Primary Primer: Democrats

February 5, 2007

A quick overview for you political novices out there.


Democratic primaries have tended to be chaotic, no-holds barred affairs. Front runners get targeted early and often don’t make it to the finish line. 2000 and 2004 were atypical historically, but perhaps they represent a new trend towards placidity. While the West Wing scenario is implausibly tumultuous, it is not that far off from real world experiences in 1972, 1984, 1988, and 1992. Will 2008 revert to the mean? Or do Democrats have better control over their process?

Key Constituencies:

There’s obviously a lot of overlap in these groups, but they fairly coherent. Not all are heavily organized, but most Democrats could be placed into one of these groups for 2008.

African-Americans: While blacks do not make up a big percentage of the total electorate, they will be critical in the Democratic primary. Any state with large urban areas is going to be heavily influenced by the African-American vote. Memories of Katrina will likely play a big role in shaping the black vote.

Labor: Although their influence is on the wane,unions still play a serious role in Democratic primaries. They are particularly important for organizing people and turnout, something that is crucial to winning a caucus.

Environment: Largely thanks to Al Gore, environmental issues are making a big comeback in American politics. Global warming is no longer the fringe, but the overwhelming mainstream. Alternative fuels, oil dependence, etc are going to play a big role in 2008 as each candidate scrambles to burnish their environmental bona fides.

Anti-War: The Iraq War will still be the number one issue in the country a year from now. For Democrats, there is a good chance that there will be a lot of single issue voters springing up. These are people who will support whichever candidate comes out strongest for withdrawal–and punish those that don’t.

Pro-Choice/Women: Of all the issues, abortion has the most single-issue voters attached to it. None of the Democrats are going to be anti-choice, but groups like EMILY’s List are still going to have a lot of money and votes to throw around in the primary.

Some people would include “The Netroots” as its own constituency, but it is far too divergent to be considered as a cohesive unit.

Key Dates:

April 15th, 2007 (End of Quarter finance report)

–This is where we will see who is really viable or not. Low first quarter numbers will kill a number of candidates. Anyone who wants to be taken seriously needs at least $10 million by this time. The candidates who fail to reach that benchmark will find it even harder to raise money. Nobody wants to back a sure loser.

January 14th (Iowa Caucus)

–Edwards holds a small advantage here based on his 2004 campaign, but everyone will be making a play for Iowa. A victory in Iowa can help set the tone of the rest of the primary season. Second-tier candidates need to do better than expected here to move up. Vilsack needs to win here if he’s going to be taken seriously, but even if he does win, people will write it off to the fact that he’s from Iowa.

Januray 19th (Nevada Caucus)

–Falls on a Saturday and only a few days before the NH primary, so it’s possible Nevada will not be that important. Expect big union and hispanic influence, setting the stage for a possible Richardson upset. If a candidate is going to ignore any of the early primaries, this is the one.

January 22nd (New Hampshire Primary)

–The first real primary election, NH has often served as a graveyard for front runners. Retail politics is always big here, so expect the candidates with the best ground games to prosper.

January 29th (South Carolina Primary)

–South Carolina is the first primary to feature a substantial black population. Edwards will make a strong push here and probably needs to win it. Joe Biden is clearly banking on a South Carolina upset to propel him to the top tier.

February 5th (A whole mess o’ primaries)

–The schedule are not all set yet, but it looks like February 5th is going to be an early Super Tuesday. If any candidate wins a significant victory on February 5th, they will almost certainly win the nomination. These races will lean towards the candidates that can afford to run ads there before the first four primaries are done.


4) Bill Richardson

Governor Richardson is hispanic and has the best resume of any contender, particularly on foreign policy. He is a Western governor, a region of the country Democrats would like to make gains in. So why is he only number 4? He is too unknown to voters and will likely struggle to raise money. Should he demonstrate his fund raising prowess, he could vault to the head of the list. A better than expected showing in Iowa and/or New Hampshire coupled with a win in Nevada would set him up nicely heading into February 5th.

3) John Edwards

Former VP candidate, Edwards is riding high on his name recognition right now. He has a good core of supporters, but in many respects, he is yesterday’s news. Flip flopping on the war and his poverty focus are good starts towards reinventing himself, but he may be damaged goods. Worse, he may find it hard to raise money with the other candidates in the field. An Edwards victory will rely on an Iowa win, a good showing in NH, and an outright win in SC. He is also positioned to do well in Nevada due to his union connections. If he can blaze through the first four contests, he’ll be viable.

2) Hillary Clinton

For legal purposes, she might as well change her name to Daddy Warbucks. She is going to have the money to compete and the organization to keep her in the game. She is also, however, a bad campaigner and politician compared to Edwards and Obama. To make matters worse, she is the most right-wing candidate in the field on the Iraq War. Furthermore, as the front runner, she will be expected to carry early states. Failure to clean up is just going to open the door for another candidate. Even if she doesn’t win the early states, she will have the money to keep playing right up until the convention, if need be.

1) Barack Obama

Senator Obama has the complete package. His fund raising should rival Hillary’s, he has incredible people skills, and he has the best record on the war. He is behind in polls now, but it is early yet. Most voters have not gotten to know the Hyde Parker yet, even if they know his name. In contrast, Clinton is well known by everyone in the country, yet can’t break 40% in the polls of Democrats. Obama needs to win one of the early contests (ideally Iowa) and place well in others, but, like Clinton, his money will keep him in the race for awhile.

1a) Al Gore

The former Vice President is probably not running. There is not an obvious opening in the race, he is currently very effective in his role as environmental spokesperson, and he gives every impression of a man who is done with politics. Furthermore, the longer he waits to make a decision, the harder it will be for him. That being said, he would instantly become the strongest candidate should he enter the race. His message and purpose are clear. He could raise more than enough money to keep up with Clinton and Obama. In his new persona, he would be a most formidable speaker and campaigner.

Others: Senator Chris Dodd, Former Governor Tom Vilsack, Senator Joe Biden,

2 Responses to “Primary Primer: Democrats”

  1. notwithabangbutawhimper Says:

    My hopes of an Obama/Gore ’08 ticket have come true! Excelsior!

  2. In all seriousness, Gore should just give up on the presidency. Even if he wins (which he probably would), he would have to compete for history’s favor with many great predecessors. If he goes for the VP slot, however, he could easily establish himself as the greatest VP in history; big fish in an oh so very small pond.

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