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Kerry Goes National 

Edwards hangs in, Dean vanishes, and Bush provisionally tanks

Thursday, Feb 5 2004
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I. Kerry the Conquerer

ST. LOUIS — “To defend every place is to defend no place,” Frederick the Great once cautioned, but John Kerry was every place over the past week, and emerged from the process with the Democratic presidential nomination all but wrapped up.

Kerry was the only Democratic candidate to campaign during the seven days following New Hampshire in all seven states holding primaries or caucuses this past Tuesday. No other candidate campaigned in more than four, save only Joe Lieberman, who visited five. (There was no state in which Lieberman was doing well enough to justify his presence.)

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Kerry spent parts of three days in South Carolina, two in Missouri, and one in each of the five remaining states. Wesley Clark, by contrast, spent a least a portion of each of the seven days in Oklahoma and bombarded it with advertising, and John Edwards was in his native South Carolina for six of the seven.

Tuesday’s results prove that if you set up housekeeping in a state, you may well win it. Clark eked out the narrowest of victories in Oklahoma, while Edwards won handily in South Carolina. On the other hand, Clark finished a dismal fourth (with just 4 percent of the vote) in the biggest state to vote Tuesday, Missouri. He ran fourth in Carolina and fifth in Delaware. Edwards ran out of the money (a distant fourth) in Arizona, New Mexico and North Dakota, and a weak third in Delaware.

Kerry, however, defended every place. He not only posted five decisive victories, but ran a strong second in South Carolina, and got 27 percent of the vote in Oklahoma, where Clark and Edwards each pulled down 30 percent. The exit polls everywhere make clear that the breadth of Kerry’s support isn’t merely geographic. He runs well, and with roughly the same levels of support, across lines of class, age, gender, education, race and ideology. If not a Democrat for all seasons, he certainly has become the Democrat for the season of defeating George W. Bush.

Kerry’s triumph in the largest of this week’s contests, the Missouri primary, was one of neither organization nor media. Missouri was the most peculiar of primaries, of course, since no campaign had any intent of even campaigning here as recently as two weeks ago. The state belonged to veteran St. Louis Congressman Richard Gephardt, but when Gephardt finished an unexpected fourth in neighboring Iowa and withdrew from the race, the state suddenly belonged to nobody.

Kerry’s campaign didn’t hire a state director until two Saturdays ago, just 11 days before Tuesday’s primary. He was, however, able to win the endorsements of the state’s most prominent Democrats — former Senator Jean Carnahan and the mayors of St. Louis and Kansas City — which guaranteed that his rallies in those two cities were well attended. Beyond that, the endorsements weren’t worth that much in the way of organization. An election-eve visit to Kerry’s state headquarters — two rooms leased to the Fire Fighters Union in a community center in a residential section of St. Louis — turned up a total of 14 volunteers, which was more than enough to staff the bank of nine telephones.

Firefighters, veterans and other Kerry volunteers had been active elsewhere; Kim Molstre, the campaign’s Missouri press secretary, estimated that they’d made 7,000 voter contacts in the seven days since New Hampshire, 57 percent of whom said they’d back Kerry. Considering that roughly 400,000 Democrats voted in the primary, though, it’s hard to argue that the contacts had much bearing on the outcome. Nonetheless, Kerry won Missouri with 51 percent of the vote, with Edwards running a distant second at 25 percent.

And it wasn’t Kerry’s ads that turned the trick, either. They scarcely existed. Kerry shelled out $125,000 statewide, just $40,000 in the St. Louis media market, the state’s largest. Edwards also spent $40,000 in St. Louis, which means that both were outspent by the campaign of perennial lunatic Lyndon LaRouche, who paid $51,000 to the city’s CBS affiliate to run a half-hour exposition of his latest conspiracy theories. (The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the show got higher ratings than reruns of Seinfeld and The Simpsons, which should convey some sense of just how dull things really are here.)

Kerry was endorsed by the Post-Dispatch and the Kansas City Star — the state’s largest dailies — but I doubt even the publishers of those papers would claim that they put Kerry over the top. The real causes of Kerry’s victory were a good deal more telling than any endorsement. The Show Me state wasn’t even looking at the process so long as Gephardt was in the race, but his withdrawal coincided with Kerry’s surge. Missouri tuned in to the campaign when Kerry was at the top of his game, his stump speech tightened into a hard-hitting attack on the administration’s plutocratic policies and a ritual of male bonding with his fellow Viet vets. One respondent to the poll that the Post-Dispatch ran on Sunday called Kerry “straightforward and tough.” Try to think of the last time that a Democratic presidential candidate was called “tough,” and you have some sense of just how devastatingly effective the Kerry folks have been at conveying their message.

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