For those scoring at home, here’s a look at how the Democratic candidates are doing so far:
John Kerry, The ‘Stump’ Speech
Kerry is not only the leader and the guy with the momentum, he is also currently the most improved candidate on the trail. His stump speeches have evolved from the ramblings of a lanky wax figure to a litany of crowd pleasing chants. The “Bring it On” chant is the most effective political phrase of the campaign so far. At this point, the guy could start screaming out the names of states and still wow the audience. And his shift of focus to his military experience has been a major winner. When I see him surrounded by his injured “band of brothers” who have “not yet begun to fight” I sometimes think I stumbled upon a Deerhunter remake. This angle is working now and it will work if it’s Kerry in the general election. I imagine a debate in which Bush criticizes Kerry for being a soft, wishy-washy, Dukakis liberal and Kerry responds by saying that he needs to have some of his wounds redressed. Even Michael Moore wouldn’t call this guy a deserter (although Wes Clark hasn’t yet looked into those allegations and therefore can’t comment). The angle to watch? Kerry has become exciting compared to his old self. He needs to achieve the same when compared to others.
Howard Dean, Kozmo Kandidate
Early on, Dean was known as the internet candidate as he used the web to drum up a groundswell of support and a busload of cash. Now it looks like his campaign may go the way of so many internet start-ups before it. Dean had the most money. Now some reports suggest the coffers are drained. Dean had the most inspired and idealistic team. Now that team has been irrevocably split apart. Dean was the outsider. Then the Gore endorsement? The media loved it when Dean got mad. Then he yelled and they made it seem like his head had blown off. If Dean had asked Diane Sawyer why her husband wasn’t doing the interview with her and then told her and the American media to shove it, he may have recovered after Iowa. Now it’s just a slow leak. On a related and disturbing note, I’ve been having a recurring dream in which I’m getting a check-up from Judy Steinberg Dean. I always wake up when Howard storms into the doctor’s office where I’m being examined and yells, “She said cough, asshole.” I guess it all serves Judy right for being America’s first real person involved in a presidential election. The one obvious angle being missed by all the pundits? Judy Dean would’ve been out on the trail since the beginning if only Howard had agreed to convert…
John Edwards, The Motivator
No one in this campaign (and maybe on this planet) can work a room like John Edwards. We’ve been hearing about this prodigious talent since early 2003, but it wasn’t until Iowa that Edwards finally turned a jury into putty in his hands. He’s not as good on television. He’s not as good in interviews. And he’s not as good in debates. But it’s too early to count out a guy who James Carville called the greatest stump speaker he’s ever seen. Edwards can work a room. The question is whether he can work a room the size of America. He could be the most dangerous candidate on the trail. To continue his rise, Edwards will need to move beyond the optimism angle. Think you’re optimistic? Try making Howard Dean happy.
Wes Clark, The General-less Election
Before this all started, Clark had a nationwide team of supporters reading excerpts from his resume and trying to convince him to run. Since he’s been in the race, Clark has often reverted to the same tactic: I’m a General, I’m a leader, I’ve won wars, I’ve negotiated treaties and the ever popular, I used to be really poor. None of it is working. Clark has been totally unable to connect with a majority of voters. Some of that is Kerry’s emergence as the frontrunner. But it’s much more than that. Clark has been terrible in interviews and debates. His campaign has chosen to highlight endorsements from the likes of Madonna and Michael Moore. One can only imagine who will be next. This is the last time the Clintons will wander outside of the familia when selecting a candidate to back (Chelsea in 2032?). Clark’s lack of political prowess will make him a no-show even in the VP race. He hasn’t had answers to the most obvious questions. The only one left is when to graciously bow out.
Joe Lieberman, Shabbat Shalom
As a sometimes practicing Jew (I usually only show up on gamedays), I have never found myself looking so forward to Shabbat as I have since Lieberman kicked off his campaign. Saturdays are the only time I can stop racking my brain to figure out what Jowltin’ Joe sees that the rest of us don’t. Following a dismal New Hampshire result (about the only people who voted for Lieberman described themselves as Independents basically supportive of Bush), he explained: “The people of New Hampshire put me in the ring, and that’s where I’m going to stay. This race has just begun.” And despite his rep for having a great sense of humor, I don’t think he was joking. Maybe he was referring to the movie, The Ring?
Al Sharpton, It’s a Marathon and He’s Got the Sweatsuit
Sharpton is set to re-assert himself as the primaries move beyond Iowa and New Hampshire. What that means is more entertaining debates, good news for the Bush camp and bad news for the Daily Show (who needs ‘em with Al on the mic). Who Sharptons decides to hit during debates and interviews could have an impact (we can only hope that it’s Dennis Miller). The Rev is free to be himself, something most other candidates can’t say. That let’s him get a whole lot of the applause during debates and he often makes the others look remarkably un-Al. Kerry could use just a pinch to get into the endzone. Regardless, he’ll be on the scene until the very end.
Dennis Kucinich, The Thumb
I call Kucinich The Thumb because every time he speaks during debates my thumb pushes on the remote control. He has no chance to make an impact and he’s not nearly as entertaining as Al. Time to go away. Kucinich should’ve taken the offer to appear as a contestant on Average Joe when he had the chance.