'The Primaries: Duel to the Death'
- Title, Chapter 4 (The Making of the President 1964, Theodore H. White)
In the very long 2004 campaign for the Democratic nomination a great deal of pressure was placed on candidates considered not to have a 'serious' chance at winning to drop out and endorse the perceived front runner, Governor Howard Dean of Vermont. My personal first voting choice, former Senator Carol Mosely Braun of Illinois, succumbed to these pressures and did indeed drop out and endorse Dean. It was a foregone conclusion in everyone's mind, up until the actual moment the results of the Iowa caucuses came in, that Dean would be the nominee. The DNC was already planning his campaign against George W. Bush and everyone thought he was guaranteed victory. Likely, someone was already planning the inauguration ceremony. Certainly, for much of 2003, Dean was seen by nearly everyone but his opponents as the obvious Democratic nominee and by many as the future president.
Then a funny thing happened. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts won in Iowa and Former House Majority Leader and Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri came in second. In New Hampshire, then still the first primary of the election, Kerry won again. Though it was some time before he officially dropped out of the race, the chief contenders for the Democratic nomination soon became Kerry and Senator John Edwards of North Carolina. Dean was stuck in third place, and while it was a competitive third place it was fairly clear that he was not going to be the Democratic Party's presidential nominee. I can't help but wonder how Carol Mosely Braun felt about having "done the right thing for the party" after it became clear that the party's voters had their own ideas.
Right now, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York is the perceived front runner in the Democratic campaign. Media attention is given her nearest rivals, Edwards and Illinois Senator Barack Obama. Interesting and intelligent candidates Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, and Governor Bill Richardson are given less media coverage and labeled "second tier." All three have more experience than Clinton, Edwards, or Obama and Biden and Richardson (formerly the US ambassador to the UN) have foreign policy experience that all of the other candidates sorely lack. They deserve attention they aren't getting because of Clinton's perceived status as the presumptive nominee and Edwards' and Obama's perceived status as her nearest rivals. The two candidates who most offer genuine change to the American people if actually elected president, Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and former Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska, are ignored entirely, dismissed as "fringe candidates", or treated as jokes.
I can't help but wonder how long it will be before pressure is exerted against the other candidates (particularly the "second tier" and "fringe" candidates) to drop out and endorse Clinton. I can't help but wonder who among the Democratic field will do so. Richardson is a good bet, despite his interesting ideas and significant experience in foreign policy, due to the fact that it was President Bill Clinton who appointed him to the positions of Ambassador to the U.N. and Secretary of Energy. I find Richardson's energy policy proposals interesting and I want to hear more of his ideas, so I would regret this. Gravel is also a possible target for "get out and endorse Hillary" pressure. He hasn't been in office since the 1970s and is in his 70s. Most Americans of my generation don't know anything about his reading excerpts from "The Pentagon Papers" into the Senate record during the Vietnam War, so he sadly lacks political relevance despite having the strongest anti-war chops in an anti-war field for the nomination of an anti-war party. He's already protested one war, pretty successfully. This is his second. I'd say he has more credibility than Hillary, who voted for the Iraq war resolution and whose explanation of that vote lacks resonance and credibility to me. Kucinich won't drop out. He stuck it out until the bitter end in '04 and I expect the same from him now, and I'm glad. He offers a consistently sincere voice for radical change in American policy and a genuine moral compass many Democratic candidates have lacked in the past.
Gravel and Kucinich almost certainly won't be nominated, which is a shame. They offer the most sweepingly radical platforms among the Democratic field. Biden and Dodd have had trouble getting much notice thus far, they aren't as exciting as the three leaders. Richardson has done a little better. The question is this: could Edwards, Obama, or Richardson surprise us all the way Kerry did in 2004? Does all of the ballyhoo about Clinton's front runner status really mean anything?
In 1964 the Barry Goldwater campaign had already gained commitments from all the delegates well in advance of the Republican convention. His primary opponent, Nelson Rockefeller, might have been able to upset Goldwater if he had won all fifteen of the primaries that existed in that era. When Goldwater, mortally wounded and not even knowing it, emerged from the round of primary voting with a Pyrrhic victory over Rockefeller it was too late for emergency alternative Governor William Scranton of Pennsylvania to gain traction and carry the day for the then moderate-to-liberal Republican base.
Today the primaries determine everything. Dean was a lock. Everyone said so. Bang. He was politically dead. Could there be a magic bullet waiting to kill Hillary Clinton's candidacy? Bill Clinton came out of nearly nowhere to win the nomination in 1992. Could Biden, Dodd, Gravel, Richardson, or Kucinich do the same now? Can Edwards or Obama win an early upset and ride that momentum to party victory the way Kerry did in 2004?
I believe the attention given to the perceived front runners in both parties (Clinton and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani) and their nearest rivals (Edwards and Obama for Clinton, former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, and Senator John McCain of Arizona) distracts the public from the fact that there are five other national candidates running against the Democratic front runners and another five running against the Republican front runners. By giving them less coverage or slanting that coverage to cast doubt on their chances, the media gives them a stiff handicap that they don't need running against bigger names.
I'll be honest. I don't want either Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani to be president. The Republican alternatives to Giuliani, with the possible exception of McCain (who is at least against torture and the maintenance of an unconstitutional prison at Guantanamo Bay) or Congressman Ron Paul of Texas (who is at least against torture, Guantanamo Bay, the Patriot Act, and the war in Iraq), are even worse. The only candidates who completely agree with me on the national security issues are Gravel, Kucinich, and Paul. They are the only three candidates who are against the Patriot Act, torture, illegal detention in unconstitutional prisons, and our occupation of Iraq. Obama sounds too much like a Republican to me, and he always has. That was my objection to Edwards in 2004, but he has moved solidly to his left now. Biden, Dodd, and Richardson have more government experience than any of their Democratic opponents and Biden and Richardson more foreign policy experience than anyone else in the race on either side.
Does it matter who the front runners are? I hope not, but I'm not certain the alternatives are any better. My dream is Gravel vs. Paul or Kucinich vs. Paul. Either would be the best presidential race the country has seen in years. Sadly, the chances are slim.