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Can Howard Dean Win?

Nicholas Johnson's E-mail to
"Talk of Iowa"
Iowa City, Iowa

With host Al Kern, and guest the Des Moines Register's David Yepsen

December 23, 2003

Al Kern [AK]: We have an email from Nick in Iowa City. "A couple of questions regarding Howard Dean." The first one, David, ďHow do you account for" -- what he calls "self-described liberals and progressives" -- "supporting Howard Dean who supported the Iraq War at the beginning and now contends he opposed it all along, who has an A+ rating from the NRA, supports the death penalty, opposes any cuts in defense spending, and wants a profit driven health care system rather than universal single payer?Ē

David Yepson [DY]:  Well, Iím not going to speak for Howard Dean.  And I would take a half hour to answer every one of those points.

But, taking all those issues in whole, part of Deanís charm, part of Deanís attraction, is that he isnít a traditional liberal or conservative.

He does have the left-to-center view on the war.  He did oppose the Congressional resolution, the writer is referring here I assume to the amendment Dean had supported.  Thereís a lot of argument over whether or not that would have authorized the war, and whether or not Dean would have required another Congressional vote.  The bottom line is that Howard Dean was out early against this war in Iraq, unlike the other candidates, and thatís really all a lot of people have to hear.

But it isnít just the war, thereís a lot more to Howard Deanís candidacy than that, as I see it.

He has had a lot of appeal to people who like his candor, his frankness, the fact that he is willing to change his mind on things.  You know, for example, Medicare.  Heís being criticized for having once said Medicare has problems.  Well, traditional politicians get criticized for flip-flops.  But Howard Dean seems to have weathered that. And why?  Because a lot of his people like the intellectual honesty that the man brings to the debate.  So, while it is very frustrating to a lot of people, particularly people on the left in the Democratic Party, to see a guy who gets support from the NRA, the reality is that that appeals to a lot of new people who are looking for something different in their politicians.

AK: Nickís second question, David, ďWhat is your best guess, not as to Deanís getting the nomination, but as to Deanís ability to defeat Bush as the economy improves and we hand over Iraq to the Iraqis, heís made to confront some of the positions heís taken, his record in Vermont, his getting out of the draft with a bad back, and then spending time skiing, etc.?"

DY:  I think that any democrat is going to having a difficult time beating George Bush.

I think Democrats are very angry at George Bush and sometimes, frankly, they donít think straight.  They need to think very carefully about what the difficulty is in ousting a sitting president.

Nickís right, the economy is getting better, support for the war has gone up.  Knocking off Bush is going to be a difficult task.

Is it impossible?  Heavenís no.  The election is just under a year away and a lot can happen as weíve all seen.  So, I think Dean has certainly a lot of the vulnerabilities that Nick mentions in the email that Dean will be criticized for in the South and border areas. On gay rights issues, for example, will those have a comeuppance, thatís another point of vulnerability with some voters.

But he has other things in his favor.  If heís attracting new people in substantial numbers, his use of the Internet. The demographics of the American electorate have changed as well.

Let me give you an example.  If Bush carries the same states as he carried last time, he gets eight more electoral votes, because redistricting has added strength to Bush states.

But, on the other hand, if the Democratic candidate simply gets the same percentage of the Latino and African-American votes as Al Gore got last time, the Democrats should have enough votes to win some of those marginal states to the Democratic side.  Why?  Because those demographic groups have increased in populations.

Thereís a whole new effort underway to turn out unmarried women who tend to vote in larger numbers for democrats.  I mean, Al, thatís what campaigns are all about, is trying to put together winning combinations of numbers, and I think that would be what Dean would be trying to do.

I mean, I am not here to endorse the man or condemn the man, Iím just simply here to answer the callerís question.