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msnbc.com
updated 10/3/2003 7:43:34 AM ET 2003-10-03T11:43:34

Democratic strategist Donna Brazile predicted in USA Today that party leaders will soon pressure Democratic presidential candidates who are lagging in the polls to drop out and rally behind a rival with more support. Brazile said, “It’s quitting time for some of them.” Quitting time. I like that. And, indeed, there are reports as the weekend approaches that Sen. Bob Graham may be the first to go.

CANDIDATES HAVE time to plan their campaigns, to launch their campaigns, and to execute their campaigns. But who among them makes time for quitting?

Maybe they should. After all, candidates can eagerly offer a wealth of rosy scenarios why he or she will get the nomination — winning state by state, coming alive in certain geographic regions, catching on with a sector of the electorate, or just riding the media wave. Perhaps they should likewise prepare excuses for dropping out. And judging by the recent polls, many of the 10 candidates might want to start getting their excuses in order.

Get ready for lots of dropout talk and lots of reasons why this or that candidate should exit the race, some from outsiders and some even from anonymous campaign insiders. This is a good time, then, to prepare a dropout watch, the Dropout Derby, if you will.

Below you’ll find an interactive exercise. It’s a list of the 10 Democratic candidates and three types of reasons for departing the race — what the conventional wisdom will be, the “real” reason, and the reason the candidates will give us. Just match up the candidates with a reason from each category. Consider it a game, or consider it getting the questions ahead of time, like a California debate. And when you’re done, the answer key is at the bottom. Handicapping the Dropout Derby is just that easy. Enjoy!

THE DROPOUTS, ER, CANDIDATESCarol Moseley Braun

Wesley Clark

Howard Dean

John Edwards

Dick Gephardt

Bob Graham

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John Kerry

Dennis Kucinich

Joe Lieberman

Al Sharpton

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM1. Remained a blip in the polls

2. Upset in New Hampshire

3. Upset in Iowa

4. Couldn’t play in the South and the West

5. Couldn’t put together a campaign structure

6. Wrong message for Democratic primary voters

7. Decided to seek re-election instead

8. Too young, thin resume

9: Great one-liners not enough

10. Couldn’t pay campaign bills

THE REAL REASONA. After all that, it turns out the only conspiracy theory was his campaign

B. Had 57 varieties of his position on the war

C. Not enough to get support just from labor unions

D. Jon Stewart stopped inviting him on his show

E. Got cocky when he went from 1 percent in the polls to 2 percent

F. Was the flavor of the month — in 2000

G. Finally gave up hope for Karl Rove to return his calls

H. James Carville stopped feeding him lines

I. New York mayoral race, anyone?

J. Even the MSNBC ticker stopped caring

WHAT THE CANDIDATE WILL SAYa. I want to spend more time with my family.

b. I want to spend more time with my wife.

c. I want to spend more time with my money.

d. I want to spend more time with the Internet.

e. I want to spend more time with my psychiatrist.

f. I want to spend more time with my ventriloquist dummy.

g. I want to spend more time with Hillary Clinton.

h. I want to spend more time growing eyebrows.

i. I want to spend more time with the Old Testament.

j. I want to spend more time with the New Testament.

ANSWER KEY Carol Moseley Braun: 10, J, a Wesley Clark: 5, G, gHoward Dean: 4, H, dJohn Edwards: 8, D, cDick Gephardt: 3, C, h Bob Graham: 7, A, e John Kerry: 2, B, bDennis Kucinich: 1, E, fJoe Lieberman: 6, F, iAl Sharpton: 9, I, jHoward Mortman, a former editor and senior columnist for National Journal’s Hotline, is a producer for “Hardball with Chris Matthews.” Tune into “Hardball” at 7 p.m. ET, M-F, exclusively on MSNBC cable.

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