There’s been a lot of talk over the last week about how John Kerry’s strength is built on a bubble of electability – everyone thinks that everyone else thinks he’s electable, so they are voting for him. There’s obviously something to this, and I agree with Jonah’s point that it may be all downhill for Kerry from here. But I think some of the bubble commentary has been overblown (is there a bubble in bubble commentary?). For a couple of reasons:
1) Kerry had a spectacularly strong finish in Iowa before he was riding a wave of primary victories. He must have been doing something right.
2) Objectively, Kerry probably is the strongest Democratic candidate. Gephardt seemed stronger on paper, but there’s no getting around his disqualifying finish in what should have been his strongest state. You can make a case that John Edwards would be a better candidate, but then again, he has almost no national security experience and doesn’t speak very convincingly on foreign policy issues. Lieberman was too conservative for the Democrats and Howard Dean is obviously a disaster. That leaves Kerry.
3) Lots of people have poked fun at the Democrats for caring so much about electability, but then again, if they had thrown electability out the window and gone for Howard Dean, a lot of us would be writing about how outrageous it is that the Democrats “don’t even care about winning this year.”
4) Yes, the exit polls say that people voting on the issues like candidates other than John Kerry. But I’m not sure how meaningful this is since there aren’t many stark differences on the issues between the candidates. It seems perfectly reasonable to me that someone who likes Howard Dean’s message or what John Edwards says would vote for Kerry based on his electability, since the Massachusetts senator basically says all the same things that Dean and Edwards do.