Their campaigns jolted by upsets in Iowa, the remaining major Democratic presidential candidates sparred over one another’s experience and electability Tuesday in a race suddenly lacking a front-runner or form.
Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts surged from behind Monday night to win Iowa, and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina finished a surprise second, beating the favorite, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, and knocking Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri out of the race.
Tuesday, the top three flew in to enthusiastic welcomes in New Hampshire, where they will run into a new obstacle: retired Gen. Wesley Clark.
Kerry told supporters in Manchester that his victory was just a first step on the road to the Democratic nomination and a showdown with President Bush.
“I believe we’re going to continue to climb,” Kerry said. “People want a champion, and they want a fighter.”
A daily tracking poll released Tuesday by NBC affiliate WHDH-TV of Boston and Suffolk University, based on a survey taken before the Iowa caucuses, found Kerry at 20 percent in New Hampshire, just behind Dean, at 23 percent, and ahead of Clark, at 15 percent. Edwards, the runner-up in Iowa, had the support of 6 percent of likely voters in New Hampshire, the survey found.
A separate tracking poll by the American Research Group, also taken before the Iowa caucuses, put Dean in the lead, with 28 percent, ahead of Kerry, with 20 percent, Clark, with 19 percent, and Edwards, with 8 percent.
Similar tracking polls in Iowa showed a sharp swing in caucus-goers’ sentiments in the final days of campaigning there, sending Kerry and Edwards surging past the early leaders, Dean and Gephardt. Gephardt returned to his home state, Missouri, and abandoned the race Tuesday, although he did not immediately endorse any of his rivals.
Kerry emphasizes experience
Kerry, who won the support of 38 percent of Iowa caucus-goers, talked up his seasoning at a morning rally in Manchester as he opened his sprint to next Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.
“I also have the experience to make America safer and stronger in the world during a very dangerous time, and I think people want a steady, tested hand at the helm of state,” said Kerry, who just weeks ago was lagging in the polls, his campaign given up for dead by many analysts. “I can provide that.”
Edwards, a first-term senator who ran a strong second in Iowa with 32 percent, countered: “We need a leader who hasn’t spent their whole life in politics, a leader who knows what it’s like out here in the real world.”
Edwards, a trial lawyer who had long been mired in single digits in polls before closing with a rush in the final days before the caucuses, was clearly pumped up by his runner-up finish.
“It’s a huge boost,” he said. “It’s like a fire spreading over Iowa over the last two weeks, and to finish the way we did was extraordinary.”
Conundrum for Dean
The Iowa results were a major blow for Dean, who had long set the pace in the Democratic race and now needs a strong finish in New Hampshire to reinvigorate his campaign.
“I used to be the front-runner when I went out to Iowa, but I’m not the front-runner anymore,” he said at an airport rally after his arrival in Portsmouth. “New Hampshire has a great tradition of supporting the underdog.”
Dean, whose ground-breaking use of the Internet to raise a record $40 million and fuel grass-roots support helped propel him to the top of the polls late last year, finished with 18 percent of the Iowa vote.
Dean said on NBC’s “Today” show that he was probably hurt by “incoming flak” from other contenders when he was seen as the front-runner. But many Democrats were questioning his political judgment after a bombastic election-night speech.
“He must not be thinking. He’s heading to New Hampshire, and those people are serious-minded. They’re going to be thinking, ‘Who’s that cat?’” said Waring Howe Jr., a lawyer from Charleston, S.C., and member of the Democratic National Committee.
A chastened Dean toned down his stump speech Tuesday as part of a message overhaul. “Those of you who came here intending to be lifted to your feet by a lot of red-meat rhetoric will be a little disappointed,” Dean told New Hampshire supporters.
The state is a critical test of Dean’s ability to persuade Democrats that he is back on track and capable of filling what polls show is their greatest desire: beating Bush.
“He gets third place in New Hampshire and he’ll be flipping pancakes with Dick Gephardt somewhere,” said Howe, who has yet to endorse anyone.
Seeking answers in Monday’s results, Dean’s advisers said they concluded that voters craved change but failed to see their candidate as the agent of reform. So they sought to return Dean to his political roots, focusing on his record as five-term governor of Vermont to cast him as a reformer with results.
“I am the only person in this race that’s ever balanced a budget, which we sorely need in Washington,” Dean said as the candidates made the rounds of television news shows. “I am the only person that’s ever delivered health insurance to anybody.”
Bush adopted a similar strategy after Sen. John McCain of Arizona upset him in the 2000 New Hampshire primary.
White House welcomes upset
The topsy-turvy results produced smiles at the White House, where advisers hoped for a long, nasty race that would produce a damaged nominee and a divided Democratic Party. Bush stole the spotlight from Democrats with the annual State of the Union address, a dressed-up version of his campaign agenda.
“They have 17 contests over the next five weeks,” White House communications director Dan Bartlett said, without a hint of regret. “So it looks like the roller coaster is just beginning,”
The top Iowa finishers face a strong new rival in New Hampshire in Clark, who entered the race late and has focused his energies on the state. He has campaigned hard in recent weeks, drawing big crowds and some big-name endorsements and rising to second place in some polls.
Clark reached out to some of Gephardt’s congressional backers Tuesday, seeking to use them to add Washington stature to his first campaign for public office. Such support also would provide him with all-important delegates to the Democratic National Convention.
“General Clark called me this morning. I was very impressed with his campaign. I had a nice discussion with him and told him I’d like to talk to him at some future time,” Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democratic leader in the House, told reporters in Washington.
Kerry poses problem for Clark
But Kerry’s comeback poses problems for Clark, with his record as a Vietnam veteran and foreign policy expert cutting directly into the strengths of Clark, the former supreme Allied commander.
“This was poised to be a Dean vs. Clark race, but now Kerry has jumped in,” said pollster Rich Killion of Franklin Pierce College in New Hampshire.
“Clark filled a vacuum for people looking for an anti-Dean alternative, but he really might have just been a place holder for whoever came screaming in out of Iowa with all the momentum,” he said.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, the most conservative of the Democratic contenders, also elected to skip Iowa, but he has so far struggled to break out of the pack in New Hampshire.
Lieberman picked up the endorsement Tuesday of the state’s largest newspaper, the Manchester Union Leader, but he remained fifth in state tracking polls.
After New Hampshire, the race turns national, with seven contests scheduled across the country on Feb. 3 and caucuses set for Feb. 7 in Michigan and Washington state.
It will cost upward of $1 million a week to air ads in every Feb. 3 television market, not to mention the cost of travel. Kerry, who dipped into his family fortune last year to keep his race afloat, is the only one of the five major candidates not advertising in any of the Feb. 3 states.
His advisers, sitting on a stockpile of ads comparing Kerry’s record to his rivals’, debated whether to go negative. Some argued that he had to pull voters from Dean, Clark and even Edwards. Others said attack ads would backfire, as they did in Iowa for Dean and Gephardt, and were unnecessary if Kerry maintained his Iowa momentum.