually be less liberal than Kerry. Dean received top ratings from the National Rifle Association, supports the death penalty in certain situations, and was a fiscal conservative as governor of Vermont, balancing the budget every year even though it was not required by law.

Kerry is more liberal than John Edwards, no moderate, who received a lifetime rating of 88 percent from Americans for Democratic Action, the same rating as Ted Kennedy. Edwards has voted the same as Ted Kennedy 90 percent of the time and Hillary Clinton 89 percent of the time. But Kerry is winning the Democratic nomination over Edwards because Edwards lacks the combination of superficial leadership charisma and looks that Democratic voters prefer; Edwards' southern accent annoys many northerners and he reminds most people of the amiable but goofy actor the late John Ritter.

Matt Drudge observed recently that Kerry may have done something to his looks over the last couple of months, although Kerry denies it. Kerry is no longer the wrinkled, emaciated, appears-older-than-his-years Senator, he now looks – and to a cautious extent acts – like a slightly older version of Hugh Grant. He has suddenly developed a leader's charismatic personality as well as a sense of humor that barely existed before. Thanks to coaching and a makeover, he has successfully transformed himself into a John Kennedy or Bill Clinton prototype.

Meanwhile, Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, and John Edwards, while not unattractive, have watched their ratings plunge simply because they have failed to present the aura necessary to attract voters. Most Democratic voters admit they cannot tell the candidates apart – the major contenders have all waffled back and forth on Iraq, and are fairly indistinguishable on most social issues. We live in an era of information overload; the average American is overwhelmed trying to figure out the relevant differences between all of candidates and remember them. So the key difference that is easily noticeable, which nobody will admit, is that Dean, Clark, and Edwards have not developed the verbal leadership skills that Kerry has cultivated. Dean is awkward, careless, and frequently looks jolted. Clark is too laid back and unsure of himself. Edwards just slowly repeats everything he hears in generalized, vague statements (rather insulting if you are asking him a question). Kerry is the only presidential candidate who appears confident, poised, eloquent, and knowledgeable.

What is most intriguing about this race for the Democratic nomination is that it will be so clearly decided by image, not substance. Unlike the Democratic primary as well as the general election in 1992, when no one had a good idea yet that looks and charisma were so important to voters, we now know better; a candidate's "Clintonisma" factor is the key to winning. Which makes November 2nd even more interesting; are the undecided voters as superficial as the Democrats?

Rachel Alexander is the editor of IntellectualConservative.com and a former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Arizona. She is currently an attorney for GoDaddy.com in Scottsdale, Arizona. Go Daddy is the No. 1 registrar of net new domains and a provider of complementary products and services. The viewpoints expressed in this column are not the viewpoints of GoDaddy.com nor its affiliated companies.

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