By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Following his Iowa defeat,Howard Dean canceled all paid media advertising in Arizona. It was a bitter pill to swallow after the former Vermont governor had assiduously worked this state for a solid year, stitching together a network of supporters and volunteers. Kerry, by contrast, had virtually ignored Arizona until his triumph in Iowa.
Dean made two Arizona blitzes over the weekend, clearly attempting to salvage some sort of presentable showing. A remarkably large and enthusiastic crowd of 500 or more heartily cheered Dean when he appeared at an outdoor rally Saturday morning in a Tucson park. “I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Howard Dean,” proclaimed a hand-lettered placard in the crowd as Dean bounded onto the stage to rock-star applause.
Speaking the day after the Washington Post published a high-profile story on extensive lobbyist contributions over the years to the Kerry organization, Dean ratcheted up his direct attacks on his Massachusetts rival. Branding Kerry a “handmaiden to special interests” and a “special-interest clone,” Dean repeated his trademark line “that we are not going to beat George Bush with Bush Lite.” In a press interview after the rally, for the first time, he labeled Kerry a “Republican.”
It wasn’t until a full 15 minutes into his still-passionate stump speech that Dean as much as mentioned the war in Iraq, the issue that fueled his meteoric rise through last year and that, until recently, occupied center stage in his campaign. Jobs, health-care and the environment now take priority.
But just as Dean has retooled his approach, reality itself has once again shifted under his feet. The admission by the Bush administration’s top weapons inspector, David Kay, that there are likely no weapons of mass destruction to be found in Iraq has suddenly re-floated the war as a major issue for Democrats — a bitter irony for the Deaniacs.
Though floundering in the polls, running out of money and busily laying off its paid staffers, the Dean campaign retains a “movement” feel. His Tucson and Phoenix headquarters buzzed with energetic college students. A “Southwest Victory Express” of mostly California-based volunteers methodically canvassed heavily Democratic neighborhoods, two dozen members of the SEIU’s Justice for Janitors Local 1877 showed up to staff bilingual phone banks, and there was even an L.A.-based squad of “Cyclists for Dean” who tirelessly pedaled through targeted precincts trying to turn out the vote.
But the movement nature of the Dean campaign is both its strength and its weakness. Spending time with the Dean campaign and attending its high-energy and stoked-up rallies can create a false illusion of great momentum and support that simply doesn’t exist outside its own perimeter. The cold facts are that most voters — probably 99 percent — never go to a campaign rally or any other sort of political rally for that matter. Some of Dean’s top California strategists came into Arizona to lend a hand and to sniff the atmosphere. For Dean to reasonably compete in the March 2 Left Coast primary (provided he could somehow survive Washington, Michigan and Wisconsin), they agreed he had to emerge this week as the Last Standing Man — the only alternative to Kerry. That hope seemed to evaporate Tuesday night, with Dean finishing no higher than third place in all seven primaries and caucuses. The Deaniacs are soon going to have to decide in whose competing campaign they will invest their hopes and passions.
Former General Wesley Clark, meanwhile, poured sizable resources into Arizona and outpolled Dean 2-to-1, yet still finished 16 points behind Kerry. Watching him on the stump in a suburban Tucson tourist restaurant, I frankly have difficulty imagining how the former NATO Supreme Commander engenders much if any popular support. (But then again, you can reasonably ask the same question about the dour John Kerry).
Clark entered the race as a clumsy campaigner and, months later, he remains a clumsy campaigner. His awkwardly delivered stump speech lacks coherence and theme and seems an uneven pastiche of official Democratic bromides. Clark aimed his appeal to Arizona’s seniors and veterans as he stressed his values of “patriotism, faith, family and inclusion.”
Clark ploddingly stumbled through each of the four values, introducing each one with the same catch phrase of “Here’s what we’re gonna do.” But each tease was followed by a marked lack of programmatic detail that faded into platitude. There was one curious note to Clark’s speech. Unlike any other of the primary candidates, and obviously reacting to charges that only recently he may have been an admirer of Republicans, Clark went out of his way — by my count four times in 15 minutes — to praise the Democratic Party by name. “The fortunate should help the fortunate,” Clark said, summing up what might be the entirety of his domestic program. “And only one party does that in America. The Democratic Party.”
Clark’s second-place showing here and in neighboring New Mexico as well as his razor-edge victory in Oklahoma, nevertheless reflects a certain resonance that the former general has among Latinos, veterans, seniors and more socially conservative Democrats. His rallies are punctuated with the universal Army cheer of “Hooah!” and his appeal to so-called NASCAR Dads is undeniable. “When Bush speaks he has an air of arrogance. But General Clark is one of us — a guy you can watch the Super Bowl with,” said 42-year-old Edward Emerine, a postal worker who showed up at Clark’s Tucson rally with his young daughter in tow. “He’s a good combination of a Democrat and a Republican.”