Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Wesley Clark 

Should Wesley Clark run for president? Franklin Foer thinks so:

... Clark's shot at beating Bush is exponentially better than those of any of the other contenders.

Nobody could possibly take Clark, the former NATO supreme commander, for a McGovernite pacifist -- even when he makes his critique of Operation Iraqi Freedom. When the press refers to him, his first name will always be "General." Without being the least bit exploitative, his ads will feature him with stars across his shoulders.

But Clark's virtues go beyond foreign policy concerns and his jacket full of medals. When he articulates mainstream Democratic issues, as he does on abortion, affirmative action and taxation, he manages to sound like a centrist maverick. In part, he benefits from a southern accent and a cool demeanor. But he also approaches politics as an outsider. This isn't to say that he is a policy ignoramus. On the contrary, he talks about domestic issues with a surprising proficiency. (He didn't finish first in his West Point class for nothing.) Clark's appeal is that he intelligently veers from traditional Democratic rhetoric to make the party's case.
I think Foer is getting a bit ahead of himself there. His argument is that Clark can attract the moderates who may lean left on domestic issues but would vote for Bush if a Dean or even a Gephardt were the Democratic nominee, because of national security. The problem is, moderates don't vote in the Democratic primary. Any argument in favor of a Clark candidacy must begin on his ability to win the primary.

So what are his chances? His biggest appeal is that he would be the most electable Democrat. Can this get people to vote for him? Clearly he won't persuade any of the Dean Fedayeen, who despite their claims are not supporting an electable candidate. He might draw votes away from Kerry, but only after he has established himself as a viable candidate. For this he would need to get the DLC type votes that now support Edwards, Gephardt, and Lieberman. This is a crowded field, and though they might have control of the Democratic rank-and-file, they don't exactly command a controlling majority of primary voters. The only thing a Clark candidacy might do is to further split the moderate vote and enhance the chances of Kerry or Dean.

Another way for Clark to get votes would be for him to energize those who normally don't vote. But this is unlikely. His support would come from moderates, and these are the last people who would vote in a primary because they think that one of the candidates is more electable than the others. An undecided moderate won't spend their time voting for Clark in a primary if they haven't already decided that they're voting against Bush. And of course many of these moderates are unregistered and would not be able to vote in the closed primaries. Most of them happen to be in the South (including South Carolina), precisely the states in which Clark would really need to have a strong showing (the link shows the types of primaries in 2000 for Democrats; I don't know whether any of them have changed since then).

The only way Clark could win, it would seem, would be to draw away a significant amount of support from Edwards, Gephardt, Lieberman, and maybe Kerry. This isn't impossible, but it might be tougher for him to win the nomination than to beat Bush in the general election.

(Foer article via Oxblog).
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