“I will campaign in the south, and I expect to win some Southern states”–Sen. John Kerry.
That crazy Kerry–he’ll say anything!
Remember, this is the same guy who complained about the Bush administration interjecting Vietnam into the presidential campaign for “personal, political gain.” Meanwhile, who would be surprised if it were revealed that this guy’s current driver’s license photo is a shot of him in his Navy uniform standing in a Vietnamese jungle.
Now John Kerry’s making wild statements about the strength of his candidacy in the old south, statements the press is taking far too seriously. CNN and others have wasted significant coverage on John Kerry’s wins Tuesday in four southern states, noting in passing that Kerry was mostly uncontested. Who else was on the ballot, Sharpton and Kucinich?
Sorry, make that totally uncontested.
A win is a win, of course, but the “Kerry Sweeps Four Southern States!” headlines are laughable on their face. That’s about as impressive as “American Soldiers Sweep Across Grenada” or “Lakers Sweep Japanese Basketball Tournament.”
More telling is a new study from the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. Their research shows that in the 19 state primaries held by Democrats through March 2 (caucuses weren’t counted) an average of only 11.4 percent of eligible voters participated. To put that in perspective, turnout in the 1996 Democratic presidential primaries was 9 percent, and the only guy on the ballot was President Bill Clinton.
So Bill Clinton by himself, an unopposed incumbent, generated 9-percent turnout, while Kerry, Edwards, Dean, Clark, and Co. pulled a mere 11.4 percent all together.
These are not numbers that should excite Kerry or the Democrats. If his goal in the remaining primaries is to build up turnout and participation for November, he wasn’t able to do so when Edwards and Dean were at least pretending to make it a fight. Now that he’s a solo act, the crowds are likely to be even smaller.
Even worse for Kerry is exit polling from Tuesday showing the few citizens who did participate in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi were older, more liberal, and more partisan than most of their fellow citizens. In other words, these were southerners who were going to support him no matter what. They are also southerners who have relatively little in common with their neighbors.
And so, without much good news to report from Dixie, pundits have quickly returned to their “Who needs the south?” speculation regarding the Kerry campaign. “It looks like he and many of his advisers might be persuaded that Kerry can be the Democratic Lincoln–win the presidency without the south,” southern-politics expert Earl Black of Rice University told the AP. “Kerry’s showing the flag here, but he hasn’t given much indication that his campaign is really going to put in serious money, except perhaps Florida.”
But John Kerry will have no part of it. He continues to insist publicly that the south will be in play in November. He keeps reminding southerners that “I’m a hunter,” as though chasing pheasant across your wife’s dead husband’s estate makes you a man’s man. Kerry is also counting heavily on his war record in Vietnam to help him with cultural conservatives in the south (though not for “personal, political gain” of course).
Where Kerry may have the strongest connection with southern swing voters is the economy. Job growth is always the slowest to recover for low-skill and unskilled laborers. The south, America’s “High-School Drop-Out” capital, has more than its share. In Columbia, South Carolina where I grew up, for example, Siemens Diesel Systems Technology opened four years ago planning to hire 500 people. But due to the poorly educated labor pool, only 35 of the 1,000 applicants got a job.
According to John Kerry, those who didn’t get hired are victims of President Bush’s economic policies, not the crummy, local, government-run schools or their poor lifestyle decisions. No, they’re victims of the evil Bush administration, Kerry says. And people willing to believe this nonsense, north or south, will find comfort in Kerry’s message of unbridled class warfare.
Still, as one Democratic pollster acknowledged this week, the Massachusetts senator is likely to find campaigning in the south like “pushing a boulder uphill.” If nothing else, Kerry’s wins against his remaining Democratic rivals reveal the one foolproof strategy for him to win southern states: He just has to convince George W. Bush to drop out of the race.
Then Kerry would have a real chance to carry the south. Maybe.
–Radio-talk-host Michael Graham covers southern politics from his home in Virginia. He is an NRO contributor.