The Democrats have been holding their primaries and caucuses since January 2004. The expected favourite was the former governor of Vermont, Howard Dean. The other runners included John Edwards, John Kerry, Dick Gephardt and Al Sharpton.
The first real test of the party’s intentions came in the causus at Iowa. Here an unexpected result occurred. The favourite, Dean, did not do well at all and John Kerry gained most votes. In the first primary of the campaign, in New Hampshire, Kerry also won. This set the trend and up to Saturday 21st February, Kerry had won all but one of the states and is nearly there with regards to the number of delegates required for him to secure the presidential nomination for the Democrats. Kerry should get the party’s seal of approval on Super Tuesday (March 2nd).
After his defeat in Wisconsin, Dean dropped of the race. Kerry’s only real serious opponent is John Edwards but he is a long way off with regards to delegates needed (though Super Tuesday has more than 50% of the delegates ‘up for grabs’ so Edwards could still win though this seems highly unlikely).
So why did Dean crash and why has Kerry done do remarkably well when few even predicted he would be a front runner let alone the front runner?
Kerry won the first two votes (Iowa and New Hampshire) therefore he was on a winning role. Such momentum is very important in US politics as from the start Kerry was seen as a winner and Dean a loser, despite Dean starting out the Democrat campaign as the clear favourite.
Dean’s presentation of himself was criticised in January and he did not make up this lost ground. He preferred to criticise his opponents rather than concentrate on his own policies – now seen as a mistake. He was immediately labelled by America’s media as the man with no policies except to criticise the policies of others.
His reaction to defeat in Iowa and New Hampshire was seen as being too much full of bravado and ‘we’re going to whip them at the next vote’. By the time his team had re-assessed what was going on, Dean’s image had suffered too much – so much so that the original favourite failed to win any state before dropping out of the race.
Kerry has a clean record in politics. He is also a Vietnam war veteran with bravery medals to his name. Former comrades have publicly endorsed him as a real leader. Even his anti-war stance after his service was not held against him as he had been there and had a right to comment on what he felt.
Kerry also has access to money though he has said that he will not touch his wife’s fortune.
Kerry’s presentation of himself has become more and more assured as time has progressed. He is now a good speaker on stage, whereas before he could be too wooden. Commentators have stated that people can relate to him more as his campaign has progressed.
Even the merest hint of scandal with a young lady has not yet damaged him. The accusation that he had a two-year affair with someone much younger than himself did not even make the tabloids front page in America and the American broadsheets chose to ignore it. The ‘scandal’ received more news coverage in the UK that in USA. Why? Possibly because it does not matter but also the story came out just at the time when the US papers announced that the Republicans had put up £54 million (about $100 million) to attack Kerry on the assumption that he would win the Democrats nomination. In one sense, America half-expected a ‘scandal’ to break, so it would appear that Kerry, in the eyes of the public, still has a clean background.
Kerry’s only viable opponent is John Edwards – but he is so far behind in the delegates/states count that his chances must be seen as minimal. However, he would be the perfect running mate for Kerry – the so-called “dream ticket”. Kerry is from the north, Edwards from the south; Kerry is the older statesman, Edwards could appeal to the young; both have access to money to help fund the actualelection held in November; both have ‘electorability’ in the sense that they are beginning to be seen as charismatic. Neither man has made damaging comments against the other on a public stage – one reason why Howard Dean would barely be considered a running mate for Kerry as he has made negative personal comments about Kerry in public (though it could in theory still happen). If Kerry does get the Democrats green light on March 2nd, it will give the party near enough eight months to put together an election campaign at a time when President Bush’s popularity looks to be dipping.