- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2003

The Democratic presidential nominating contest so eclipsed by the U.S. war in Iraq that few Democrats can name any of their candidates is being called "the invisible primary."
"The war has largely prevented Democratic candidates from gaining much exposure. Only 32 percent of Americans could offer a name when asked who was running for the Democratic nomination in 2004," according to the latest Pew Research Center election survey.
This may not be that surprising for the bottom tier of Democratic candidates who are largely unknown outside their states such as Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio or former Ambassador Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois and who do not even register a blip on the Pew survey.
But the party's top-tier candidates do not draw much name recognition either. Only 11 percent named Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the party's front-runner, while Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina drew 8 percent, 5 percent and 4 percent respectively.
Interviews with Democratic officials confirmed that after several months of campaigning in the early primary states around the country, the contenders and their issues have received relatively little public attention on the national stage.
"People are calling it the invisible primary. It's going on but no one is paying much attention to it," said a longtime Democratic campaign veteran here who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
But other party strategists said that a lack of interest in the presidential candidates is not unusual at this early stage in a crowded race where nine candidates are competing for the nomination and will face each other in next year's primaries, which begin in January.
"It's not really surprising, given the fact that the race is wide open. We have a lot of candidates, and although some of them have been around awhile on Capitol Hill, some of them are not well-known outside of their state's media markets," said party strategist Donna Brazile.
But whoever survives the early primary tests "will become household names between next March and the nominating convention in the summer," she said.
There seems to be a growing consensus among party strategists who have not endorsed any of the candidates that Mr. Kerry is the clear front-runner, with Mr. Gephardt, Mr. Lieberman and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean battling it out for second place.
Despite having raised more money than any of his rivals, Mr. Edwards' campaign has not caught on and his recognition remains in the low single digits in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
A poll last week of 600 registered Democrats in New Hampshire, which will hold the first primary on Jan. 27, found Mr. Kerry leading with 24 percent of the vote. He had been in a dead heat with Mr. Dean, who opposed the war, but Mr. Dean's support has fallen to 19 percent (down from 22 percent in March) now that the conflict has ended and the issue has receded in the campaign.
Mr. Gephardt, the former House Democratic leader, has the support of 15 percent of likely Democratic primary voters, edging out Mr. Lieberman, who has 13 percent, the American Research Group survey found. The poll was conducted between April 15 and 17 and has a margin of error of four percentage points.
Mr. Kerry's supporters and other party strategists say that the war in Iraq has been a big factor in the Democratic race thus far, helping the senator and the war's other supporters burnish their credentials on national security issues and hurting Mr. Dean, who opposed the use of force to bring down the Iraqi regime.
"Dean gambled heavily on a negative outcome of the war and at this point one would have to say that Dean lost his gamble for obvious reasons. The war has been successful and Bush has gained politically from it," said Massachusetts Democratic Chairman Philip W. Johnston, who is supporting Mr. Kerry.
"I don't see how a Democratic candidate could go to the country next year as someone who was opposed to the war, just speaking cold, hard politics," Mr. Johnston said. "I don't think that those who opposed the Iraqi war would have any credibility as our nominee."
But former Democratic National Committee Chairman Steven Grossman, a Boston businessman who is backing Mr. Dean instead of his home-state senator, thinks that Mr. Kerry is trying to have it both ways on the war.
"I think Dean's [antiwar] supporters are going to stick with him. He was justified in pointing out that there was very little consistency and clarity to [Mr. Kerrys] positions on the war," Mr. Grossman said.

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