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Out for the count?

With Democrat presidential hopeful, Howard Dean being trounced in the Iowa Caucuses by rivals John Kerry and John Edwards, things are not looking good for the blogger's friend.

20 January 2004

"We will not quit now or ever." - Howard Dean

If there's one certainty in politics, it's that when a candidate says they're not going to quit, it's because they already have.

And so it was that presidential hopeful Howard Dean vowed to battle on after being whipped-like-a-terrorist in yesterday's Iowa Caucuses - the first round of the voting process that will choose a Democrat candidate to take on George W. Bush in December.

Until yesterday, bloggers' favourite Dean had been the front runner in the campaign. His use of the web to bring together supporters had been hailed as a stroke of genius on both sides of the Atlantic while his anti-war stance had left the Guardian wetting their inexplicably-still-broadsheet pages with joy.

But in the end Dean finished in third place, with just 18% of the vote. The winner, with 37.6% of the vote, was John Kerry, with John Edwards following closely behind with 31.8%. (That's John Edwards the North Carolina Senator, not John Edwards the psychic or John Edwards the triple-jumper.) Edwards had been so sure of total humiliation that, even during the final stages of voting, his campaign team had wheeled out that other last refuge of a political loser; "No matter what the returns say today, we have already won."

And yet even he beat Dean to a 13.8-point pulp. So what went so badly wrong for Dr Dean?

Well firstly, despite what certain media commentators would have us believe, winning the support of bloggers and The Manchester Guardian is no absolute guarantee of a successful a Democrat nomination. In much the same way as winning that all-important Belgian trade union vote does not a Prime Minister make.

Secondly, in the eyes of the Democrat mainstream, Dean has made some real miscalculations in recent weeks. His obsession with attacking Bush has cooled support amongst many mainstream voters who would prefer to hear something a bit more positive from their candidate. And by being the only anti-war candidate and promising an even-handed policy in the Israel/Palestinian conflict, Dean will have to work extra hard to win popular support in the current US political climate. It is a brave Democrat indeed who would risk having their party defeated in the November presidential elections by backing such a potentially unpopular horse.

The next step on the campaign trail is New Hampshire primary election where Dean will have to pull off a stunning victory if he's to have any hope of making it to the polls in November, let alone the White House. It won't be easy but it can be done - in 1980 Maggie-friendly-space-cadet, Ronald Reagan was beaten in the Iowa Caucuses by George Bush senior but still went on to win the final nomination and the presidency.

In the meantime, one opponent that Dean doesn't have to worry about any more is Dick Gephardt. The Missouri congressman announced his retirement from the race after placing fourth in Iowa with just 11% of the votes. The fact that his defeat came just 24 hours after Chuck Berry and Michael Bolton publicly joined the Gephardt campaign must surely be a coincidence.

Unless the armed-robber/blue-eyed-plagiarist-crooner vote isn't worth what it used to be.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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