DATE: 1/13/2004 09:14:00 AM
Dean's Racial Appeal - Does Howard Dean appeal to anybody? The OpinionJournal looks at the former Vermont governor's appeal to African-American voters, and finds it lacking. Simple electoral math shows that Democrats cannot win without overwhelming support from black voters. Gore's 90 percent in 2000 allowed him to win a plurality of the popular vote - a difference of only a few percentage points, and we would be hearing much less about Florida.
Support for Dean from African-American voters is not assured. Far from it. Some in the party fear black voters may just stay home on election day rather than vote for a white northern liberal. Dean's fumbling attempts to explain a lack of African-American cabinet members during the last debate didn't help him. He should have just pointed out that his policies should appeal to Americans regardless of their race and left it at that. Instead, he pathetically tried to explain he had minority staffers, which only made him look worse.
The Democrats are stuck. They have to pull together a disparate coalition of groups - gays, secular liberals, blue-collar workers, minority voters. This balancing act is harder than it seems, since appealing to one group may cause another to stay home. Bill Clinton was able to pull this off with charm and no small amount of untruth. Unfortunately, the notoriously self-consumed Clinton then rested on his haunches and made no attempt to expand the party's appeal outside of those who would vote for him. Dean lacks Clinton's charisma. It remains to be seen whether he also lacks the ability to bring groups together. The evidence thus far cannot be encouraging for Dems.
Then Clark - Would the party do any better under Wesley Clark? Probably not. Clark is from the south, and a bona fide war hero, but also lacks charisma. In addition, Clark says some really nonsensical things that often have to be "clarified" by more experienced political operatives in his campaign. This is working pretty well now, but when Clark has a national audience, he will have to be more careful with his words.
So far, Clark has supported unlimited abortion rights, said the Iraq war was about oil, accused Bush of dishonoring military dead, and claimed he could find Osama bin Laden based on a tip from Newsweek. These are not mainstream positions, which probably explains Michael Moore's endorsement. Can Clark hold the coaliton together? Unlikely. His statements on abortion alone are enough to sink him with some moderate suburbanites and socially conservative African-Americans.
So where does this leave the Dems? They can still win this election, or rather, Bush can still lose it. The administration's overconfidence often causes them to make really foolish mistakes. There's a fine line between confident and cocky, and Bush sometimes crosses that line without thinking. It will be much harder after the immigration proposals and Medicare bills, for the Democrats to paint Bush as an extremist right-winger tied to his fringe elements. No matter who the Democrats nominate, it will be a hard fight, and extremely entertaining to watch.