WASHINGTON — On Saturday I visited a couple of the polling areas for the D.C. caucuses, and was taken by just how much energy has drained from the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination over the last week. Technically, it’s still a fight, but the fire has gone out of their bellies.
Expressions on the faces of voters who bothered to show up Saturday were a mixture of forced earnestness and polite boredom. And who could blame them? If the horse race metaphor was made real, we would be watching two Shetland ponies race a Triple Crown champion. In boxing, it would be two midgets versus Muhammad Ali.
The stats in yesterday’s paper bore out this anecdotal evidence. Last month, D.C. held a non-binding primary, which was supposed to goad Democrats into campaigning in the district and steal some of New Hampshire’s first in the nation thunder.
It was not the smashing success local Democrats had hoped it would be, with roughly 16 percent of the electorate showing up. Howie Dean won handily, with Rev. Sharpton in second, in a contest for no delegates. Saturday, with actual delegates on the line, only 3.5 percent of registered D.C. Democrats came out to declare their preference.
AFTER SIXTEEN PRIMARIES — and 14 solid victories for John Kerry — the Massachusetts Senator’s adversaries are a bit punch drunk. Edwards may have scored a promising jab in South Carolina two weeks ago, but it is hard to imagine him coming back after the brutal one-two he received in Virginia and Tennessee a week later. Those massive losses were in the South, after all, which Edwards used to remind us is his “own backyard.”
Meanwhile, mean, mean, Howie Dean, winner of the non-binding primary last month, came in third behind Rev. Sharpton this time. Dean has responded to this sucker punch by attacking Kerry as someone who won’t be able to beat George W. Bush come November.
If Kerry is such a bad candidate, Dean would be truly awful. But the good doctor doesn’t see it this way — it’s everyone else who’s got it wrong. He continues to claim that it will be “real voters” who decide this election, as if everyone who has voted against him so far has been on the Halliburton payroll.
But Dean may be wearing down. At a recent press conference, he slipped and referred to his arch nemesis as “President Kerry.” He then quickly recouped, saying, “Yeah, President Kerry. Please. Spare us.”
AT THIS POINT, we will almost certainly be sparred a President Dean. Kerry’s margins of victory in most cases have been massive, and he has amassed 567 delegates — more than Dean, Edwards, Clark, Kucinich, and Sharpton combined. He is unlikely to be knocked down by his rivals even if the skirt-chasing claims on the Drudge Report end up fleshed out.
Democrats have already admitted they made one huge error this election cycle supporting Dean. Would they walk away from a second candidate at this point, no matter what he’s done? Not very. They would seem like a party in chaos, without a clear base of support for their also also-ran candidate.
Edwards and Dean truly are taking one for the team. Their continued participation in the face of such electoral beatings is helping keep up the appearance of a “real” race, even if it’s all over. This helps keep Democrats in the spotlight and heavy-handed, unfiltered criticism of President Bush on the front pages. It also helps push back the day when the Republicans open up their campaign war chest and go to work.
How else can the excitement for the upcoming Wisconsin primary be explained? If this is Dean’s last stand, polls and crowd sizes suggest he’s set to go out not with a bang but a whine. Aside from angry campaign rhetoric, there is nothing to indicate that it will be a turning point for any of the candidates left standing. But every major national newspaper had a story on Wisconsin, as if it were still in a hotly contested race.