Well, well, well... another leap year, another Presidential Election. Seems like it was but a short time ago that there was still an ongoing legal dispute over whether George W. Bush or Al Gore had won Florida's then-25 Electoral Votes in 2000 and, with them, the American Presidency. Or is this feeling merely caused by a most vivid memory of a rather bad dream- given the nightmarish amount of information with which yours truly had to deal as the Florida debacle dragged on from that first Tuesday after the first Monday in November now more than three years ago well into the following mid-December? One is tempted to wonder: what, in the course of the presidential campaign of 2004- whether pre-Convention, the National Conventions themselves or during the General Election campaign this coming Fall- could possibly top Presidential Election 2000? One next fears that which might be the eventual answer to that question!
But the Constitution of the United States of America gives a President a term of only four years and so we Americans must boldly plough onward, knowing that- come what may- there will be a Presidential Election this year, preceded by the usual quadrennial nominations of candidates for President and Vice-President with all that doing so might well entail- from the sublime to the abjectly farcical. This commentary will be my own attempt to- well, hopefully!- guide one into looking for the right things as we begin to bear witness to this whole bizarre pageant of Democracy on the March which begins not with a bang but with something of a whimper: a non-binding so-called "Advisory" Presidential Primary, on the Democrats' side only, in Washington, D.C. scheduled for this coming Tuesday (13 January).
I don't mean to at all slight the Republicans here but, with an incumbent in the White House of that Party- one not facing a serious challenge to his renomination (with all due respect to those Republicans who have taken it upon themselves to, nevertheless, run their quite quixotic nomination campaigns against President Bush, something they certainly have the right to do in our Free Society)- the most interesting pre-Convention action is going to be in the Democratic Party where several contenders have spent the last several months badly beating each other up over who should be the one to challenge Mr. Bush come the Fall. Starting next Tuesday, we should begin getting our answers as to who that person might ultimately be.
The D.C. Primary will, for the most part, be ignored but I myself find it most interesting for the following reason: the five major challengers to former Vermont Governor Howard Dean (who might best be identified collectively as "the ABD [as in 'Anybody But Dean'] crowd")- in alphabetical order: former NATO Commander Wesley Clark, North Carolina Senator John Edwards, former Democratic House Leader Dick Gephardt, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman- are not participating in this earliest, albeit perfunctory, contest for the hearts and minds of the rank-and-file Democrat, ostensibly because the Primary violates Party rules which restrict the start of actual Democratic National Convention delegate selection to Iowa and New Hampshire until the week after the New Hampshire Primary (in fact, the D.C. Primary is a non-binding "beauty contest" precisely because of these rules).
However, truth be told- and given the political, economic and ethnic demographics of Our Nation's Capital- the efforts of the five ABD'ers would likely, and largely, be in vain. This leaves the Primary field in D.C. to- naming here only those who are considered among the main contenders for the Party's nomination- Dean himself, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, former Illinois Senator Carol Moseley-Braun and New York-based activist the Reverend Al Sharpton: Kucinich is probably the most unabashedly white liberal (in the late 1960s/early 1970s sense of that term) in the group, Moseley-Braun is the only woman and both she and Sharpton are the only African-Americans. Thus, the results in D.C. hold the promise of at least a possible indicator of two things that will at least somewhat color the race for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination: first, how well can Howard Dean do within the Black community? second, which of the three other of the four candidates will emerge as the candidate of the disenfranchised and downtrodden, those who will not feel well represented by the candidacy of Dean and whoever emerges as the candidate of the ABD'ers.
For, at least during the earliest weeks of the Primaries and Caucuses, I think the Democrats of 2004 are well heading towards something along the lines of what their Party had back in 1984: a mainstream centrist contender (presumably one- if not more than one- of the five ABD'ers sitting out the D.C. Primary, playing Fritz Mondale in this particular "movie"), the challenger to the mainstream (Howard Dean as Gary Hart redux) and the candidate of the disaffected (Kucinich, Moseley-Braun and Sharpton fighting over who gets the Jesse Jackson role). While D.C. will begin the casting of who gets to play 2004's Reverend Jackson, Iowa's caucuses on Monday 19 January will begin the other two processes.
Keep in mind, as you watch the results of the Iowa caucuses that night, two basic facts: 1. Caucuses are not Primaries: they don't really function the same way (after all, the Primary voter in the voting booth is not beset on by a bunch of people sharing the booth, all trying their best to alter where exactly the voter's fingers might ultimately go), yet the mainstream media will treat Iowa as if it were a Primary and, as a result, try to act as if the "voting" at the Iowa caucuses is really no different than the votes that will be cast in New Hampshire eight days later; 2. the same number of delegates to the Democratic National Convention will be directly allocated via the Iowa lowest-tier caucuses as are allocated in the D.C. Primary six days before- as in: NONE! Nevertheless, the Iowa caucuses will tell us whether Dean is truly a national candidate, something other than a rather New England phenomenon translated to the modern Internet age (the endorsements of the former Vermont Governor by Messrs. Gore, Bradley and Harkin notwithstanding). The other thing we will learn is if ABD'er Dick Gephardt can stay in the race, at least for another week or so (his showing, versus that of Dean, in Iowa going a long way towards determining this).
Then it will be off to New Hampshire and its Primary on Tuesday 27 January. A Howard Dean victory in the Granite State will not be news at all: any news regarding Dean will only be if he should win that Primary by a majority (since it is very difficult- even for someone from the same Region- to get at least 50 percent of the vote in a multi-candidate field) or if Dean should actually be bested in the New Hampshire Primary (in which case, DEAN LOSES should be appearing the next day as the headline in your local newspaper in so-called "Second Coming" type). Neither is, at the time of this writing, likely to happen, however: Dean should win New Hampshire with a comfortable (30-something percent, if not even 40-percent plus) percentage, in which case one should then turn one's attention to who might be coming in second or third (or even fourth-- depending on how the candidates, presumably behind Dean, might bunch up) in the Granite State and how close any of these might get to Dean's precentage at the top of the heap. A poor showing by Senator Kerry (like Dean, also from the Region) in New Hampshire clearly dooms his presidential ambitions (Senator Lieberman, although also from New England, might not suffer as much with a poor showing- at least not immediately, as Lieberman has a candidacy on his side of the Democrats' political spectrum almost as unique as Al Sharpton's on his!) But, in truth, none of the ABD'ers who are on the ballot in New Hampshire can well afford a poor showing behind presumptive winner Dean: the two who finish behind the Vermonter- unless # 3 be Kerry- will be those battling for the centrist "chair" among the contenders in any post-New Hampshire televised debates.
By the time most Americans will be glued to Super Bowl XXXVIII come Sunday, 1 February, more than a few of the current major contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination will have become "toast", some of these- at least- will already be gone and we will, by then, have a much clearer picture of just who is where in the nomination sweepstakes as we head on into the Primaries of February... by which time it will be time for another of these Commentaries of mine!