The Clark campaign: now what?

Clark’s odds have clearly lengthened. The polls suggest that he was getting some votes as the perceived “anti-Dean” that are now going to Kerry and Edwards. Now we get to see whether Clark’s organization of 150,000 volunteers has staying power or not, and whether Kerry and Edwards can build finance and organization fast enough to compete.

The other factor to consider is negative press, which tends to follow the leader. Dean was shredded over the past month, partly fairly, largely not. The attempt to paint Clark as a weasel has had a fair measure of (as far as I can tell, entirely undeserved) success. Kerry got a good dose of Republican sliming last fall, but has largely escaped since. Edwards has been mostly spared so far, except for nasty comments about his boyish good looks.

The bad blood between Dean and the others — mostly, I would say, Dean’s fault — is probably a fixed point. But there’s no reason Kerry, Edwards, and Clark couldn’t form a non-aggression pact. So far, they’ve all been fairly well-behaved toward one another, and there’s actually not enough policy difference among the three of them to see with the naked eye. Any two, in either order, would make a strong ticket for November.

That means that each candidate ought to be thinking now of what he can do to help create and maintain such a non-aggression pact. If half of what’s said about Chris Lehane’s activities is true — I say, “if,” as I have no way of knowing — but if Lehane was involved, for example, in spreading the smear about Dean’s having covered up for a wife-beater, then Clark might want to consider Machiavelli’s account of how Caesare Borgia treated Remirro de Orco, whose cruelty as Borgia’s viceroy in the Romagna had made him thoroughly unpopular:

“He wished to show that if any cruelty had been committed, this came not from him but from the harsh nature of his minister. And having seized this opportunity, he had him placed one morning in the piazza at Cesena in two pieces, with a piece of wood and a bloody knife beside him. The ferocity of this spectacle left the people at once satisfied and stupefied.”

Nothing that happened this week shakes my confidence that Clark is likely to make both the strongest competitor against Bush and the best President among all the Democrats running. I wasn’t backing him as the anti-Dean, but as the anti-Bush.

I think that Edwards or Kerry would likely run better against Bush than Dean would have, but I still think there are millions of votes potentially available to Clark that aren’t available to the other two. And since I don’t do politics for a living, I’m not under personal pressure to get with the eventual winner early.

If the bulk of Clark’s organization consists of people who feel the way I do, then he won’t lose much organizational muscle as a result of the Iowa outcome. (I notice that he’s continuing to raise about $100,000 a day in contributions averaging $100 each; yesterday was actually a little better than the average of the previous week.) If he can keep his army together, he can stay competitive all the way to Boston.

Update I’m told the Clark volunteer count is now past 200,000. The pace of fundraising seems to have actually picked up since Monday night.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: