Thursday, February 12, 2004

AZ Dems to Lieberman: Joe Way, José

My column below on the results of the Arizona Democratic presidential preference election ran on Lincoln's Birthday instead of last Sunday. There's irony in that, I suppose (as Garry Wills noted about a decade ago, Republicans these days have little use for Lincoln other than as an excuse for a fundraiser), but it really had to do with recent difficulties in getting my emails to my editor at the Tribune. My column sat in an email inbox for three days, and apparently today was the first chance it had to run.

It really should have run on Tuesday, when the Tribune ran a Morton Kondrache piece lamenting the decline of moderates in both parties. My take is the failure of Lieberman's campaign wasn't about ideology, but rather about competence--in the general election. But I also wanted to explain why I thought, two weeks out, that Dean still had a shot in Arizona. Well, if the Kerry rumors pan out, maybe it really isn't over (and maybe John Edwards really is the world's luckiest guy).

I can recommend as the best collection of Joe! puns around as the one by William Saletan in Slate. Enjoy.

The Arizona Primary
Big turnout, demise of Lieberman indicate Democratic voters know what's at stake

East Valley Tribune, Feb. 12, 2004

Shows you how much I know, even about Democratic politics in Arizona. My predicted turnout in last week’s presidential preference election was off by only 120 percent. Instead of the 110,000 to 115,000 voters I expected, and the 150,000 that State Party Chair Jim Pederson hoped to see, over 225,000 Democrats voted last Tuesday.

Howard Dean did get over 30,000 votes, which under my turnout prediction would have finished near the top. But when more than twice as many voters showed up, those Dean votes instead represented a distant third-place finish -- meaning Dean not only lost, but may not get delegates by failing to reach the 15 percent threshold.

Two surprising things happened. First, not only did John Kerry sweep up undecided voters, but many voters formerly supporting Dean went to Kerry, which rarely happens. Second, proving that The Tribune knows what it’s doing by not making editorial endorsements, Joe Lieberman’s Arizona campaign never did recover from an endorsement by the Arizona Republic.

Apparently, the Democratic voters were pretty sophisticated political observers, who recognized that the support of people who are voting for Bush anyway isn’t worth much. Like the clock striking thirteen -- not only absurd of itself, but it also calls into question everything that came before -- the Republic endorsement caused Lieberman’s support to drop about 6 to 8 points, depending on the poll.

If the only people who really want to vote for him in February are people who won’t vote for him in November, why bother nominating the guy?

Lieberman’s failure in the Democratic primaries gets attributed to the usual lack of momentum and fundraising, but also to a failure of a conservative Democrat to appeal to a more liberal primary electorate. But in my vastly-wrong-two-weeks-ago opinion, that’s nonsense. To paraphrase Michael Dukakis, Lieberman’s failure wasn’t about ideology; it was about competence.

Not “competence” meaning that Lieberman isn’t an accomplished and well-respected senator -- he certainly is -- but competence in that Democratic voters couldn’t trust him as a candidate against George W. Bush.

Lieberman started the campaign with the highest name identification from his vice-presidential race, but the more he campaigned in a state, the more his support dropped there. He reminded too many Democrats of his faint-heartedness during the 2000 campaign, where he seemed more concerned with protecting his reputation among the political and media elite than with winning.

In his stump speech, Lieberman claimed he was the candidate the Republicans feared most because Bush couldn’t attack him. This struck most Democrats as a delusional fantasy. In other words, the “electability” issue killed Lieberman, not based on ideology or issues, but because Democrats simply didn’t trust anybody who claimed Bush and the Republicans wouldn’t attack him.

After all, we’re talking about George W. Bush here, the guy who immediately after John McCain’s victory in the New Hampshire primary shamelessly called himself “a reformer with results.” The same Bush whose supporters went after McCain in South Carolina in the most odious way -- implying that the McCain’s adopted Bangladeshi daughter was illegitimate, that McCain was the “fag candidate” for having met with the Log Cabin Republicans, having some fringe veteran denounce McCain as a “POW who came home and forgot us” -- and those are just the tactics printable in a family newspaper. If Joe Lieberman thought Bush surrogates wouldn’t say things about him that aren’t true, then Democrats realized that Lieberman would be as passive as Mike Dukakis -- without the tank helmet.

Democrats could nominate somebody Jewish for president. We’d even nominate somebody despite those terrible puns (Joe-mentum!). We’re just not going to nominate anybody that naïve.

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