About this time last year, I told a friend that I thought John Kerry would loose the election by fifteen votes. Part of the deal was that, if I was wrong, I had to publicly admit it. So this spring, I am writing to say I was wrong. Kerry lost by nineteen votes. Presumably had he been the nominee, Jonathan Edwards would have won his home state and its fifteen votes. Then the Democrats would be down only four electoral votes and the ambiguity of New Mexico’s results would have been a lot more interesting.
The point is that Edwards was always a more viable candidate than Kerry. In fact, Edwards actually came in third in the 2004 Presidential Election ahead of Ralph Nader: one Minnesota electoral delegate voted for Edwards (source U.S. National Archives). Perhaps Kerry actually believed that the selection of a Vice-President had an impact still?
Why does the national Republican Party have a better handle on Presidential politics than my Democratic Party? There are three key lessons which must be accepted: first, we are in a time of neo-sectionalism in which the Democrats tend to dominate the coasts and the northeast. Republicans dominate the south, the Rockies and the Plains while the Upper-Midwest is a toss-up. Electorally, that gives the Republicans the advantage and the Democrats must run a candidate from a GOP state in order to win (Clinton, 1992/1996).
Secondly, winning candidates have come from state governments (Bush 2004/2000; Clinton 1996/1992; Reagan (1984/1980; Carter 1976) and not from the Federal government (Kerry 2004, Gore 2000, Dole 1996). In that regard, we might explain why even with NC’s fifteen votes, Edwards would have been short.
Thirdly, the vice-president is meaningless. The only purpose of the office is to check the pulse of the president each morning and to break ties on the rare occasion they arise in the U.S. Senate. Did Cheney swing Wyoming into the Bush column? Did Quayle offer cover for Bush (41)? Vice-President Bush was so meaningless that, when Reagan was shot, Alexander Haige declared himself in charge. The last meaningful selection of a VP was Ford and that was only ex post facto. That is, if Nixon hadn’t resigned, Ford would not have been important. Truly, the last time a vice-presidential selection affected the outcome of an election was Lyndon Johnson in 1960.
So where are we now? One year out from the last primary season and about two or three years from the next primary season. Already the hopefuls are visiting Iowa and New Hampshire. Who is in the mix? U.S. Senators John Kerry (MA), Jonathan Edwards (NC), Hilary Clinton (NY), Joe Biden (DE), Evan Bayh (IN) lead the Democratic pack. Meanwhile the Republican nominee will likely be one of the following: MA Governor Mitt Romney, NY Governor Pataki, fmr. NYC Mayor Rudy Guiliani, Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist (TN) or U.S. Senator John McCain (AZ).
Isn’t it interesting that the Democratic list is inundated with Senators? The very people that history has scorned? The only candidates that even make an electoral dent are Bayh and Edwards since they come from traditionally Republican states. If the Democrats have to rely on NY or MA then the election is already lost; there is no electoral advantage.
On the other end of the pendulum, the Republicans have mastered the strategy that the Democrats desperately need: the GOP list has three executives from two of the most Democratic states in the country!
The Democratic Party is the party of the people. It is the party that represents the greatest good for the greatest number of Americans, but its being out-maneuvered in Presidential contests. It is crucial that Rhode Island Democrats help like-minded candidates get elected in southern, Midwestern and battleground states. We can not sit by and concentrate only on local issues, however important they may be. In truth, it may be already too late for 2008, unless we can unite the country behind a Gov Easley (NC), an Evan Bayh (IN), or another Democrat from a GOP state.