Negatives never lead to positives

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 23, 2004

The negative ads of Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt succeeded brilliantly: They both lost Monday in Iowa. The winners – John Kerry and John Edwards – both abstained from negatives and won.

The history of politics has always suggested that when one candidate attacks the other and the fire is returned, they both go down and the third – and fourth – candidate soars into the lead. Never has this been more true than it was in Iowa.

Iowa has served to nominate a liberal candidate (Kerry) to oppose a moderate (Edwards). In the best tradition of past primaries, they will now square off against one another.

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In 1976, it was Mo Udall for the liberals, Jimmy Carter for the moderates. In 1984, Walter Mondale represented the left, Gary Hart the center. In 1988, Michael Dukakis was the liberal, Al Gore the centrist. In 1992, Jerry Brown represented the left; Bill Clinton was the moderate. Now these two traditional Democratic Party camps square off again.

What happened to Howard Dean? He was assassinated by Bill and Hillary with the assistance of Chris Lehane, the political hit man who first worked for Kerry and now backs Clark.

Desperate to keep control of the Democratic Party, the Clintons used their negative researchers and detectives to the ultimate and generated a story-a-day savaging Dean. The Vermont governor, not ready for prime time, cooperated by being thin-skinned, surly and combative. And now he is an artifact of history. The left (who had made Dean their darling) embraced Kerry (the original leftist) as their nominee.

But the most interesting surge was by Edwards, a written-off moderate from North Carolina – a born-again Clinton speaking for the South and appealing to the moderates who dominate general elections. An attractive orator and accomplished trial lawyer, Edwards can now effectively compete for the nomination.

The big losers? The men who weren’t there: Wesley Clark and Joe Lieberman. Edwards and Kerry have reared up to the lead. Who needs a Clark or a Lieberman? Shunted aside by their own arrogant refusal to submit to the verdict of the voters in the nation’s first contest, they’ll be ignored in the rush of enthusiasm for the two new front runners. The media will be filled with stories of the rise of Kerry and Edwards; neither Clark nor Lieberman will be able to get a word in edgewise.

But President Bush has to be the biggest loser. His dreams of a slam dunk race against leftist Howard Dean have been dashed. The concerted efforts of the Clintons and the national media have consigned the Vermont governor to history. Now Bush has to work to get re-elected.

Iowa has, thankfully, consigned Richard Gephardt to a much-deserved political grave. This anachronism, a spokesman for organized labor and the AFL-CIO bosses, will join the ranks of Walter Mondale and Mike Dukakis on the scrap heap of special-interest liberalism.

Dean had seized an early lead based on his opposition to the war in Iraq. But his campaign died the day we captured Saddam Hussein. This military coup demonstrated anew the reasons for our invasion of Iraq and robbed the Dean campaign of its essential cause, its raison d’etre. The pounding of the Democratic Party establishment did the rest, dropping Dean to a small percentage of the vote he would have otherwise garnered.

Kerry, a senator from a neighboring state, will likely now go on to win in New Hampshire. The real contest will be for second place. Can Clark enter the race with a second-place finish? Will Edwards capitalize on his Iowa showing to oust the retired general from the second spot? Can Lieberman cash in on the memories of 2000 to replace them both?

My bet is that Edwards surges and finishes second in New Hampshire, too. Then we proceed to the big states five weeks later – New York, Texas, California and Ohio all vote on the same day in this front-loaded process. Edwards and Kerry will slug it out and the winner is anybody’s guess.

Can Bush beat Kerry? Not as easily as he could defeat Dean, but he likely can. Kerry is ultimately a reincarnation of Mike Dukakis as the candidate from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts. His liberalism places him beyond the pale of most American voters.

Edwards would be a tougher sell. While his trial-lawyer campaign contributions will likely rise up to bite him as the race progresses, he is a canny politician with a captivating manner and a trial lawyer’s sense of how to appeal to the voters. If he wins, Bush is in for a fight.

Dick Morris was an adviser to Bill Clinton for 20 years. Look for his new book, Off With Their Heads: Traitors, Crooks, and Obstructionists in American Politics, Media and Business. Copyright 2004 Dick Morris, All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. Call Cari Dawson Bartley at (800) 696 7561 or e-mail: email for Dick Morris is

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