By Dick Morris
October 22, 2003
Attempting to cash in on his national standing without mucking around in the trenches of electoral warfare, Gen. Wesley Clark trumpets his decision to avoid the Iowa caucuses entirely and downplays his prospects in New Hampshire. But he cannot win the nomination without battling his way through the early caucuses and primaries.
It's not that a candidate must win Iowa and New Hampshire to win the nomination. Bill Clinton lost them both and prevailed in 1992. (Tom Harkin from Iowa and Paul Tsongas from next-door Massachusetts won those first two contests.) But a candidate who wins both of these early contests and does not come from the local neighborhood acquires a momentum that is irresistible, particularly if his victory is a come-from-behind upset.
It is not that Clark won't win Iowa or New Hampshire that will doom his candidacy. It's that Howard Dean will.
Dean has deeply penetrated the early primary and caucus states with his Internet-era campaign. He can name his supporters in each state, a particularly valuable asset when it comes to a caucus contest as in Iowa. His Internet candidacy is as packed with cyber-roots (formerly grassroots) supporters as Clark's is devoid of real backing.
Dean will probably win in Iowa, and knock out Rep. Dick Gephardt of neighboring Missouri in the process. The momentum from Iowa will swamp Kerry in New Hampshire and the surge from the first two victories will eviscerate Sen. John Edwards in his next-door South Carolina.
The impact of this trifecta of upsets cannot be offset by Clark's national base of amorphous popularity. By the time Wesley Clark shows up to the dance, it will be over.
Even with massive financial support, one cannot simply begin to run for president in the California and New York primaries in early March. Dean's financial and political momentum will be too forceful and massive for Clark to pull it off. The hill is too steep, the slope too sharp, and the king of the hill (Dean after the early victories) is too deeply entrenched for Clark's strategy to succeed.
Indeed, Clark's failure to grasp the political reality of the Internet recalls Hubert Humphrey's failure to adjust to the primary process when it was first established in most states in 1972.
Then, as now, a candidate from nowhere (McGovern then, Dean now) understood the dramatic changes of modern politics. McGovern exploited the rules reforms he had passed to win the nomination against Humphrey, who tried to use the old-style boss-dominated politics to win.
Dean is using the Internet to develop, brick-by-brick, a massive base of popular support. He faces Clark, who is trying to use the old-style media campaign to propel his way to the nomination.
Clark's managers, veterans
of the 1992 Clinton run, are like the generals of France, who
enter each war perfectly prepared to win the last one.
Dick Morris was an adviser to Bill Clinton for 20 years. Morris is a political consultant, commentator and best selling author. Look for his newest book, "Power Plays" available now and look for Dick's new book, "Off With Their Heads - Traitors, Crooks & Obstructionists In American Politics".
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