OP-EDS

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February 24, 2004

2004 election trends

You should all know by now that what the national press says about the elections just doesn't matter. Everybody from The New York Times to CNN to The Indianapolis Star proclaimed first that only Lieberman could win, then that Bush was unbeatable, and then that Dean was going to be the nominee, come Clark or high water. Now the pack journalist's wisdom is that, despite the fact that the primary season has only barely begun, we might as well resign ourselves to a Kerry-Edwards ticket. All the other predictions have been wrong, absolutely wrong, unimaginably wrong; whether the current article of faith is reliable, I don't know, but there simply isn't any reason to think that what seems obvious to the press is inevitable. In fact, such apparent inevitability is probably why so many people are so apathetic about politics today. But I simply want to list a few interesting trends that, while far below national consciousness, could end up fundamentally reshaping this year's presidential race.

Bill Wyatt and Roy Moore. President Bush is doing fairly well in the Republican primaries this year, all things considered; however, in the Oklahoma polls, he only won 90 percent of the vote. Only 90 percent? He still won, right? In 1968 a comfortable win in New Hampshire of 60 percent was bad enough to make LBJ, the sitting president, drop out of the race. In this year's race, the other 10 percent go to Bill Wyatt, an obscure Republican protest candidate who opposes the war in Iraq and supports the decriminalization of marijuana. The very fact that such a man won even 10 percent against Bush implies a serious amount of yet-invisible conservative dissent which, given the right outlet, could seriously injure the President's re-election chances. I can't imagine that any serious Republican will vote for Kerry, or that Bush is about to give up, but an attractive third-party candidate could draw a large conservative following.

Enter Roy Moore. Since his nationally covered fight to keep the Ten Commandments in the Alabama Supreme Court house, former justice Moore has a lot of political capital and a lot of sympathy among what remains of the religious right. In the last couple of weeks, Moore has vaguely hinted that he might run as a third-party candidate for president. While there's no chance that he could win, his candidacy could make a large impact in the South and in the Bible Belt. When the presidential race is as close as it is (and it is), any real third-party candidate could really mean something.

Howard Dean and carpet-bombing. Why did Howard Dean fall so quickly? How could everybody (myself included) be so wrong? It wasn't just the scream (although Ed Muskie could have told the Governor what happens if you get too emotional in early primaries); Kerry had already beaten Dean soundly by the time that out-of-context video hit the airwaves. Kerry also had a lot better ground organization in both states and much more national political experience. But the real reason Dean lost, I believe, is simply that he peaked too soon. For a Democratic candidate, too much exposure too soon is deadly. At that point, every reporter in the world will kill himself or herself to get an incriminating story on you. In a way, Kerry should be glad he still has Edwards as an opponent; his Senate colleague from North Carolina is the only reason the press hasn't butchered him.

9/11 and Rudolph Giuliani. The Bush administration has done a number of increasingly bizarre things in order to curry political favor (which makes sense, because everything the Bush administration does is political). The very fact that the Republican National Convention will be held in New York, just a few blocks from the World Trade Center site, should mean something. While it's entirely possible to be too conspiracy-minded about this, it is just as possible that Bush might do something very, very strange in order to keep his job. Is the "October surprise" theory plausible? Could we end up invading somebody right before the election? Will the threat level turn bright red come November? Cheney is becoming an increasingly unpopular liability for the president—will he still be on the ticket in the fall? A keynote speech in New York might be a perfect time to introduce someone like Rudolph Giuliani as the new vice presidential candidate. Any one of these things could happen, or none of them could happen. I don't mean to spread gossip, and I'm fully aware that there's little evidence to support any of these claims, but we know how the Bush administration works, and I wouldn't be too complacent.

In addition to these items, there are many unseen forces that will decide the 2004 election. Very few of them get much press coverage. Whatever happens, I can guarantee one thing—in a few months, we will all almost certainly be wrong.