Free Advice for Clark

DISCLAIMER: FESTER IS A DEAN SUPPORTER, so take this piece as you wish

Josh Marshall in his pre-New Hampshire travelling post lays out a pretty good and fair analysis of the primary horse race. There is an interesting question of Clark’s return on investment in New Hampshire and the question of where Kerry’s Iowa expectations actually are. The most important assumption that Josh is not explicitly stating is that it will drop down to a Dean-Clark race real fast, and this is an assumption that I agree with.

Now Josh after a long series of good thoughts has an interesting question:

One final thought: an interesting strategic question.

Would Clark gain more from a solid Iowa victory for Dean which effectively ended Gephardt’s and Kerry’s candidacies (thus forcing a two-man race by default) or by one of the other candidates breaking out, thus knocking Dean significantly off his stride?

If I am the Clark campaign manager, then I would be praying for an expectations victory for Kerry in Iowa or more preferably an outright victory by Gephardt in Iowa. I have several reasons for this opinion. First, an outright victory by Dean in Iowa will bring with it massive amounts of free and most likely very complementary press. Dean already receives fairly good press on a very consistent basis, and Clark struggles at times to maintain or increase his press share. More Dean good press will most likely translate into more Dean voters as it has been shown that Dean has some of the best net favorability ratings out there. As people get to know him, they like him, and then they vote for him. It is a virtous cycle for Dean, and it is one that Clark can not afford to allow to continue.

Secondly, if I was the Clark campaign strategist, I would want Kerry and Gephardt in the race for as long as possible for two reasons. First, I am worried about money. Dean had another record setting quarter, while Clark had a damm good one, but still raised only 67% of Dean’s take. Even with matching funds, Clark is most likely poorer than Dean even when we forget about the significant cash on hand advantage that Dean possesses. However if Kerry and Gephardt can stay in the race until at least Feb. 3, 2004, the combined anti-Dean warchests will be larger than the Dean warchest. Another reason why I would want Dean to be knocked off stride is that the more candidates involved in attacking Dean the more angles that can be logically attacked. It makes no sense for Clark to attack Dean from the left on trade policies as their published positions both indicate that they buy into the Washington Consensus, however it makes plenty of sense for Gephardt to do so. This may not switch votes from Dean to Clark, but it may depress voter turnout.

Finally, looking at the most recent national poll for the hypothetical national primary, we see that Dean is trouncing Clark. Clark is doing the best among the other eight non-Dean candidates, but Dean has a signifcant edge. There is little evidence that there is a coherent and large popular Anti-Dean sentiment. Clark’s best chance is to string the race out for as long as possible until he gets to favorable territory in the South and hope that Dean stumbles. If the race collapses to Dean v. Clark by Feb. 1, Dean will have fewer opportunties to screw up while he is killing the clock. However if Dean is facing pressure from several angles, then the odds, in my opinion, of a true gaffe will increase which would give Clark some maneuvering room.

Crossposted at Fester’s Place