I was in Iowa writing for The Blogging of the President last week, and I kept hearing – between the shouts for and against Dean, and the softer Midwestern peeks at Kerry and Edwards (and silence about Gephardt – murmurs about Wesley Clark.
‘Why didn’t he come here?’
‘I wish he had at least been in one debate, so we could have seen him.’
‘Yeah, I like him, a lot. But he’s not campaigning here.’
As Clark surged in NH prior to Iowa, Clark fans, and pundits, called Clark’s move to stay out of Iowa ‘smart’ or ‘savvy’. They heralded him for husbanding his resources, and becoming known in New Hampshire. And yet, in hindsight, the picture looks very different. Kerry captured enormous value out of Iowa – momentum, and Edwards and Lieberman are now fighting Clark for share in the NH primary. When Clark pulled out of Iowa, he lost major endorsements; it seems to have been a critical mistake. But Iowa also symbolized something different, and deeper, and more problematic.
And I don’t mean the primary problems, which he may yet be able to overcome if Kerry, who is very good at stumbling, and Dean, who is even better at it, stumble once more. Clark probably should have gone to Iowa, but more importantly, it’s clear that a lot of his support in New Hampshire existed only because it was a one man field in that state. And that means that Clark hadn’t just waned from public perception; he wasn’t even there. It’s a sad state of affairs for Clark, because it didn’t have to be this way.