Friday, November 14, 2003

Breathing Room for Dean? So says TNR:
The emerging conventional wisdom on Howard Dean's forthcoming endorsements by the country's two most powerful service unions . . . is that, by so clearly elevating Dean to the status of front-runner, they make him an even fatter target for rivals to attack . . . But since Dean was already the front-runner before the SEIU and AFSCME endorsements, the practical effect of those endorsements will be to transform him from de facto front-runner to prohibitive favorite. And what having a prohibitive favorite does is create a situation in which no other candidate can beat Dean outright. Instead, they have to try to win what's essentially a race for second place . . . But if the only race that matters for the moment is the race for second place--i.e., just making the playoffs--why on earth would you waste your time attacking the guy who's in first? The only front-runner any candidate should now care about is the guy who's the front-runner in the race for second. Which means the attacks on Dean should start to diminish.
Don't tell that to Joe Lieberman, who just made a big (for rural New England, anyway) media buy specifically to whack Dean:
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, trailing his major rivals in New Hampshire, takes a few soft swipes at front-runner Howard Dean in a new television ad that began airing Friday . . . He doesn't name Dean, but the subject is clear . . . It is the first ad of the presidential campaign that singles out a Democratic rival albeit without naming names.
I think TNR's analysis is wrong-headed anyway. If Kerry were the solid front-runner, with Dean as a strong dark horse, it would pay to attack the dark horse, partly because Kerry is running, for all its bluster, a bland campaign. But when a candidate like Dean has the "big mo" and a huge financial advantage, he's a sensible target, particularly as a front-runner. If you want headlines, hit the guy who's getting headlines. (Of course, Kerry's getting headlines too. But the rule there that obtains is "Never interfere with your opponent when he is in the process of self-destructing.")

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