- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2003

After spending most of this year atop the national polls in the Democratic presidential sweepstakes and devoting more than two weeks campaigning in Iowa, Sen. Joe Lieberman has taken his hat out of the Iowa caucus ring. Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who vaulted to the top of several Democratic presidential polls after announcing his candidacy last month, has done likewise. Mr. Clark can rationalize his decision by arguing that his late entry works against his ability to undertake the massive organizational efforts that this key state requires. But Mr. Lieberman, the 2000 vice presidential candidate who has spent the last two years declaring his presidential ambitions, cannot make that argument.

Forecasting the inevitable futility of Mr. Lieberman’s candidacy in Iowa, a Zogby poll conducted last month among 500 likely caucus voters showed the moderate Mr. Lieberman trailing badly, registering a distant, almost imperceptible fifth place. Supported by only 4 percent of the likely caucus attendees, Mr. Lieberman was 19 points behind Howard Dean, the poll leader with 23 percent. Dick Gephardt of neighboring Missouri, who won the Iowa caucuses in 1988, was second in the Zogby poll with 17 percent, followed by John Kerry (11 percent) and John Edwards (6 percent).

Iowa Democratic officials and other campaigns were quick to assert that no candidate who has skipped Iowa has ever gone on to win the nomination of either major party since the caucuses emerged in 1972 as an important event in presidential politics. They specifically cited Democrat Al Gore’s decision to forego Iowa in 1988 and Republican John McCain’s decision to skip the 2000 caucuses. Boycotting Iowa, however, did not prevent Mr. Gore from winning five primaries and one caucus on Super Tuesday in 1988. Nor did boycotting the Republican caucuses in Iowa prevent the underdog, Mr. McCain, from claiming a 19-percentage-point upset victory in New Hampshire in 2000. Moreover, before George W. Bush, the last non-incumbent presidential candidate to win the Iowa caucuses and then the presidency, was Jimmy Carter in 1976, who finished behind “none of the above” at the caucuses.

Mr. Lieberman’s campaign said he would be focusing his limited resources on the Jan. 27 primary in New Hampshire, where several recent polls show Mr. Lieberman enjoys the support of only 6 percent to 7 percent of the Democratic and independent electorate. Mr. Lieberman also will be emphasizing Arizona, South Carolina and Oklahoma. Mr. Clark will employ the same strategy.

In retrospect, Mr. Lieberman clearly misjudged the potential for anything politically useful to happen for him in Iowa. With only $4.1 million in cash on hand (the very-late-starting Clark campaign has more than $3.4 million in the bank), Mr. Lieberman could no longer afford to pour any more money down the Iowa drain. While the decision to withdraw is rational, in the end, this may well look like the hoisting of the white flag, even as, ironically, Mr. Lieberman remains near the top in Democratic national polls.

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