Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Don't let anyone spin it otherwise. Raw numbers aside, John Kerry - the presumptive nominee that by all 'indicators' should have won in a landslide - lost tonight's Wisconsin primary and the next 7 days will determine whether or not John Edwards can capitalize on that fact and snag the nomination outright. I think he will.

Is there anyone out there that can honestly say they like John Kerry? That they find him inspiring? Contrasting his post-primary speech tonight with Edwards' and Dean's, it's a telling sign that he can't get much more than a spirited golf clap from a room of presumably diehard supporters. And the crickets in the room after he gave awkward props to his wife with a painfully scripted self-deprecating joke was just embarrassing.

I've been doing a lot of reading and research over the past couple of weeks, trying to determine my Plan B as it's now clear that Kucinich is officially a footnote in this primary process. Ironically, Dean getting knocked back down to the insurgent role of challenging the overall direction of the party - and actually becoming a stronger and more appealing candidate because of it - left Kucinich hanging in the wind, clinging to an anti-war platform that, in varying degrees, has now been worked into all of the other candidates' platforms. Dean will get much of the credit for that but it was Kucinich's flanking him on the left that enabled him to push as hard as he did.

I'm now backing John Edwards, and not just because it's become a two-man race between him and the flaccid Kerry. It's a move I've been leaning towards for a few weeks now, clinched largely by Edwards' admirable approach to the process - relentlessly positive and sometimes annoyingly optimistic - and the fact that I find his positions on most of the issues agreeable, if not always 100% compatible with my own. There's a few things I don't love, particularly his opposition to gay marriage, but I somehow find it a little less offensive coming from a southern boy like him than the Skull-and-Bones Yale grad from liberal Massachussetts. As for the electability issue, I look at it this way: Kerry is running purely on momentum; Edwards on substance. People get to know him, they like him, they vote for him. Kerry's winning the Democratic faithful but Edwards is winning the Independents and on-the-fence Republicans and doing so without watering down his message. The Democrats will ultimately vote for whomever's on the ticket just to get rid of Bush. There's no question there. But that only gets us to a 48%-48% draw. Edwards has a better shot of inspiring both those sitting on the fence and those too disenchanted to bother voting, ensuring there's not another repeat of 2000.

Make no mistake: John Kerry is Gore: Reloaded. And not the newly passionate Al Gore, either. While John Edwards may not be the extreme fundamental change represented by Dennis Kucinich, he's a hell of a bigger step in that direction than Kerry the Chameleon.

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