IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Vive la difference

John McCain is not John Kerry. Barack Obama is not Howard Dean. And David Vitter, despite his best efforts, is not Bill Clinton.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., may not be Bill Clinton, but he may wish his wife was Hillary Clinton.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., may not be Bill Clinton, but he may wish his wife was Hillary Clinton.Associated Press
/ Source: National Journal

is not John Kerry. is not Howard Dean. And , despite his best efforts, is not Bill Clinton.

Trying to find a silver lining for McCain's so-called , talkers have compared his troubles to those Kerry suffered in mid-2003. Hoping to minimize the significance of Obama's second-quarter fundraising rout, rival noted that Dean failed to parlay his financial success in '03 into primary wins the following year. Defending Vitter in his sex-for-hire scandal, supporters said that if the country forgave Clinton, voters should shrug off Vitter's transgressions as well.

For reasons big and small, all three comparisons are flawed. Here's why:

Dire straits?
Unlike Kerry, McCain hasn't imploded, per se. As our friends at remind us, his campaign has been sinking slowly, steadily for several months, both nationally and in the early states he now says he'll target exclusively. Burdened by a seemingly irreversible distrust among conservatives and his unpopular stands on two key issues (Iraq and immigration reform), he's dropped 10 points in national polling since January. But since early '06, he's also dropped more than 20 points in South Carolina and 17 points in New Hampshire. The steady downtrend in those two states began well before , who's drawing heavily from McCain's base, ever talked about joining the race.

McCain's financial situation also appears far more dire than the one Kerry faced four years ago at his nadir. He lacks the personal wealth that Kerry tapped in late 2003, when he loaned himself $6.4 million and jump-started his campaign. Also, unlike Kerry and most of the GOP hopefuls in the 2008 primary, McCain is openly considering accepting public financing of his primary campaign, which would severely limit his spending power in the early primary states upon which he's now banking his entire bid.

Finances and votes
Meanwhile, earlier this week, Edwards tried to defend his own campaign's financial lethargy by downplaying the importance of fundraising as an indicator of a candidate's long-term viability. "Everyone will remember Governor Dean who outraised everyone else by more than 2-to-1 and wasn't able to win the nomination," Edwards told the Associated Press.

Edwards is hardly the first person to compare Obama to Dean, both of whom soared onto the national stage fueled by strong and early opposition to the Iraq war. But as the Hotline's Conn Carroll notes, there are fundamental differences between the two Democrats when it comes to fundraising.

Carroll cites numbers from MyDD's indicating that Obama's fundraising is less dependent on the Internet and more dependent on public speaking appearances than Dean's was. "If the typical Dean Internet donor was a guy in his 40s with an advanced degree, [then] it appears the typical Obama donor is a Tufts senior selling Obama tickets outside his dorm," Carroll writes.

"It is unclear why Obama has not inspired the same voices that fought for Dean," Carroll continues, but he offers one explanation, via bloggers David Roberts and Armando Llorens: that Obama "has let others in the field, like Edwards, outflank him on the left" on issues such as the war, which "would have never happened to Dean."

Saints and sinners
Last, but certainly not least, we have the junior senator from Louisiana, who confessed this week to a "serious sin" by doing business with an alleged prostitution ring in D.C. and a high-priced brothel in his native New Orleans.

Unlike Clinton, Vitter immediately responded to his crisis by playing the God card, announcing as his scandal broke Monday evening that he had already received "forgiveness" from the Lord Almighty. Unlike Clinton, Vitter has been a chief opponent of same-sex marriage, vocally touting the "sanctity" of "traditional marriage" during a June 2006 speech on the Senate floor that's making its way around this week.

"Marriage is truly the most fundamental social institution in human history," Vitter said then. "We need to realize just how central those sorts of institutions are, and how important they are in terms of influencing behavior in our society, good behavior and bad behavior. When we look at so many of the social ills we try to address here in Congress with government programs and proposals ... perhaps the single, biggest predictor of good results versus bad results is whether kids come from a stable, loving, nurturing, two-parent family of a mother and father."

"A lot of folks here in Washington don't get that, don't really understand it," he added. "But I can tell you that real people in the real world do. They get it."

During the Clinton impeachment proceedings, Vitter even argued that the president should be removed from office because he was morally unfit to govern. "The writings of the Founding Fathers are very instructive on this issue," Vitter wrote in a New Orleans Times-Picayune editorial. "They are not cast in terms of political effectiveness at all but in terms of right and wrong -- moral fitness." Vitter said Congress had to judge Clinton on moral terms. If no "meaningful action" were taken, he wrote, "his leadership will only further drain any sense of values left to our political culture."

Just as Vitter is unlike Clinton, so too is his wife Wendy apparently a different breed than Clinton's wife, . "I'm a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary," Wendy Vitter told the Times-Picayune in 1999. "If he does something like that, I'm walking away with one thing, and it's not alimony, trust me."

For Bill Clinton's sake, vive la difference.