By Glenn Rubenstein
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Super Tuesday is being pegged as a two-man race, with John
Kerry “the frontrunner” and John Edwards “the underdog.” Both
candidates have a very good chance of beating George W. Bush
this November, and each has qualities that give most Democrats
optimism about what their presidencies would be like.
Think back to a year ago, when that scenario seemed like
a far-fetched idea. When Bush rode his post-9/11 wave of seemingly
unbeatable approval and no matter how valid the criticisms
of the Commander-in-Chief were, the Democratic Party seemed
as if it was on life support.
How did the scales tip back?
The original expectation was that the early Democratic Primary
Elections would narrow the field of candidates, with a nominee
emerging by the end of January. Instead, this extended contest
has given the Democratic race almost non-stop media coverage—focusing
on the candidates, as well as the issues that are important
to the American people.
This has revitalized the Democratic Party, and the extended
contest has sparked a renewed interest in politics amongst
the general public. Not only is this prospect of change exciting
for many Americans who would like to see someone else in the
White House, but the race has also made for a compelling reality
show as candidates have been “voted off.”
Bush is already on the defensive
This has had an enormous impact. For the first time, the
media and the majority of Americans are seriously questioning
George W. Bush’s record as President of the United States.
This scrutiny puts the President in a position where he will
have to defend his tax cuts for the wealthy, the war in Iraq,
the struggling economy, the massive job losses (and lack of
new jobs), plus his administration’s secrecy surrounding inside
deals with companies like Halliburton, and most importantly,
what the White House may or may not have known prior to 9/11.
Even though a candidate has yet to earn enough delegates
to secure the Democratic nomination, the White House has been
forced to accelerate its campaign for re-election. The early
ads promote George W. Bush without responding to the questions
that have been asked, perhaps in hopes of boosting his sagging
approval numbers. On Bush’s own re-election website, ads have
also appeared that attack John Kerry, which is almost unheard
of eight months before the general election.
Now is not the time to let up
Given our country’s short attention span, November 2nd seems
like the distant future. It may seem like John Kerry has this
in the bag, and since most voters like to back the perceived
victor, he very well might have it sewn up.
However, if he wraps it up on Tuesday, March 2, the media
is going to pay far less attention to the remaining 10 weeks
of Democratic primaries. In fact, they’re going to start giving
Bush more time to attack Kerry while avoiding a confrontation
on the real issues of this campaign.
But if John Edwards has a strong showing on Tuesday, this
race could very well go all the way—factor in the four Southern
states the next week, where Edwards will likely increase his
delegate count enough to close a good portion of the gap between
himself and Kerry, and the two candidates will have to battle
it out week to week from there. That’s exactly the type of
contest that the news media lives for.
Imagine if it went all the way down to the convention in
Boston this July. It would become something even bigger, perhaps
elevating the final decision to the level of attention “American
Idol” gets. Of course, here the result would actually mean
something. That type of contest would result in momentum that
would further solidify the Democratic candidate’s chances
of winning, and it would give the Republicans far less time
to implement its attack strategy.
Covering the bases
As it stands, John Kerry is likely to end up winning the
nomination, but if it’s a closer race it will ultimately make
both candidates stronger and more prepared for the fall. Given
that Bush will be unleashing $200 million in campaign spending
against the Democratic nominee, it’s clear that a few more
weeks of rigorous training can’t hurt—and the free media certainly
helps since our side will have far less money to spend.
And the longer this goes on, the more the Bush re-election
staff will be scrambling—it would be even worse for them if
they had to start attacking both Kerry and Edwards because
the primary race continued.
It’s also important to be a tad cautious and note that John
Kerry has been the frontrunner for about a month now. Howard
Dean lasted about six weeks with that distinction, and even
though his reign was before a single vote was cast, the strong
backlash and his rapid demise caught most people off guard.
We have a real shot at beating George Bush this fall, and
it would be devastating if Edwards were to drop out of the
race in the next week, only to have Kerry suffer an unexpected
loss of support and buyer’s remorse.
If you’re amongst those who believe in the “Anyone but Bush”
philosophy, or you want to vote for the best shot at beating
him in November, the smartest bet is to vote for “the underdog”
and keep John Edwards in the closest race possible with John
Kerry--at least for a little while longer.