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babylonsister Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Nov-17-07 11:38 AM
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The Electability Conundrum

The Electability Conundrum

Voters, Democrats in particular, tend to winnow the field of potential presidential candidates to those they like best, then discard those people for someone they think others will like better.

Terence Samuel | November 16, 2007 | web only

In seven short weeks, the voters of Iowa will go to the presidential caucuses with the weight of the Free World on their shoulders, a sense of duty in their hearts, and strains of "Auld Lang Syne" still ringing in their ears.

Having repelled a power grab by a bunch of upstart states hoping to expand their influence in the presidential sweepstakes at Iowa's expense, Iowans will continue to have the first say in who the next president will be. But the Jan. 3 caucus date is earlier than ever -- and that means a dramatic reordering of the election calendar.

So already, even before the Thanksgiving turkeys are bought or roasted, before the winter gloom completely envelops us, we are fully into the season of electability. This is the nefarious period during which voters, Democrats in particular, winnow the field of potential presidential candidates to those they like best, then discard those people for someone they think others will like better. The electability debate is often characterized as a nod to pragmatism, a triumph of practicality over ideology, and, of course, it comes with some familiar rituals and traditions, namely: hand-wringing, second-guessing, and self-doubt. This is unattractive behavior, but completely unavoidable.


"My heart was with Edwards, but my head was with Kerry," Clyburn told me.

The heart-head split is a common feature of the electability conundrum. But electability also involves, as in Clyburn's case, perceptions about the presidency, and how close a candidate can match public perceptions of being presidential. Aside from his Vietnam medals (some discarded), Kerry's face looks like it belongs on Mount Rushmore, while Dean looks like a college football coach.

This time around the perception of electabilty ought to be particularly interesting since the leading candidates are a woman, a black man, a Mormon, and a bald, triple-divorcee who was once married to his second-cousin. No historical characteristics of "electability" there.

But maybe the best measure of electabilty is the oldest: The one with the most votes wins. Iowans will begin sorting that out in just a matter of weeks.
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