This installment of Demo Derby finds that the duel to the political death between Howard Dean, the front-runner nationally, and Dick Gephardt, the front-runner in Iowa, has gotten even more personal and intense. If Gephardt defeats Dean in the first-in-the nation Iowa caucuses on Jan. 19, he will gain new energy and will take luster off Dean’s campaign.
A third or perhaps even more of the Democrats who intend to participate in the Iowa caucuses are still undecided or very soft in their support. Activist Democrats in Iowa have the luxury not only being able to interview the candidate two or three times, but they can wait for something to happen - such as a candidate to make a mistake.
The net result for Demo Derby is that the race is deadlocked pretty much where it was when we last checked on it.
Although Dean has formidable organization in Iowa, one hears voices of worry and criticism of him among Hawkeye Democrats.
Some think he’s a condescending fellow from an upper-crust East Coast background.
In what looks like an attempt to counteract this, the Dean campaign is running radio ads in Iowa saying that Dean is the son of stockbroker “who could have gone to Wall Street” but instead worked on a ranch in the Southwest, went to medical school, and set up a family medical practice with his wife.
North Carolina Sen. John Edwards - running hard to place third in Iowa - has sharpened his attack on Dean’s anger-fueled candidacy.
“Everybody’s angry with George Bush. We should be,” Edwards tells audiences. But he added, “If all we are in 2004 is a party of anger, we won’t win.”
Edwards, who has previously called Dean condescending, adds, “When you’ve fought and worked your way up, you don’t look down on anybody.”
Meanwhile, in his TV ads, Dean attacks Gephardt for his support of the Iraq war. Dean sees Gephardt’s support for the war as a liability, but Gephardt has decided to try to turn it into a strength.
“If we walk out, we are going to have a terrorist training camp that will make Afghanistan look like a Sunday school picnic,” Gephardt said this week.
In New Hampshire, the most recent poll, by Marist College, shows Dean with an impressive 44 percent to Massachusetts John Kerry’s 23 percent. Just as Gephardt cannot afford to lose Iowa, Kerry cannot afford to lose New Hampshire.
The candidates who are not competing in Iowa, retired Gen. Wesley Clark and Sen. Joe Lieberman, continue to aim for victories in the set of primaries to be held on Feb. 3, including South Carolina, Arizona and Oklahoma.
Clark is launching a national tour in two huge recreational vehicles this week, with one heading from Washington, D.C., to New Hampshire and the other from Arkansas to South Carolina.
Clark is also interrupting his campaign in mid-December to go to The Hague to testify at the war crimes trial of former Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic.
Lieberman continues his attacks on Dean. When Dean called for federal re-regulation of certain industries this week, Lieberman said, “Howard Dean would usher in a new era of big government with his re-regulation proposal. He would give us a treacherous trifecta of policies that turn back the economic clock: new trade barriers, a larger tax burden on our middle class, and now bigger bureaucracy.”
As for those in the back of the pack, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich remains the ideological favorite of many activist Democrats in Iowa - many say he’s absolutely right on withdrawing from the World Trade Organization and in denouncing the Iraq war, but they also say they will likely vote for a more middle-of-the-road contender, such as Dean or Kerry.
Carol Moseley Braun, not recently visible on the campaign trail in Iowa, gets a slight bump for her hiring of feminist leader Patricia Ireland as her campaign manager. Badly underfunded, Moseley Braun could use Ireland’s money-raising skills.