- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2003

Democratic presidential hopefuls Sen. Joe Lieberman and Wesley Clark may be taking a risk by skipping the Iowa caucuses, but their anemic polling in the nation’s first real political test may have left them little choice.

“This is not the ideal strategy for winning the Democratic nomination, but for these two candidates, it’s probably the only strategy,” said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. “I regard this as simply accepting the political realities of Iowa and where they stand.”

The Lieberman and Clark campaigns announced Sunday they were abandoning Iowa. The Jan. 19 caucuses have become a clear three-man race that includes neither of them.

A Democracy Corps poll conducted Oct. 2-13 showed Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri leading with 27 percent of Democratic supporters, followed closely by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean with 26 percent and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry with 16 percent.

Mr. Clark, the retired Army general who vaulted to the top of surveys of Democrats nationwide upon announcing his candidacy last month, trailed with the support of 6 percent of Iowa voters in the Democracy Corps poll. Mr. Lieberman was among the party’s fringe candidates, with 2 percent.

Jennifer Duffy, political analyst for the Cook Political Report, said the decision to bail out of Iowa makes a lot of sense.

“If your choice is playing in Iowa and spending a lot of resources in time and money and staff to come in fifth or sixth, or devoting that money to a state where your chances are better, it doesn’t seem like a terribly hard decision,” Mrs. Duffy said. “You can’t blame them for it.”

Lieberman campaign spokesman Jano Cabrera said the strategy of bypassing Iowa worked for Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, when he challenged George W. Bush for the Republican nomination in 2000. Mr. McCain concentrated on New Hampshire and achieved an upset over the well-financed then-governor of Texas.

John Weaver, Mr. McCain’s presidential campaign manager in 2000, was “among the people we consulted with,” Mr. Cabrera said.

“This was a strategic decision,” Mr. Cabrera said, “With less than 100 days to go when actual voting begins, now’s the time for candidates to focus their resources on where they think they will prove the most effective.”

Mr. Lieberman’s 17-person Iowa staff has already been sent to offices in New Hampshire, which holds the first primary Jan. 27, and to the seven states with Feb. 3 primaries.

“We’re disappointed that they are not going to play in the Iowa caucuses,” said Mark Daly, spokesman for the Iowa Democratic Party. “I’m not really sure what their rationale is.”

In a state where on-the-ground organization is key, Mr. Clark’s campaign never had a chance to get established.

While the McCain model has its appeal, it does have its limits. Mr. McCain managed to win New Hampshire, but was defeated by Mr. Bush shortly thereafter in South Carolina and Michigan.

“It has not proven to be an advisable strategy to skip Iowa. ‘President Gore’ and ‘President McCain’ can certainly attest to that,” said an aide to a rival campaign.

A Lieberman campaign staffer, however, found one Democratic candidate who adopted a variation of this strategy and went on to the White House.

“In years past, there has been a candidate who did not invest in Iowa, went on to invest in New Hampshire, didn’t win there either, but went on to win the key states for his campaign,” the staffer said. “And that was Bill Clinton.”

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