- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Two big things came out of Monday’s Iowa caucuses, besides John Kerry’s win and Howard Dean’s defeat, that point to some very dramatic changes in the Democratic Party.

The first is that among the major candidates, the two who were furthest to the left on core political issues lost — big time — while the two who had moved closer toward center surged to the front of the pack.

Former Vermont Gov. Dean and Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri called for repeal of the Bush tax cuts — even though it would mean higher taxes for the middle class — to pay for a major expansion in federal social welfare programs, including a costly new health-care proposal. Both want draconian new restrictions on free trade. Both were closely aligned with big labor and back its big-spending social agenda. Both supported big raises in the minimum wage and called for reregulating big business and the rest of the economy.

Those agendas fell with a thud Monday night, despite record turnout by Iowa Democrats who tend to favor more liberal candidates. Mr. Dean, once the prohibitive national front-runner, was able to garner only 18 percent and a dismal third-place finish. Mr. Gephardt, who for months has led in Iowa — and won the caucuses in 1988 — polled only 11 percent and dropped out of the race.

Mr. Kerry and second-place finisher John Edwards, on the other hand, positioned themselves very differently on the Democrats’ political spectrum — leaning toward the center on key issues.

Both fiercely objected to repealing the Bush tax cuts for middle-income workers, though they favored raising the rates on upper-income people. They supported free trade agreements in the past as the best way to boost exports and strengthen the economy. They had proposals to spend more in the areas of health care and education but tempered them with calls for restraint on spending to deal with the mounting deficit.

Mr. Kerry, for example, often touted the Democratic Leadership Council’s more centrist agenda in his campaign speeches and used a lot of centrist-sounding rhetoric, believing that, like Bill Clinton, Democrats can only win by holding on to the party’s liberal wing while reaching out to the center. Mr. Kerry had more maneuvering room to do both in Iowa because he had the party’s liberal icon — his fellow Massachusetts senator, Ted Kennedy — campaigning for him in the final weeks of the contest.

It is also important to note that Sen. Kerry of Massachusetts and Sen. Edwards of North Carolina had voted for the Iraq war resolution, though Mr. Kerry later tried to separate himself from that vote by saying he had been misled. And Mr. Edwards decided not to support the $87 billion supplemental for the war.

Still, in a party dominated by its antiwar base, the big winners turned out to be two senators who backed Mr. Bush on the resolution’s final roll-call vote.

In the end, the two of them drew a stunning 70 percent of the vote. Mr. Kerry won with 38 percent, and Mr. Edwards got 32 percent.

The other big development that sent disturbing signals to the party was organized labor’s failure to turn out the union vote for Mr. Gephardt or Mr. Dean.

Mr. Gephardt had more labor endorsements than anyone, but Mr. Dean had won support from several of the biggest unions in the country. Neither were helped by them, despite thousands of union volunteers working in their behalf in a big labor state. Mr. Gephardt drew more than 15 percent of the vote in only 23 of Iowa’s 99 counties.

Labor’s failure to turnout the vote for the candidates it has endorsed suggests two things: Labor unions are no longer the political powers they once were in election contests, union households no longer follow the dictates of their union bosses in how they vote.

Labor impotence wasn’t the only big failure in Iowa. Al Gore, the party’s former nominee, hoped his early endorsement would help Mr. Dean win the caucuses in a state Mr. Gore won against Mr. Bush in 2000. But his backing had zero effect in the race, suggesting any hopes Mr. Gore may have about 2008 are waning.

Jimmy Carter’s strange semi-endorsement of Mr. Dean, a last-ditch move to save his campaign, also showed how desperate Mr. Dean’s forces became in the final days as his support plummeted and Mr. Kerry’s rose precipitously.

Finally, we heard a lot about the awesome power of the Internet in the Dean campaign. He had signed almost 600,000 supporters on the Internet, and that helped him raise $40 million, but it didn’t help him much in the end.

The bottom line: Iowa showed Democrats remain deeply divided and uncertain about who they want to lead the party in November. Going into the Iowa caucuses, about a fourth of all Democrats said their minds were not made up. And even many of those who had a candidate said they could change their mind, according to the New York Times/CBS News survey.

All this may result in a longer-than-expected Democratic primary battle, which is just what the president’s campaign strategists want. The more the Democratic presidential candidates spend their time beating each other up, the better it will be for George Bush.

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times and is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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