Posted 11:02am March 6
by Aaron Huertas
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
John Kerry, the junior Senator from Massachusetts, clinched the Democratic Party nomination for President yesterday, coming in first in nine out of Tuesday’s 10 contests. His chief rival, North Carolina Senator John Edwards, will announce his withdrawal from the race in Raleigh, N.C.
“Before us lie long months of effort and of challenge, and we understand that,” Kerry told supporters at a rally in Washington, D.C. Kerry had received a phone call from Edwards earlier in the night, presumably telling him he would be getting out of the race. He also received a congratulatory call from President Bush.
The only close contest yesterday was in Georgia, where Kerry took 47 percent of the vote to Edward’s 41. The other states were blowouts for Kerry who won each of them by about or above a 2 to 1 margin. The state of Vermont was carried by its former governor, Howard Dean, who is no longer actively competing in the race.
Tuesday’s results have effectively ended the Democratic nomination process. For the first time in recent history, the Democratic Party showed unity in its nominating process. After Iowa voters moved away from Dean and gave Kerry the first win of the primary season, the rest of the party fell behind him.
CNN’s senior political analyst Bill Schneider said Democrats were looking for a specific kind of candidate this year.
“(Kerry) essentially told Democrats ‘I can talk about international affairs. I can talk about the military. I can stand next to President Bush and make a credible argument that I can keep you safe.’ This was not a year when Democrats were looking for an outsider. Three candidates ran as outsiders: Wesley Clark, Howard Dean, John Edwards. They all failed.”
While Edwards posted a strong second in Iowa, he was unable to translate his surprisingly good showing into sustained power at the polls. While he and Kerry were the top vote getters in Iowa, the media was still hooked on Howard Dean and Edwards was unable to make a strong showing in New Hampshire.
In the “what ifs” of presidential politics, Edwards was perhaps stymied by the crowded Democratic field. Some have suggested if retired General Wesley Clark had run in Iowa, he would have pulled veterans away from Kerry and Edwards could have come in first. Also, if Clark hadn’t run strongly in the Oklahoma and Tennessee primaries, Edwards might have been able to put them in his win column.
After Clark dropped out of the race, Edwards posted a stronger than expected second in the Wisconsin primary. However, he was unable to gain momentum in the ten Super Tuesday states in the two weeks after Wisconsin.
For voters, Edwards had appeal, but didn’t have the experience they thought was necessary for a President or for someone to credibly challenge Bush. Unable to win the electability argument, Edwards carefully tried to distance himself from Kerry on trade issues. When that didn’t resonate with voters, he took a stab at labeling Kerry a Washington insider, but the fact that they are both Senators precluded the effectiveness of that argument. Edwards’ message of hope and optimism and his populist rhetoric of “two Americas” helped him woo late deciding voters and Independents.
Edwards tended to pull ahead late in primary contests as more voters were able to get a look at him. However, he was unable to raise enough money to effectively translate his personal charisma to ads that could put him in the homes of more people than he could reach in person.
The front-loaded primary system, with multiple-state contests happening week to week, momentum and electability were emphasized over message and likeability. In a speech to supporters yesterday, Kerry started with some kind words for Edwards.
“There is no question that John Edwards brings a compelling voice to our party,” he said. “Great eloquence to the cause of working men and women all across our nation and great promise for leadership for the years to come.”
Edwards also has his fair share of nice things to say about Kerry.
“He’s run a strong, powerful campaign,” Edwards said. “He’s been an extraordinary advocate for causes that all of us believe in.”
Edwards has been fielding questions about whether or not he would accept a vice-presidential spot on the ticket since the beginning of the campaign. There are no rules for when candidates have to select their running mates, but it’s usually done before the summer party conventions.
The Bush campaign, which has over $140 million at its disposal, will start using that money to fund ads defending the President and attacking John Kerry’s record. Kerry’s campaign has roughly $32 million and will need to do some major catching up to compete with Bush on the airwaves.
Bush, who had no major primary opponents, is hoping to define Kerry in voter’s minds before the Kerry campaign has a chance to do the same to him. In 1996, Bill Clinton used his campaign war chest to paint his opponent, Bob Dole, as in with the unpopular Republican congressional leadership.
John Kerry, who was once written off as an also-ran will be his party’s nominee. He now enters phase two of the Presidential election process, the months between then nominations and the conventions, when candidates perfect their message and hope it resonates with voters.
Many campaigns win or lose the election at this stage and sometimes the conventions and debates can’t reverse their fortunes. National polls show Bush and Kerry in a statistical dead heat for the Presidency.