You have to go back to the Southern Super Tuesday of early March 1988 to find a primary day as BIG as this one, both in geographic spread and political impact. Only Georgia represents the South, while three behemoths dominate the voting: California, New York, and Ohio (the latter state where the November election might be won or lost for George W. Bush). With Edwards truly competing only in Georgia, Ohio, and Minnesota, Kerry was nearly guaranteed six or seven of the 10 March 2 states. Sure, most of the states were located in his native Northeast. So what? As the results pour in, Kerry’s campaign has delivered from coast to coast â€“ and with the Massachusetts senator triumphing in nine of 10 states (losing only Vermont to Howard Dean â€“ what a sweet thing for the home folks to do for their former chief executive!), the Democratic nomination unquestionably appears to be Kerry’s. In the face of this avalanche of Kerry votes, John Edwards has chosen the wise course of action: withdrawal of his bid as of March 3. Thus, Edwards has avoided a most unpleasant fate: campaigning himself out of any chance to be on the ticket and into the evening monologues of the late-night comics as a modern-day Harold Stassen (once the “boy wonder” of Minnesota politics, just as Edwards was the “boy wonder” of this campaign).
To tell the truth, the race has been over since Kerry proved in Virginia and Tennessee on Feb. 10 that he could wallop Edwards in his own backyard. Heck, maybe it has been over since Iowa on Jan. 19, when Kerry first powered himself to the top. Democrats have seemed amazingly and unprecedentedly eager in 2004 to wrap up the nomination phase quickly â€“ with minimal wounds â€“ so that they could get on with the main task of defeating the Republican president they hate more than any since Richard Nixon. “Give us a nominee, any respectable nominee,” cried the Democratic activists â€“ and their fervent prayer has been answered in this Lenten season.
NOW WHAT? The Crystal Ball sees three trends at work in this early phase of the general election campaign:
GIVE US OUR DAILY BREAD
Remember when campaigns faded away for a while to allow both parties to regroup after the victories by the nominees-apparent? Well, forget that rule of politics. This will be an unending, continuous, grinding battle all the way to Nov. 2. The stakes could hardly be higher, the issues could hardly be bigger, and the two major parties could hardly be more polarized. George Bush got some traction with media events on issues such as education in the spring of 2000, while Gore slept, at least publicly. Neither candidate will get much time off in the next eight months.
FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES
Today the press and squeaky clean “good government” groups get bent out of shape when candidates so much as compare their actual voting records â€“ which is utterly ridiculous. This year, they had best stock up on tranquilizers, because the Crystal Ball predicts this will be the dirtiest, filthiest presidential campaign in modern American history. We’ve already gotten a taste, with the outrageous Kerry intern sex (non-)story and the insane feeding frenzy about President Bush’s National Guard service over 30 years ago. (The flames of both of these regrettable stories were fanned by partisan sources.) Just wait until you see what both campaigns have in store for us. Kerry knows he’ll be given a pass by the media and his party faithful for anything he says and does on the road to defeating Bush, who has become the news media’s least popular chief executive since Nixon. Not only are most top reporters and editors ideologically at odds with Bush on just about everything, but they deeply resent what they regard as his administration’s secrecy, his shockingly infrequent press conferences, and his (and the secrecy-obsessed Dick Cheney’s) frustrating evasions. Meanwhile, Bush realizes that the big media (the non-cable commercial networks and the big papers such as The New York Times) will mainly be lapdogs for the Democrats this year, much like 1992, once Clinton finally became the Democratic nominee. So if he is to avoid his father’s fate and get his message out, Bush must be tough and unrelenting despite the predictable media cluck-clucking about the ‘harshness’ of the Bush campaign. (To our ears, Kerry has been pretty harsh, too, but somehow, few in the press have mentioned it.)
DELIVER US FROM EVIL
Just as the Crystal Ball predicted weeks ago, Bush has been slipping further behind Kerry â€“ not a good position for an incumbent president in February of the election year. Yes, as we’ve noted repeatedly, the election is on Nov. 2. If the economy surges and the problems abroad ease dramatically, Bush may quickly bounce back. And if pigs could fly, it would be fascinating. In an amazing historical replay, Dubya has been tracing the downward trajectory of his father, in large part because â€“ once again â€“ all the predictions of the in-house White House economists have been inaccurate (or two years late and counting). Unless matters turn around quickly, Bush may have little choice but to demonize Kerry â€“ not with personal foibles but with the most legitimate weapon of all, Kerry’s own U.S. Senate voting record. The highly respected, completely nonpartisan weekly newsmagazine, National Journal, has just published its annual, sophisticated voting analysis of all Members of Congress. Guess who was the most liberal senator? That’s right, John Kerry â€“ more liberal than Teddy Kennedy, Barbara Boxer, Hillary Clinton, and all the rest. (John Edwards, the supposed moderate in the Democratic presidential contest, was the fourth most liberal senator!) You can bet that the National Journal’s conclusion about Kerry will be highlighted in advertisement after advertisement by George Bush. It might work, too, if Bush gets some help on the big issues, especially the economy. But keep in mind that if Americans want to toss out the incumbent President, they’ll do so even if it means a sharp turn ideologically. Just ask Jimmy Carter, who couldn’t imagine himself losing to a right-wing, 69-year-old, washed-up, actor-turned-governor in 1980.