Now that Dean has melted down his ideological soldiers and his gold reserves in futile attempts to win Iowa and New Hampshire, there is a spot opening up for the unKerry. Senator Gray Davis Kerry of Massachusetts suffers, or maybe, has a talent, for tripping up, and then catching up at the last minute. He runs strong from behind, and weak from the front. He’s now in front, and that means that the place position, which either Edwards or Clark might be able to take, is extremely valuable ground. Kerry is only one stumble, one waffling moment, one embarrassing factoid-shot, away from the ‘waffling elitist liberal’ meme to catch fire.
He has a long list of votes in the Senate to distort, and the internet new politics constituency doesn’t like him, Al Giordiano’s protests to the contrary. When Kerry stumbles, there will be no pro-Kerry Wilgoren Watch or Daily Kos to rise to his defense. There is no army of small donor activists who want on board the Kerry express, because Kerry is precisely about the lack of importance of the small voice. Kerry is about Kerry, and the best that can be said for him, and it is a great attribute, is that he’s not Bush.
What this means to the race, which I am not good at predicting, is that the landscape will be unforgiving to Kerry. If he stumbles, he has few media or new media allies who want him to succeed. This leaves two people to pick up the pieces: Clark and Edwards. They are, at this point, similar candidates.
Edwards has backers who think he’s JFK or Clinton, though they can’t really figure out which because Edwards has no accomplishments to his name, and no base beyond people who think governance comes down to being a good stump speaker. Or, the ‘I can beat Bush because I’m Southern and charismatic’ rationale. Clark has backers who think he’s RFK or the Democrats’ Reagan, though they can’t figure out why he’s been unable to project his magnificent career onto his candidacy. Clark speaks of being a solder, but his message is one of strategic defensiveness. Or, the ‘I can beat Bush because I have national security experience’ rationale. Both are resume candidates, attempting to attract votes based on some non candidate-specific rationale.
Edwards is the charismatic handsome Senator that hasn’t caught on. Clark is the handsome General that keeps stumbling. Both are Southern, have muddled messaging, and no clear rationale for their candidacies. At this point, that muddle is an asset, because it allows them to project effectively on TV whatever they need to. It’s also a hindrance, because there’s no clear base for either of them from which to grow.
At any rate, the race seems to be Kerry’s to lose. He is, fortunately for Clark and Edwards, very good at losing the frontrunner mantle, and the media will probably have its chops out for him shortly. This could open up a Clark bucket, a slot for Clark to use to pick up the pieces when or if Kerry stumbles. Of course, Clark has already been the frontrunner, while Edwards has not, which means that voters, having looked at Dean, Kerry twice, and Clark, will turn to Edwards and see if he’s the one they want.
So the question for Clark is, how do you stop that glance? How do you make sure that the votes melting off of other candidates come to you, and not Edwards? What distinguishes the candidacy of Clark from that of Edwards? It’s not experience, because Clark doesn’t have political experience. It’s not charisma, or Southern heritage, because both have that in spades. It’s not money. It could be military background, but that doesn’t seem large enough. I don’t know. I’m trying to figure it out.