Skip to comments.Mark Steyn: Knowns, unknowns and the Ketchup Kid
Posted on 01/26/2004 5:00:43 PM PST by Pokey78
The American media are all excited about a new poll showing that, come the election, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry would beat George W Bush by 49 per cent to 46 per cent. Back in September, they were all excited about a poll showing Gen Wesley Clark would beat Bush by guess what? 49 per cent to 46 per cent. Even the lively Vermont governor Howard Dean had a poll putting him within the margin of error against Bush. Yet here we are just a few months later: the Vermonster self-detonated on Iowa caucus night, and Gen Clark will be lucky to hold on to fourth place in today's New Hampshire primary.
I know a lot of folks on both sides of the Atlantic are salivating at the arrogant Texas cowboy's impending demise, but these polls are meaningless for several reasons, the most important of which is that they're measuring a "known" Bush against an "unknown" some hitherto obscure figure suddenly proclaimed as the Democratic frontrunner. When the unknown becomes known, his numbers slide and the media and the Dems go off in search of a new white knight. Last week, things were so desperate that the only fellow left for the white-knight role was John Kerry, Vietnam veteran and spouse of ketchup heiress Theresa Heinz. Hitherto, the somnolent Kerry had been written off as remote and detached, but these are small sins next to angry (Dean) and kooky (Clark). The Ketchup Kid is a default choice, the least unwhite knight. In the weeks ahead, he too will become known.
In New Hampshire, it's already happening. I don't believe these polls showing him with a double-digit lead. Here's my sense of how things will go today, based on nothing more scientific than a weekend winter-sports break over on the eastern side of the state and a chat with the waitress in the Littleton Diner on the way back to my pad in western New Hampshire. She'd had pretty much every candidate host events at the diner except Dean and Lyndon Larouche, whose campaign wanted to hold a shindig there but got turned down. Larouche is the guy who thinks the Queen is an international drugs kingpin (or, in this case, queenpin) secretly running the world on her cocaine profits. Compared with some of the wackier utterances of Dean and Clark, the House of Windsor drug cartel is one of the less fanciful notions this primary season. At the rate the white knights are tripping over their feet of clay, Larouche could well be the frontrunner by March, with his face on the cover of Newsweek and a poll showing he'd beat Bush 49 per cent to 46 per cent, if Prince Philip doesn't have him taken out by a hit team first.
But, barring a Larouche surge, my bet for today's vote is as follows:
1) Senator John Kerry 29 per cent
2) Governor Howard Dean 28 per cent
3) Senator John Edwards 19 per cent
4) Senator Joe Lieberman 12 per cent
5) General Wesley Clark 10 per cent
6) Everybody else 2 per cent
You can have a good laugh about these predictions tomorrow morning.
If it sounds a bit crass to reduce the whole business to Hit Parade rankings, well, don't blame me. After spending the best part of a year listening to the Democrats' strolling minstrels strumming their way round the White Mountains, I'm staggered by how little any of them have to say. If you go to a Kerry rally something of an oxymoron, but let that pass the senator's stump speech is a karaoke tape of floppo populist boilerplate. If he'd downloaded it for free from the internet, that'd be one thing. Instead, he paid a small fortune to hotshot consultant Bob Shrum, who promptly faxed over the same old generic guff he keeps in the freezer: "I (insert name here) will never stop fighting for ordinary people against the powerful interests that stand in your way."
This shtick worked so well for Shrum's previous clients - President Dick Gephardt (1988), President Bob Kerrey (1992), President Al Gore (2000) and President Insert Namehere (2008) that he evidently sees no reason why it shouldn't elect a fifth president this time round. Throw in a few mandatory sneering references to Enron, Halliburton and Attorney-General John Ashcroft plus a handful of local hard-luck stories of doubtful general application "47-year-old Arlene Claxton of Hooksett worked 20 years to build up her hairdressing business only to contract a rare skin disease from a conditioner manufactured overseas by corporations George W Bush has given tax breaks to in order to export American jobs abroad to jurisdictions lacking environmental safeguards thanks to a sweetheart deal negotiated by a lobbyist for Halliburton and then learnt that her health insurer wouldn't cover the cost of treatment because etc etc."
Sen John Edwards, the pretty-boy southern lawyer, does a much better job of this sort of thing. I caught him at Gorham Town Hall way up in the mountains on Saturday morning. It was a brutally cold morning 40 degrees below freezing but the place was packed and we all came away enthused, unlike at a Kerry rally where you come away trying not to think about why you're not enthused. Next to the groggy, haggard Kerry, Edwards has a fabulous, glowing complexion. In Gorham, surrounded by leathery weatherbeaten chapped blotched Yankee faces on all sides, the North Carolina trial lawyer looked like a star. If he'd taken my question, I'd have asked him for the name of his moisturiser. True, his stump speech often sounds less like a political platform and more like a laundry list of class-action suits he'd like to get a piece of we need to act against credit card companies that charge excessive interest etc and he has nothing of interest to say about the war. But his qualified support or qualified lack of support seems to suit a Democratic electorate that recoils from Joe Lieberman's full-throated backing of the Iraq liberation and isn't quite suicidal enough to nail its colours to the mast of the fruitcake anti-war Left.
That's the real story here: for all Howard Dean's talk that you can't beat Bush with "Bush Lite", the candidates who'll survive to the southern primaries next week are doing their best not to sound anti-war, anti-tax cuts or anti-guns. In other words, even in the Democratic primary, this election's now being fought on Republican terms.
The New Hampshire economy would probably be a slump this year but for the wandering minstrels spinning yarns and shoveling manure.
and 2nd in Arizona!!
Divide the convention,,,, floor fight!!
I just saw Edwards on Oreilly, the guy got hammered on tuff questions and didnt get rattled. He said he is "waiting" for the attacks and that he can handle it.
He is fixing to bump it up a notch.
LOL. Everything is Bush's fault. In the film The Sweet Hereafter, Ian Holm plays a glorified ambulance chaser who capitalizes on people's willingness to sue after a disaster. This reminds me of the Democrats, particularly John Edwards, for obvious reasons.
(Don't get me wrong. I'm not against accountability.)
Hi, Dog. From your lips to God's ears, my friend!
Also, what is seldom mentioned is that Newsweak polled warm bodies, not registered voters or likely voters. Fred Barnes mentioned last night that Newsweak had a poll in 1984 showing Mondale beating Reagan. Same shtick here.
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