Monday, January 26, 2004

Get Your Horserace Odds Here!

My little jest in my column about another columnist for the Tribune, Becky Fenger, got cut by the editor. I guess I have to make the private jokes even more obscure. In the third paragraph, after "hallmark of the Tribune op-ed page," I originally wrote "and because Becky Fenger only does that funky stiletto-heel kick to your back if you're a Jewish Republican." Don't get the joke? Here's the story from the Arizona Republic. We're talking major weird here, aren't we?

The Democratic Campaign
Dean Can't Be Counted Out Yet

East Valley Tribune, Jan. 25, 2004

Why bother writing a new column this week? Since the State of the Union address last Tuesday, with President Bush announcement of Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction-related program activities,” is writing truly necessary? Shouldn’t it be enough to “engage in column-related program activities?” What about providing “clear evidence of possible intent to develop column-writing capabilities?” Plus, don’t forget, several years ago I actually wrote an original column.

As NYU professor Siva Vaidhyanathan wrote, “A cheese-food product is closer to real cheese than ‘weapons of mass destruction-related program activities’ are to real weapons.”

But because selfless service is the hallmark of the Tribune op-ed page, I figured I should do the one thing you’d expect of your regular Democratic columnist: Handicap the Feb. 3 Arizona presidential preference election.

Of course, I really don’t know what will happen. But Americans always speculate endlessly about something to which we’ll know the answer in a couple of days. (You’ll spend more time on stories about who’s going to win than watching the actual Super Bowl.) So let’s speculate away!

First, turnout will be about half of the 29 percent who voted in the 2002 regular primary. That year, four equally-funded candidates sought the Democratic nomination for governor, spending more than the presidential campaigns have in total. Primary turnout also benefited from first-time campaigns in newly-drawn legislative districts in solid Democratic areas; on Feb. 3, with no other races on the ballot, turnout in those areas will decline. I predict about 125,000 votes total, roughly as many the number attending the Iowa caucuses. With 7 candidates splitting that turnout, as few as 20,000 to 30,000 votes could provide a significant win.

Until last week, in a low-turnout “ground war,” the Dean campaign had a decisive edge. They had logged in -- with commitments to vote for Dean, and email addresses -- about half the votes they needed two months ago, and as the campaign surged, their count undoubtedly grew. Unfortunately, by stumbling in Iowa, and if Dean does poorly (meaning, performing worse than whatever level expectations get beaten down to) in New Hampshire, their “hard count” of definitely committed voters suddenly got softer.

Iowa showed that most Democratic voters aren’t deeply committed to a particular candidate. Tracking polls (especially those which force respondents toward a choice and have low undecideds) are catching preferences, but those preferences aren’t solid. Voters are looking at their choices afresh every couple days, and with each new development and primary result.

Iowa polling interviews showed that most voters who called opposition to the war in Iraq their most important issue actually didn’t vote for Dean. The single most important issue for most primary voters wasn’t on the pollsters’ list. It wasn’t the war or some other “issue,” but rather who has the best chance to beat Bush in the general election. All this talk about “Bush hatred” missed the point; most Democrats are watching analytically, looking for the candidate with the best chance to win at the end. We Democrats haven’t been this practical since -- well, I don’t think we’ve ever been this practical.

Still, while Dean has had troubles, he’s put far more money into Arizona than the other campaigns, his hard count won’t go completely soft, and with early voting, many Dean votes got mailed ahead of recent adversity. So I still say Dean wins, but narrowly; Kerry and Clark finish second and third.

But it’s only a guess, and everything is still fluid. Heck, I still haven’t decided for whom to vote. Talk to me in 9 days.

No comments: