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Jewish World Review Jan. 26, 2004 / 3 Shevat, 5764

Dick Morris

Dick Morris
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Karl Rove must be crying | That which the Democratic Party bosses — and Bill and Hillary Clinton — could not control, they chose to kill. Despite summoning a cyber-roots enthusiasm unequalled in decades, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean committed the unpardonable sin of failing to kowtow to the leaders of his party.

He paid for it with a third place finish in Iowa. The months of daily pounding, animated by diligent negative research by minions of Terry McAuliffe and the Clintons and disseminated into the national political bloodstream by the likes of Chris Lehane, proved effective. Dean, subjected to a relentless negative campaign reminiscent of what the Republicans did to H. Ross Perot in 1992, now fades into the dustbin of history.

But, before he goes, let us note his incredible success in mobilizing the Internet to generate campaign contributions that far outstripped the candidates who were beholden to special interests (or, in the case of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, to his mortgage) to raise money. Dean's ability to use the Net as a political force will increasingly make campaign finance reform irrelevant as the political fundraising market moves beyond the control of the few into the dominion of the many.

With the new leftist, Dean, having failed, the old one reasserted his primacy, and Kerry emerged as the Iowa winner. Likely he will go on to win in New Hampshire as well.

But the most interesting development to emerge from Iowa is the late surge of North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. A moderate, in the best Bill Clinton sense of the term, his ability to rise above the ashes of Rep. Dick Gephardt (Mo.) and Dean and soar to a resounding second-place finish clearly makes him the alternative to the Massachusetts liberal. For those who do not want a repeat of the Dukakis campaign, Edwards would seem to be the best hope.

Edwards's articulateness, attractiveness, and — dare we say it? — charisma make him a formidable force in the Democratic primaries to follow. His weakness is the domination by trial lawyers in his donor base. One wonders how many straw donors he has — paralegals in plaintiff's firms who anted up $2,000 apiece despite earning only $20,000 a year. America will not stand for a campaign where fundraising is based on election fraud. But if Edwards can overcome that hurdle, his surge is proof that the center is alive and well in the Democratic Party.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) and Wesley Clark sat out the Iowa contest, to their detriment. Americans are going to be excited by the new contest of Kerry versus Edwards — the Bay State liberal against the Southern moderate. It's Paul Tsongas against Bill Clinton, Michael Dukakis against Al Gore all over again. Gen. Clark and the 2000 vice presidential nominee waited too long to find a primary that suited their tastes and now are left out in the cold.

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Kerry, having learned not to move to the center too early, will be a tough candidate in the ensuing primaries. His momentum will garner adequate funding for each of the difficult contests that lie ahead. Used to the national stage, he will adjust better than Dean to the posture of front-runner.

But don't count out Edwards. The skills of an appealing orator and an intense trial lawyer are not lost in a courtroom or in a primary. Americans will want to learn more about their boy-orator from the South and his novelty and compelling personality and delivery will make him a strong challenger.

The big loser in Iowa was George W. Bush. Karl Rove must be crying. No longer can he nurture fond dreams of a set-up in November. There will be no George McGovern rout this year. Bush's re-election will hinge on one key question: Does he pull the troops out of Iraq?

If Bush opts to model himself after Lyndon Johnson and attempt to fight a war during an election, he will end up where LBJ finished — out of the White House. But if he follows the wiser example of Richard Nixon and begins pulling the troops out once the handover to Iraqi rule takes place in June, he likely will be re-elected.

Since both Kerry and Edwards could win if nominated, the focus will be intense. Kerry's experience gives him the edge. But the ranks of moderate independents, ignored so far in the Democratic nominating process could flood back into the primaries and tip the balance toward the southerner.

We need all to remember that this is not a Democratic primary we are watching. Without a Republican contest to siphon off independent voters, it is a general election to which Republicans are not invited. The centrist mainstream may yet prevail. And then Bush has real problems.

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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, Off with Their Heads: Traitors, Crooks & Obstructionists in American Politics, Media & Business" Comment by clicking here.



© 2003, Dick Morris