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2004: The Invisible Primary
ABC 2004: The Invisible Primary
 

By Mark Halperin, Elizabeth Wilner
& Marc Ambinder

ABCNEWS.com

U P D A T E D May 29 — Since we last published our Invisible Primary Ratings in February, we've had a big cattle call, a fundraising disclosure deadline, and at some point along the way, a silent but unmistakable go-ahead for the Democratic field to frontally attack the wartime President they hope to replace.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
Who's Up, Who's Down   | Presidential Prospecting   | Category-by-Category   | The Ratings and Chart   | Footnotes


All six of the top-tier contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, plus the upwardly mobile (ratings-wise) Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, have stepped up their criticisms of President Bush.

Former Vice President Al Gore, Senators John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman, and Dean have been the most vocal. Congressional leaders Tom Daschle and Richard Gephardt have been reined in somewhat by their day jobs, while Senator John Edwards has incorporated some raps on Bush into his introductory stump speech, without getting too substantive.

The environment, the tax cut, Social Security, the budget, and more recently, foreign policy and homeland security all have been the basis for Democratic critiques of Bush, as the would-be candidates compete for the hearts and minds of a party base whose September 11-inflated approval of Bush's job performance has declined.

The biggest single development in the Invisible Primary since the last go-round has been the re-emergence of a beardless — if not exactly fighting trim — Gore, with his speech at the mid-April Florida Democratic party convention in Orlando, his Earth Day address attacking Bush at Vanderbilt University, his decent leadership PAC showing for the first quarter of 2002, his re-gathering of some former supporters, and his forthcoming book tour with wife Tipper.

As we have said before, effort matters big in the Invisible Primary, and Gore's re-emergence — albeit hardly smooth, with no apparent rationale behind when he chooses to comment via press release on news developments, and when to stay silent— has projected him from his fourth-place showing in our last round of ratings upward to the top slot, boosted by the undeniable residual advantages he possesses as the party's 2000 nominee.

Gore hasn't actually done all that much to help himself, but simply by being out on the track, he now takes up a lot of space.


Ranked in order (averaging the totals for each candidate), the lowest candidate is the leader so far. The closer to 1.0 a candidate is, the better he's doing.


ABC 2004:The Invisible Primary Summary
Name
Average Now
Average in Feb. 2002
1. Al Gore
2.8
3.8
2. Rep. Dick Gephardt
3.1
3.5
2. Sen. John Kerry
3.1
3.05
4. Sen. John Edwards
3.6
3.2
5. Sen. Tom Daschle
4.3
4.85
6. Sen. Joseph Lieberman
4.9
4.15
7. Former Sen. Bill Bradley
7.7
8.15
8. Gov. Howard Dean
8.15
8.85
9. Gov. Gray Davis
8.6
8.35
10. Sen. Chris Dodd
9.55
10.85
11. Sen. Joseph Biden
10.45
11.2
12. Rev. Al Sharpton
10.7
NOT RANKED

To repeat from our initial round of ratings: in no way are they meant to reflect any individual Democrat's chances of beating President Bush in 2004. They are intended to reflect one's chances of winning the Democratic nomination.

For example, the "Message/Issues" category attempts to gauge a candidate's message as it would be received by the Democratic electorate and Establishment — not how it would play in a general election.

While we do have one category that looks beyond the nominating contest to a presumed battle with President Bush ("Perceived Electability"), even that attempts to measure the perception within the party of a candidate's ability to win the presidency.

In short, no one should interpret these ratings as saying that the current leader, Gore, necessarily has the best chance of beating President Bush in November 2004.

Given the highly in-flux, unsettled field, we freely admit that Gore's current status could wind up — as Kerry and Daschle's did earlier — having the metaphorical staying power of a tracking poll.

Until and unless Gore sticks his neck out and gets his head handed to him on the campaign trail — until he suffers a series of visible setbacks in actively seeking support or endorsements, or in raising money — his presumed strength is likely to keep him at or near the top.

As before, explanations of each category are located beneath the chart.

Once again, we encourage all you readers to e-mail us your comments on any or all of this—Blackberry-equipped candidates included.

Candidates are ranked from one to 12—one being the highest, best, most good, 12 being the weakest, worst, and least good. See below for a comprehensive explanation of the categories. We've divided the candidates into two tiers, with the top tier representing those most likely to run and win.


ABC 2004:The Invisible Primary
ABC 2004
Tom Daschle
John Edwards
Dick Gephardt
Al Gore
John Kerry
Joe Lieberman
Money Potential
5
5
2
1
2
4
Message/Issues
3
6
3
1
2
5
Iowa
3
5
1
1
6
9
New Hampshire
8
4
2
2
1
5
Other States
6
3
2
1
3
5
Perceived Electability
1
1
5
5
3
4
In-person Campaigning skills
1
2
3
4
5
6
Television Campaigning skills
1
4
6
2
2
5
Anti-Terrorism Credentials
4
9
4
2
1
3
Media coverage
6
1
5
2
3
4
Buzz and Momentum
6
1
3
4
2
5
Clinton Factor
5
1
6
2
3
4
Polling, Name I.D.
3
8
3
1
8
2
Fire in the Belly
8
1
3
6
3
5
Endorsements
3
6
2
1
4
4
Labor
6
4
1
2
3
7
Democratic Base Vote
3
5
2
1
4
6
Un-Gore
2
1
7
12
3
5
Party Support
6
4
1
2
3
5
Staff/Consultants
6
1
1
4
1
5
             

 


ABC 2004: The Invisible Primary
ABC 2004
Joe Biden
Bill Bradley
Gray Davis
Howard Dean
Chris Dodd
Al Sharpton
Money Potential
11
8
7
10
9
12
Message/Issues
11
8
9
7
10
12
Iowa
8
4
11
7
10
12
New Hampshire
9
6
11
6
10
12
Other States
10
8
7
11
9
12
Perceived Electability
11
8
7
10
9
12
In-person Campaigning skills
10
8
12
7
11
9
Television Campaign skills
11
8
9
7
10
12
Anti-Terrorism Credentials
6
8
6
10
11
12
Media coverage
12
10
11
7
9
8
Buzz and Momentum
11
8
9
7
10
12
Clinton Factor
11
9
7
10
8
12
Polling, Name I.D.
10
5
6
12
11
7
Fire in the Belly
9
12
11
1
10
7
Endorsements
12
7
10
8
9
11
Labor
11
8
4
9
10
12
Democratic base vote
12
7
9
10
11
8
Un-Gore
11
4
10
6
8
9
Party Support
12
10
9
8
7
12
Staff/Consultants
11
8
7
10
9
12
               

Whenever we publish these ratings, we get all sorts of questions about what they mean. This process is not that complicated, but the questions suggest that it is not so simple, either.

In short (and excuse the sports metaphor), think of the ratings like the NCAA college basketball ratings: measuring total past performance, weighted for recent performance, and projecting out into the future as to who looks the strongest to win it all.

In other, more colloquial terms, the rankings reflect who has "juice" — a demonstrated ability to elicit favorable attention from critical sectors of the political world, including activists, major fundraisers, and the news media.

First, these ratings are geometric, not arithmetic. Say, for example, that North Carolina is the number one-ranked team nationally in men's' basketball, the University of Missouri is second, and Vanderbilt is third. That doesn't necessary mean that the gap between North Carolina and Missouri is the same as the gap between Missouri and Vandy. The top-rated team might be head and shoulders above the rest of the field, but in the ratings, they still are only one "point" better than number two.

Second, we throw the following time dimensions into one blender to come up with the overall ratings: how the candidate has performed over the long haul; how the candidate has done since the ratings were last updated; how the candidate is doing currently; and what potential the candidate has shown, based on everythign we've seen so far, to excel in the future.

So, the numbers measure past, present, and future simultaneously.

Third, while there is an inherently subjective element to this, we don't just make this stuff up on hunches. We talk with a broad variety of sources in making our judgments: Washington savants of both parties, real-life activists in real states, interest group chieftains, and strategists for the candidates themselves.

Fourth, we think it is healthy to probe and measure the seekers for the world's most important job all the time, and not wait until the winter of 2004 to start asking questions. We are the Political Unit, not the Policy Unit, but suffice it to say that when the candidates start talking seriously about policy, we will divide our attention between horse race and substance.

With the party's 2000 nominee now out of the gate and front and center for 2004, the Invisible Primary largely becomes about the other would-be candidates maneuvering to be viewed as the alternative to Gore, and about consolidating their positions so that if or when he fails, or decides not to run (one of which they all claim will happen), they can be ready to pick up the pieces.

In other words, the lesser-known candidates are now trying to set themselves apart from Gore, as well as from the rest of the pack. Gore, meanwhile, is the undeniable frontrunner right now, and may well remain so until or unless he decides to pull the plug.

This is not to suggest that Gore cannot simply run and win the nomination — maybe even easily. What we are suggesting is that the governing assumption by all the other campaigns is that Gore likely will enter the actual nominating contest with "soft" support, and will begin to hemorrhage, bringing about a critical moment in the garage sale of all his assets.

Say, for example, that Gore runs, and Gephardt beats him in Iowa, Kerry beats him in New Hampshire, and Edwards beats him in South Carolina. By this point, Gore would probably be forced to quit, amidst the strange but inevitable "when are you quitting the race?" drumbeat that befalls any early-contest loser.

Then who would become the frontrunner?

The answer right now is anything but obvious.

First, we wouldn't be the least bit surprised if half of the Big Six (Gore, Kerry, Edwards, Lieberman, Gephardt, and Daschle) ultimately decide not to make the race.

And, as crowded as the field already seems, and despite Gore's apparent frontrunner status, the possibility remains that some other candidate not currently ranked in the top six will break into the first tier.

Despite the built-in advantages for Gore, however, the only wannabe currently on record as saying he will not run if Gore does is Lieberman, who has committed — unequivocally, we think — to deferring to Gore on a presidential bid.

Some see wiggle room for Lieberman to run even if Gore does, but we both take him at his word and think that starting a campaign by going back on that word would be disastrous. It could be done, perhaps, but we don't think Lieberman will attempt it.

As a result of Lieberman's repeated pledge, the more visible Gore becomes, the more pronounced the "either/or" dynamic between the two former running mates gets.

Indeed, it has seeped into, and somewhat dampened, the general coverage of Lieberman as a prospective candidate lately, and his Invisible Primary standing overall. This could be why Lieberman has been more aggressive in recent weeks, rhetorically and substantively, on Enron and tax cuts.

Gore is in the odd position of having vetted most of his serious rivals as possible running mates. Lieberman, Kerry, and Edwards all gave the meticulous Warren Christopher the OK to go over their records and backgrounds, putting Gore, if he saved that research, in the serendepitous position of already having some potential oppo material on hand.

But Gore has another, bigger advantage as the investigative work starts on the other candidates: his pre-2000 record and financial dealings were thoroughly scrutinized. Even Lieberman and Gephardt, who have run before nationally, haven't faced the level of press and opposition scrutiny they surely will encounter if they decide to make serious runs for the nomination.

Even so, we'll say, not for the first or last time: we wonder what Gore is doing for all that MetWest money, and whether he'll be able to run without putting out the details of that.

As for the others, they all have had the kind of financial, family, and professional lives which will merit a scrubbing, and we wouldn't be surprised to see some of that work leaking out over the next few months.

Another big recent development in the Invisible Primary, beyond the re-emergence of Gore, has been the deflating to some extent of the Edwards bubble. The junior Senator from North Carolina has seen his first round of negative press, albeit limited in scope (to Roll Call and The Economist), and has been the focus of one of his first conservative dressings-down (from the Washington Times editorial page).

He also had his first less-than-stellar Sunday-show interview at the hands of Tim Russert, which caused some leading Democrats to advise Edwards to be a little less visible until he's ready to make a stronger first impression. (That said, he still seems to be popping up on TV a lot.)

At this point, Edwards also faces the most aggressive opposition effort by any Republican state party of any of the 2004 contenders. The North Carolina GOP regularly puts out press releases about Edwards being a big, Kennedyesque liberal, trying to drive a wedge between his Tarheel State constituents and the national interest groups and base voters who play such a big role in the Democratic nominating process.

From the pundits' perspective, most of the criticisms have been based on Edwards' focus on a presidential bid at the expense, it would seem, of time spent building legislative experience or developing expertise in any particular policy area.

To circle back to Gore, some of Edwards' sinkage is a result of the newly visible former Vice President, not only just because Gore's rise in some categories has displaced Edwards, but also, in a more abstract way, because Gore now provides a point of reference for sizing up other candidates.

No matter what his flaws, Gore is the most experienced candidate by far. Of all the most active contenders, apart from Gore, only Gephardt has run for president before. Gore also is unmatched in his breadth and depth of knowledge of domestic and foreign policy, with only Lieberman coming close.

Substance-wise, then, Gore is the most well-rounded candidate in the field, and that matters.

That said, most of his likely leading rivals for the nomination have spent one to two decades in Congress pushing pet issues. But Edwards simply stands out more for having not.

At the same time, as Edwards' position in the ratings settles a bit, Daschle and California Governor Gray Davis continue to drop in the ratings because, even upon close inspection, they don't appear to be putting in any kind of presidential effort. Of course, Republicans and their Democratic rivals do stand ready to pounce on any sign that either of them are considering a run.

Even further on that score, we've gone so far as to take two names off the list, at least temporarily: Governors Roy Barnes of Georgia and Tom Vilsack of Iowa.

Like Davis in California, both men are occupied with re-election bids this year. Both also have been mentioned as possible running mates for whoever winds up being the nominee.

But Iowa and Georgia simply aren't California — by which we mean that unlike Davis, neither is viewed as having a big enough political or fundraising base to easily rev up for a run for president.

If either or both have smashing re-election successes this fall, they might well take a look at it, particularly given a perceptible sense among some Democrats that they would like to have more choices, as well as the advantages governors usually have in nomination fights.

Lingering in the second tier, with nationwide name recognition and potentially easy-to-reactivate networks of fundraisers and core supporters but with no stated desire to run again, is Bill Bradley.

Gore's challenger for the 2000 Democratic nomination has been a bit more visible of late, appearing at fundraisers for local candidates in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Boston, but in such a low-key way — lower key even than Gore in his "dormant stage" — that we're waiting for a bigger sign of interest before we start viewing Bradley as a possible contender. If that sign comes, he probably would vault into the top tier.

If Bradley can convince the press and the donors that he has learned lessons from 2000 (primarily, that he knows he must fight back when attacked), we view him as a potentially formidible player in this contest. But that's a big "if."

And we welcome the Reverend Al Sharpton to the ratings, as the first wannabe to set up a 2004 exploratory committee. Sharpton's committee held a fundraiser recently, which will require him to file with the Federal Election Committee at then end of the second quarter.

We're including Sharpton because we think he has a good chance to be a player, though not likely the nominee. He could influence the issues that get discussed, as well as the tenor and tone of the formal debates, and how other candidates appeal for the African-American vote.

That said, most of Sharpton's ratings are relatively low, in part because he is just getting started on his fundraising and organizing, and in part because, well, we rate the candidates according to their chances of winning the nomination.

Given Sharpton's often bad press, lack of legislative and executive experience, Tawana Brawley, his balky relations with some key Democratic constituencies, his ultra-liberal poltics, and other sundries, he simply does not seem electable in a presidential primary.

At this writing, the two second-tier candidates with the only real potential to break into the upper echelon are the governors of California and Vermont.

Among the less active players in the Invisible Primary, Governor Gray Davis looms as the potential 800-pound gorilla, with the state's big chunk of delegates and treasure trove of party donors presumably in his pocket — even if he'd have to start raising money in $2,000 increments just like everyone else.

That said, locked as he is in a potentially tough, definitely high-profile 2002 re-election bid against a wealthy Republican challenger backed by a Bush White House keen on making a strong showing in the Golden State, Davis may not be thinking much about 2004.

Add in his troubled relationship with Democrats in his own state, and the flight time from Sacramento to the New Hampshire seacoast, and even if Davis wins re-election big, we think a presidential run would pose a real challenge.

And if he truly is thinking of it, even at the back of his mind, he can't afford the political consequences of letting it show until the late fall.

Davis' re-election campaign affects the Invisible Primary in another way, too, in that any movement to change the date of the state's presidential primary, now that the Democratic National Committee has moved up the window in which states can hold their nominating contests, is pretty much on hold until after November, when it would be safer for him to be seen concerning himself with such matters.

Vermont Governor Howard Dean is Davis' opposite not only in terms of the size of his constituency, but in his status as the most active wannabe not currently in the top tier. His travel schedule is as busy as any of them; he's on track to have logged more time in Iowa and New Hampshire by the end of 2002 than any other candidates. His PAC has contributed to local candidates in those key states. And he has established a presidential campaign committee, which we refer to as "exploratory" to reflect the fact that Dean still might, perhaps for family reasons, decide not to make the race.

Dean faces several obstacles in his efforts to break into the top tier — namely money, name recognition, a network of supporters in key states, and a structure of strategists, policy advisors, and consultants to help usher him through the process. And he may have a somewhat rose-colored view of how to set about overcoming these obstacles.

That said, one thing Dean does have going for him is a clearly laid out message — albeit a somewhat quirky one — that's more defined than those of some of the top-tier contenders.

Dean's platform is centered on "straight talk," universal health care, strong appeal to supporters of gay rights, and fundraising potential among the medical profession. He also was the first of the entire field to stake out a clear position on Bush's tax cut, saying it should be delayed and rolled back.

1. Former Vice President Al Gore

There's a bit left to say about the big mover and shaker (-upper) of our latest round of ratings.

From what we can see publicly, Gore's base still is staying above water. That is, he maintains the allegiance of a lot of people and heavy frontrunner status in the polls. But in reality, many donors, Democratic lawmakers, and campaign operatives don't want him to run, and don't seem inclined to support him. Scattered national and state polls also suggest a yearning on the part of many Democrats for a different nominee.

In part, this is due to some sense that Gore lost it the last time — that Bush didn't beat him so much as he lost what should have been an easy race after eight years of peace and prosperity.

In part, it's due to a sense that the party needs to field someone new, or just someone who isn't Gore.

And in part — and this is as telling as it may seem petty — it's due to lingering bitterness over what several former Gore aides, donors, and other supporters have described to us as "a failure to say 'thank you'" since December 2000 (in contrast to Lieberman, who, it has been noted for us, made a point of thanking supporters, aides, and big donors in the months following the recount).

One representative of a key party constituency suggested that his people have heard so little from Gore since the recount, after arguably doing more for him on election day than any other single group, that "if it were anyone but Gore, you'd think he's not running."

All of which is to suggest that Gore, even now, after his re-emergence, still has a pretty lame political shop. A couple of good, well-received speeches and a fair leadership PAC intake do not a full-throttle operation make.

We wondered, also, about the political judgment behind Gore's decision to speak out against the White House's OK of the use of the Bush September 11 photo for fundraising purposes, which prompted the media to dredge up Gore's own Buddhist temple experience, which one arguably could've seen coming from a mile away.

Moreover, the fact that someone who has been in politics for over two decades and is a member of a political dynasty apparently couldn't fulfill the basic task of thanking donors and supporters in a timely way speaks volumes about Gore's own political deftness.

Gore supporters say that there was no big thank-you because of Gore's wish to stay out of the limelight after the recount and let Bush be president. One Gore backer reminds us that he did hold some thank-you events for big supporters in New York and elsewhere earlier this spring.

One inescapable reality of the Invisible Primary is that however often we try to talk to "real" Democrats, the people we speak with during the normal course of business inside the Acela/Delta shuttle bubble are overwhelmingly down on Gore's long-term prospects.

Some think he will not be the nominee because of the hostility toward him in so many quarters of the party. These folks largely concede that Gore's standing is high now, but claim that he will sink gradually over the next 18 months. Others believe and dread that Gore will, through an ugly, labored process, become the Democratic nominee but have no chance of beating Bush.

We are hard-pressed to come up with advantages Gore would have against Bush in 2004 that he did not have in 2000, with one possible exception: he might able to make the "I told you so" argument about a range of Bush policies, from the tax cut, to Social Security, to the environment, to corporate influence.

But frankly, given Gore's personal style and tendency to sound condescending, we have a hard time imagining him being able to make that argument without alienating almost as many voters as he could win over.

It's a lot easier to come up with disadvantages Gore would face in a 2004 campaign that he did not have to overcome last time, starting with the absence of the perks of the vice presidency: no Air Force II to facilitate travel, no automatic entree with party donors. To raise money for 2004, Gore will have to work the phones almost as hard as any other Democratic wannabe, and while some donors will be glad to help him, others may remember that lack of a "thank you."

We have heard word of "quiet" commitments by some Gore money people to other candidates, and we wonder, by this time next year, how many of the party's top 50 fundraisers will be with him.

Gore's remaining advisers continue to insist that he will soon re-emerge, and ratchet up the visibility level even further. When that will occur, how deftly (or not deftly) it is handled, and how it is received by those actually paying attention may be the biggest questions in the Invisible Primary for the rest of 2002.

2. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt

Strength in Iowa, New Hampshire, fundraising, and amongst labor. On paper, Gephardt looks like one of the strongest, if not the strongest possible Democratic nominee for president in 2004.

So then why, outside his core supporters, does there not seem to be much obvious enthusiasm for a Gephardt candidacy?

At this early stage of the Invisible Primary, it's pretty common for party operatives and activists who have not yet aligned with a particular prospect to breezily rule them out as appealing or even possible nominees by focusing on their one or two most obvious negative traits. The dismissal of Gore: "boring loser;" Kerry: "arrogant liberal;" Edwards: "too young and inexperienced;" Lieberman: "sanctimonious and unexciting." (Hey, we just repeat these things — we don't make 'em up.)

For Gephardt, the rap is: "too boring, too Bob Dole."

The challenge for the imagemakers and spinmeisters for all of these candidates is to use the next year or so to wipe out (or jujitsu) those negative images of their guys. So far, none of them has made much progress toward doing that, but it's still early.

Gephardt's advisers are well aware that the media and many Democrats either write off or at least struggle with the idea of the Minority Leader as a possible nominee because they see him as too unexciting — the opposite of the "It" guy.

The question then becomes, can Gephardt turn his advantages — potential mega labor support and his decent fundraising showing for his own PAC, and a stronger fundraising turn for the Democratic House campaign committee, together with his support in Iowa and New Hampshire — into a recipe for winning the nomination? Will these assets be enough to convince the unconvinced that he's the one who can come in and win this?

Despite his advisers' objections to the contrary, anecdotes and evidence continue to roll out that Gephardt simply is not nearly as engaged in winning back control of the House of Representatives as he once was. That said, he certainly is more engaged in the party's efforts to win back the House than any of the other active contenders are on helping the party get or keep control of either chamber.

Some of the Senators occasionally appear at fundraisers for the party's Senate candidates or send off PAC checks, but no one has a 2002 responsibility to rival Gephardt's.

Although his closest aides still give off the vibe that Gephardt will run for president whether Democrats take back the House or not, the impact of either outcome upon a Gephardt run in 2004 remains unclear.

2. Senator John Kerry

The big question looming out there for Kerry, and not yet put to rest despite a fair amount of back and forth, is whether or not he will spend any of wife Teresa Heinz's personal fortune in running for president.

Kerry supporters note that he himself has some personal money — probably not enough to merit the tag of "self-funder," but enough to carry him for a couple of weeks on TV — but that's not the same magnitude of money everyone is buzzing about him possibly spending here.

Recent Kerry statements in various settings seem to suggest that he will not dip into what's become known as the Heinz bank account, but the answer out of him thus far has been far from definitive.

To be clear, Kerry may only tap into funds that are jointly under his and Heinz's control, unless Heinz goes to the lengths of setting up a 527 group, which seems unlikely. Kerry has told some people that he would not use any joint funds unless Heinz herself feels as though she has come under attack.

The conventional wisdom is that Kerry couldn't take the political risk of spending the money without drawing attention to his distinctly un-populist lifestyle. However, under the right conditions, we could see a way for Kerry to dip into the account, making the argument that he's doing it for the party and to keep up with President Bush's huge "nomination" spending against no expected opposition.

Apart from that, the Kerry operation has been humming along, attending to all the right things, sometimes below the radar and sometimes just above.

Kerry hosted an off-the-record dinner for reporters at the state convention in Orlando in mid-April, got a glossy mag profile in Rolling Stone, a less glossy but equally positive piece in the New Republic, and even a favorable write up in the always-tough-on-the-home-team Boston Globe . Kerry clearly is making a concerted effort to improve his image with the press, and it seems to be working.

Kerry is also working on his politics, holding a reception for Democratic political operatives at his Georgetown home in May, and continuing to huddle with veterans' groups. Since the Florida convention, he has traveled to South Carolina, and continues to make the rounds on the national fundraising circuit, with the convenient excuse of being up for re-election in 2002.

Legislatively, he and Lieberman shared credit for helping to kill the president's proposal to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and he worked with McCain on an unsuccessful effort to raise CAFE standards.

The status of Kerry's would-be Republican challenger for his Senate seat in 2002, prep school teacher and football coach Anthony Kandel, is up in the air due to questions about the signatures Kandel gathered to make it onto the ballot. The distinct possibility remains that Kerry will run unopposed for re-election this year after his brawl with then-Gov. William Weld in 1996. No matter, though — highly produced Kerry TV ads will air in the Boston media market, anyway.

4. Senator John Edwards

The reality and motivation behind Edwards' intent focus on the ground game — all the regional and key state staffers, travel to the Big Three states, that loan of computers to the Iowa and New Hampshire parties, the gangbusters (including soft money) leadership PAC — is that he has some catching up to do.

Among the top six contenders, he is the least known quantity, even after his close call for the running mate slot in 2000 and all the national media attention since then.

Because he still happens to be the "It" guy of the Invisible Primary, every move Edwards makes gets big coverage by the Washington media, fueling a sense among party operatives affiliated with other candidates that he is being too aggressive for an incumbent with just over three year's service under his belt. (Of the other five leading prospects, only Kerry arguably has even the slightest hope of taking the "It" title away from Edwards.)

Where Edwards arguably isn't being aggressive enough is in racking up some legislative experience or giving thoughtful, original policy speeches.

Perhaps in his rush to build his name recognition and a record on hot-button issues, he has seemed to go for showier moves, being on the first Senate trip to Afghanistan, or taking the lead in opposing Judge Charles Pickering's nomination, or donning his Intelligence Committee hat to criticize President Bush on homeland security, and refraining from devoting time and energy to building up a base of knowledge about a particular policy area.

His last and only high-profile legislative effort was on a patients' bill of rights, which he co-sponsored with name-brand Senators Kennedy and McCain.

Which begs the question:is building up a legislative record necessary? Could Edwards make a viable run for the presidency without this kind of substantive depth?

That the guy is not a geek clearly is part of his appeal, and he is unambiguously both smart and a quick study.

But there's geekdom, and there's having enough of a knowledge base to be able to speak intelligently on the TV talk shows. Even Bush, who arguably won the presidency because people just liked him better than Gore, had pet issues like education about which he could talk in depth.

There's a growing sense that Edwards' potential rivals for the nomination, all of whom have more legislative experience than he does, are outpacing him on this front. And while all the magazine profiles help build his name recognition among the party glitterati, they don't help build — and some reverse-snobs might even argue, detract from — his image as a lawmaker of substance.

All the glossy coverage about Edwards has tended to focus on just a handful of details: his growing up in a small town and being the first member of his family to attend college; his populist belief that the law isn't just for the wealthy, and his famous case on behalf of the young girl crippled by a faulty swimming pool drain; his looks; his largely self-funded defeat of Republican Senator Lauch Faircloth in 1998, his place as a finalist for Gore's running mate; and his candid wife Elizabeth and the tragic death of their son Wade.

That leaves a lot of holes. We wonder when a more intrepid national reporter will turn up more (Mr. Berke, whither your New York Times Magazine piece?), or at least do more to convey the single-minded extent to which Edwards and (maybe) his wife are focused on a presidential bid, the fact that his legislative resume is quite thin, and the fact that what there is, tends toward the liberal.

The North Carolina GOP recently clued in and began sending out press releases bashing Edwards as a liberal and tying him to Senator Kennedy, who seems to have protectively booked himself a seat on the Edwards-for-president bandwagon.

We also wonder how Edwards will hold up under a thorough background scrub by the national media and Democratic and top Republican opposition researchers.

5. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle

The Senate Majority Leader remains remarkably open — arguably more so than anyone else, in the way he readily admits it — about the possibility that he may run for president.

Or he might run for re-election. Or, he may retire. So goes the Daschle refrain. And yet Daschle at the same time seems to be the least likely of the top six to run. That is, he is engaging the least in the kind of activities that are directly related to running, like visiting key states, strategically raising money, and letting top party operatives know that he might go for it and try to placehold them.

On the other hand, in talking with Democrats at the party committees, in the consulting world, and at the interest groups, we're struck by the number of them who say that in their hearts, they most want to see Daschle as their party's presidential nominee.

That undoubtedly stems in part from the fact that Daschle is out there every day as the Democratic party's most consistent opponent to President Bush, and a moderate-sounding one at that.

In fact, we're struck by the extent to which Daschle remains, as the Senate majority leader, the party's leading voice in a Republican-run government. More than any other top-tier wannabe, Daschle most regularly is building up chits with Democrats and affiliated interest groups as the seeming protector of the causes they care about.

That said, we wonder how Daschle's quiet manner, not to mention his small stature — say what you want, but height matters — would play in a general election against a wartime president, looking at a Daschle candidacy from the "electability" perspective.

We don't see any sign that Daschle will ramp up any explicit presidential moves until after the midterm elections, but we believe that his fundraising prowess and good will within the party would give him enough of a launchpad, even with a relatively late start.

As with Gephardt, it's not clear how the outcome of the control of his chamber in Congress will affect the likelihood or viability of a Daschle candidacy.

6. Senator Joseph Lieberman

We have to wonder whether Lieberman's continuing suggestions that Gore will make up his mind by the end of 2002 are the result of wishful thinking or some assurance he got from Gore.

Some Lieberman supporters and members of the media raise the possibility that Lieberman still could run even if Gore does, but we simply don't see how, without Lieberman's morals platform going out the window.

We think that Lieberman has made it perfectly clear that he won't — even as he has made it perfectly clear that he really would like to.

Slower to staff up than the rest of the top tier because of his commitment regarding Gore, Lieberman recently signed on former Gore campaign manager Craig Smith as a consultant to his leadership PAC. The PAC itself put in the best hard-money showing for the first quarter of 2000, and its judicious manager has been busy doling out contributions not only to local candidates in key races, but also to African-American and Hispanic members of Congress.

Lieberman does continue to get good press for his legislative efforts, which arguably are broader and more diverse than any other Democratic wannabe's, stretching from Enron to gun control to the environment, and his post as chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee continues to give him leave to pursue pretty much any hot-button issue he chooses.

He also has given a series of policy speeches. Most recently, he declared that the Bush tax cut should be scaled back, making him the first top-tier contender to actually stake out a position on the tax cut rather than simply blame the president for returning the government to deficit world.

Of all the six leading candidates for the Democratic nomination right now, Lieberman arguably is the least swayed by polls, not constantly thinking about how this or that move is going to position him.

He also has the advantage of being politically safe at home. Whereas Kerry has the Massachusetts electorate and the state GOP to answer to in 2002, Edwards has the North Carolina Republican party and at least the possibility of a 2004 re-election campaign, Gephardt has the House Republican leadership, Daschle has the White House, and Gore has the world, there's no entity out there that is out to "get" Lieberman on a daily basis.

That gives him a certain amount of room to feint, policy-wise, left or right.

And the press largely still likes Lieberman, finding his availability, "straight talk," and affability all in contrast to most of the others.

While some might argue that Lieberman's move on the tax cut represents a shift to the left (as did the White House, offering up its staple critique of any Democrat who confronts them), he hasn't committed nearly enough of those leftward dodges for anyone to be able to fairly argue that he is no longer his familiar centrist self.

Between his firm hold on the middle, and the fact that the guy almost always comes more in sorrow than in anger, Lieberman often is more confidently able to say things that seem hotter and more controversial. This gives him a means of framing policy-based criticisms of a popular president which is unique in this field of candidates.

A big question for Lieberman this year is what he does with the Enron hearings, and the degree to which he confronts the White House.

And now for the changes within each ratings category.

To briefly run through the changes we've made since our last rankings, and why (excluding categories which did not see any changes, barring shifts because of the addition of Sharpton and subtractions of Barnes and Vilsack).

Money

With so many would-be candidates for the nomination, we go back and forth between the possibility that all of these guys will be able to raise the seemingly requisite $20 million or so, and the possibility that none of them will.

Lost amidst the quibbling over whose leadership PAC did better in the first quarter of 2002 was the fact that, as one experienced Democratic presidential campaign aide noted, none of these guys really did better on their PAC intake than a typical top House candidate.

Two more points about money. First, no matter what gets raised on the Democratic side, the sum will be dwarfed by comparision to Bush's expected $250 million, raised under McCain-Feingold's higher limits. Second, it's not so much a question of who can raise the money, since all these guys have their particular wells to dip into, but who can raise it easily, spending the least amount of time on it, and socking it away well before the Iowa caucuses start.

On that note, our rankings here remained largely unchanged, with one exception: we've bumped up Gephardt to being tied with Kerry, for two reasons: one, because of what Kerry has said lately, fuzzy as it may still be, about spending his wife's money or not, and two, because we think that among Gephardt, Edwards, Daschle and Lieberman, we see Gephardt, with his network of House campaign committee fundraisers dispersed around the country, as having the potential to raise the most quickest — despite Edwards' ties to the trial lawyers (some of whom will give money to other candidates, too) and Lieberman's base among Jewish donors.

1. Gore (1)
2. Kerry (2) and Gephardt (3)
4. Lieberman (4)
5. Edwards (5) and Daschle (5)
7. Davis (7)
8. Bradley (9)
9. Dodd (10)
10. Dean (11)
11. Biden (12)
12. Sharpton (n/a)

Message/Issues

Here's a category where the cattle call in Orlando last month is making some difference.

The big changes here: first, Gore's rhetorical revival — highlighted by his Bush/too extreme/special interests riff, which we don't believe any of the other candidates has strung together as clearly — lands him on top of the list. As a result, the previous top finishers drop, but Edwards drops most precipitously.

And second, Lieberman's coming out in favor of scaling back some of the rest of the president's tax cut not only sets him apart from the rest of the top tier, but makes Lieberman the first to stake out a clear position on the issue which Democrats are trying to make the basis for pretty much their entire argument against the GOP in the 2002 midterm elections.

At the same time, Lieberman historically has taken some pretty conservative positions that he would have to deal with in running the gauntlet of some of the party's most influential constituencies.

In the earlier rounds of our Invisible Primary Ratings, we gave Edwards points for his background and engaging (personal) storytelling, but by now, after a series of policy speeches and some crafty legislating by the rest of the pack, Edwards stands out as the only top-tier candidate who is not enunciating anything substantive or unique on any issues.

Between this and his somewhat negatively reviewed, recent turn on "Meet the Press," Edwards has reached a moment of truth for his young campaign: is he ready to talk about serious issues, give policy speeches, and turn some of his rhetoric into specific proposals or distinctive message ideas? And is he ready to sometimes shed his overly cautious answers in tough interviews?

Assuming he is, he certainly has the potential to move back toward the top, because unlike some of his rivals, he has the interpersonal skills to talk about these ideas in an engaging way.

Gephardt and Daschle move up a notch because they are out there as the party's congressional leaders articulating as much of a message as the party has for 2002 on Social Security, prescription drugs, and even on Bush's pet issue of education. But they both seemed firmly strapped into their tax-cut straightjackets.

1. Gore (3)
2. Kerry (1)
3. Gephardt (4) and Daschle (6)
5. Lieberman (4)
6. Edwards (1)
7. Dean (6, 8)
8. Bradley (7)
9. Davis (10)
10. Dodd (13)
11. Biden (12)
12. Sharpton (n/a)

Iowa

Governor Tom Vilsack's (potentially temporary) removal from our ratings lets us get a clearer take on how the top-tier candidates stand with regards to winning this quirky but key caucus state.

Beyond that change, we've made just one more here, tying the re-emerged Gore with Gephardt for the first-place slot.

The very nature of the Iowa caucuses means that, more than New Hampshire or any other state, this was the one that Gore really worked. Winning or doing well in Iowa is based in large part on logging time here. Despite the amount of time Gephardt has spent in the state recently, and back during the 1988 campaign, Gore still knows more of the Iowa activists than anyone, and they liked the guy, even if they have not heard much from him lately.

In fact, if there is any one category in our rankings where a residue remains of what Gore once was, it's probably here, as opposed to money, endorsements, or anywhere else.

Also, watch Dean, who is spending a lot of time here, will be able to spend even more after he becomes the de jure former Governor of Vermont, and strikes us as a potentially good fit for the people of Iowa.

1. Gephardt (2) and Gore (3)
3. Daschle (4)
4. Bradley (5)
5. Edwards (6)
6. Kerry (7)
7. Dean (8)
8. Biden (9)
9. Lieberman (10)
10. Dodd (11)
11. Davis (12)
12. Sharpton (n/a)

New Hampshire

Almost on the flip side of Iowa is New Hampshire, which Gore nearly lost to Bradley in the primary and then did lose to Bush in the general election. The Clinton drag was perceived as particularly bad for Gore in the Granite State in 2000.

While Gore has been a little more active of late, he is still not working the state — or any state, for that matter, aside from Tennessee — at the same level as the three who are working it the most: Kerry, Gephardt and Edwards. And the Lieberman folks say he will be up there a lot more in the coming months, as well.

In addition, between Kerry, Gephardt and Edwards, the main foot soldiers of Gore's former New Hampshire operation are gone. Unless he moves soon to shore up his standing in the state — and we don't mean just by having Tipper Gore attend some state party functions — he'll really start to slide in this category.

Meanwhile, we continue to rank the junior Senator from neighboring Massachusetts first, though this to some degree is a lot about the expectations game. It's conceivable that Kerry could lose the Granite State, but his advisers would be hard-pressed to try to float that idea, as an expectations-lowering balloon, without it being pounced upon as a sign of weakness by the press and the rest of the field.

1. Kerry (1)
2. Gephardt (2) and Gore (2)
4. Edwards (4)
5. Lieberman (5)
6. Bradley (6) and Dean (7)
8. Daschle (8)
9. Biden (9)
10. Dodd (10)
11. Davis (11)
12. Sharpton (n/a)

Other States

First, a general note on the Democratic nominating calendar.

Now that the Democratic National Committee has given the OK — or as some in the party fear, opened the floodgates — for states to move up their contests, we're in a wait-and-see period, as state parties and legislatures decide whether to try to move ahead on the calendar or not.

Knowledgeable party sources say that with all the governors' and state legislative races going on this year, Democrats in many states won't get around to thinking about this until after November 2002, and advise not to expect the calendar picture to get all that much clearer before May 2003.

In terms of how the calendar could change, we appear to be looking at three possible options: 1) Iowa and New Hampshire retain their first-in-the-nation status, with the rest of the states dribbling out after, and the most likely suspects for moving to early dates being Arizona, South Carolina, Michigan, Washington state, and Delaware, where Republicans are scheduled to have early contests but Democrats currently are not; 2) Iowa and New Hampshire first, followed by a "national primary" on February 3, when the window opens for other Democratic state contests; or 3) something in between, with some states moving up, and others not.

So far, none of the talk amongst and about other states possibly moving up has done anything to diminish the perceived importance of strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But we still don't know for sure whether Iowa and New Hampshire will be be first amongst equals in terms of press and candidate focus in the Democratic nominating process, or not. The only other state currently drawing a lot of candidate interest is South Carolina, which already has moved its primary to February 3.

So, given that uncertainty, as the candidate with the greatest name recognition, the largest support amongst African-American voters, and at least the vestiges of a natonal political organization, Gore is best positioned, today, to win beyond Iowa and New Hampshire.

And, because of his busy national travel schedule on behalf of the Democratic House candidates, Gephardt probably has logged the most time in the possible early states.

Davis drops a few notches in these rankings. Yes, he could lay claim to California if he decides to join the nominating process, but he has no strength in any other states, and isn't currently working to build any. And while it's possible that California will move its primary from June to an earlier date, it's also possible that the state will opt against having to pay the costs of two separate primary days and keep the date where it is. If that's the case, then Davis may not have a means of entering the fray.

A slice of conventional wisdom that seems to be forming is that Edwards, assuming he runs, will need to win South Carolina in order to continue in the game — because (applying the Kerry rule) he hails from a neighboring state, because he's a Southerner, and because of the four top contenders who did not run for national office in 2000, he is the only one without a key state he could call his own (we give Daschle a fair shot at winning Iowa).

Another matter worth noting: although Sharpton may not be able to accumulate the number of delegates needed to win a whole state, he still can accumulate delegates, particuarly in Southern states.

In future rankings, as we get a better idea of which states or regions of the country will be holding key early contests, we will split up this category.

1. Gore (1)
2. Gephardt (2)
3. Kerry (5) and Edwards (6)
5. Lieberman (4)
6. Daschle (7)
7. Davis (3)
8. Bradley (9)
9. Dodd (10)
10. Biden (12)
11. Dean (11)
12. Sharpton (n/a)

Perceived Electability

No real changes from our last round, aside from a little credential-polishing from Dodd over the last month or so, including a well-received speech at the Florida state party convention.

1. Daschle (1) and Edwards (1)
3. Kerry (2)
4. Lieberman (3)
5. Gephardt (5) and Gore (5)
7. Davis (7)
8. Bradley (9)
9. Dodd (13)
10. Dean (8)
11. Biden (12)
12. Sharpton (n/a)

In Person Campaigning Skills

Edwards and Daschle trade places here because of the gamut of activities this category includes: not only the one-on-one grip-and-grinning and the cocktail party circuit, at which Edwards and Daschle excel, but also speeches as they are received by the audience, which is where Daschle outpaces Edwards.

We believe Edwards can give better speeches than he has shown so far, but the guy's aversion to using notes (let alone a Tele-prompter) seems to make it more hit-and-miss than a presidential candidate usually can afford.

1. Daschle (2)
2. Edwards (1)
3. Gephardt (3)
4. Gore (4)
5. Kerry (5)
6. Lieberman (5)
7. Dean (8)
8. Bradley (9)
9. Sharpton (n/a)
10. Biden (10)
11. Dodd (11)
12. Davis (13)

TV Campaigning Skills

Daschle, who has spent more time on TV deflecting Republican attacks and selling what semblance there is of a Democratic message for 2002; Gore, for whom the difference is more simply between not making televised appearances earlier this year, and giving televised speeches now; and Kerry, whose Sunday-show appearances are improving and whose address to the Florida state convention in Orlando came across quite well on TV, all move up in the ratings here.

Edwards drops a bit based on the fact that his "Meet the Press" interview showed that he's on shaky territory when an interviewer takes questioning to the next level, looking for policy details, a broader rationale, or deeper thinking.

Lieberman, who generally does quite well on TV, is down a bit simply because others have moved up.

1. Daschle (3)
2. Gore (4) and Kerry (4)
4. Edwards (1)
5. Lieberman (2)
6. Gephardt (6)
7. Dean (7)
8. Bradley (9)
9. Davis (10)
10. Dodd (11)
11. Biden (12)
12. Sharpton (n/a)

Anti-Terrorism

Edwards and Bradley trade places in this category. Edwards' recent rhetoric on Afghanistan has shown that he's not solid on this particular basket of issues, though he is taking the opportunity to ask a lot of questions of the administration on alleged intelligence failures before September 11, and if challenged on what he says about Central Asia, doesn't necessarily have the ability to back it up. Otherwise, the ratings remain the same.

1. Kerry (1)
2. Gore (2)
3. Lieberman (3)
4. Daschle (4) and Gephardt (4)
6. Biden (6) and Davis (6)
8. Bradley (9)
9. Edwards (8)
10. Dean (11)
11. Dodd (13)
12. Sharpton (n/a)

Media Coverage

Edwards remains in our top slot for the positive profiles he continues to reap in the likes of the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and GQ, even if some pundits have begun poking holes in his image.

Daschle drops pretty dramatically because his coverage is limited to that of the Democratic leader who stands up to Republicans — no more profiles like the ones which ran back when he became Majority Leader, with speculative analyses of Daschle as a candidate for national office.

Lieberman too has dropped because, as noted above, all coverage of him as a prospective presidential candidate includes the caveat that the likelihood of his seeking national office in the near future depends upon the prospecting by another contender.

1. Edwards (1)
2. Gore (8)
3. Kerry (4)
4. Lieberman (3)
5. Gephardt (5)
6. Daschle (1)
7. Dean (6)
8. Sharpton (n/a)
9. Dodd (11)
10. Bradley (12)
11. Davis (7)
12. Biden (10)


Buzz and Momentum

Just a reminder: the way we approach this particular category is to ask a young Democrat, political reporter, or left-leaning columnist, "Who are you excited to vote for/cover as the possible presidential nominee?"

The changes here require little explaining: Edwards still gets the most buzz, though he arguably has lost some momentum. Indeed, he remains practically the only contender who generates any real buzz at all, though Kerry gets a little. The recently re-emerged Gore edges up two notches, displacing Lieberman, since he won't run if Gore does, and Daschle, who's still not giving any indication of his plans.

Bradley, who has traveled to New Hampshire and done some campaigning for other candidates of late, edges up the list, as well.

1. Edwards (1)
2. Kerry (2)
3. Gephardt (2)
4. Gore (6)
5. Lieberman (4)
6. Daschle (5)
7. Dean (7)
8. Bradley (13)
9. Davis (8)
10. Dodd (11)
11. Diden (11)
12. Sharpton (n/a)


Clinton Factor

One of the most striking and impressive aspects of Gore's recent speeches has been his arguably belated claims about the Clinton/Gore record in a confident, even boastful way that was utterly absent during the general election campaign. Of course, in a Democratic nominating contest, being able to talk about the Clinton/Gore achievements without getting bogged down in impeachment is really valuable.

The former president has popped up in the Invisible Primary in random other ways — from Russert's grilling of Edwards on "Meet the Press" to Gephardt's couple of mentions of his handling of impeachment — and no doubt he will continue to do so. We'll continue to take note of how many of the wannabes Clinton speaks with, and in some cases, how often.

1. Edwards (1)
2. Gore (5)
3. Kerry (2)
4. Lieberman (3)
5. Daschle (4)
6. Gephardt (7)
7. Davis (6)
8. Dodd (10)
9. Bradley (9)
10. Dean (12)
11. Biden (13)
12. Sharpton (n/a)


Polling/Name I.D.

The only shift here: we put Gephardt on par with Daschle by now, and, for better or worse, a lot of people know the name of Al Sharpton.

1. Gore (1)
2. Lieberman (2)
3. Daschle (3) and Gephardt (5)
5. Bradley (4)
6. Davis (6)
7. Sharpton (n/a)
8. Edwards (7) and Kerry (7)
10. Biden (10)
11. Dodd (11)
12. Dean (13)

Fire In The Belly

Edwards' whirlwind of early state travel, including two scheduled trips to South Carolina in May (one of which didn't happen because of Senate votes) followed by trips to New Hampshire and Iowa in June, land him back at the top of the list, along with the guy whose travel schedule and attacks on the Bush tax cut nearly put the rest of the field to shame: Dean.

Kerry and Gephardt want it just as bad, pretty much, but Kerry has to at least look focused on his 2002 re-election bid, just as Gephardt has to look somewhat focused on trying to win back the House this cycle.

1. Edwards (2) and Dean (5)
3. Kerry (1) and Gephardt (3)
5. Lieberman (4)
6. Gore (6)
7. Sharpton (n/a)
8. Daschle (7)
9. Biden (9)
10. Dodd (10)
11. Davis (8)
12. Bradley (12)

Endorsements

As we said up top, Daschle has been earning chits faster than the rest of the top tier through his GOP block-and-tackle as Majority Leader, and we suspect he would find some key endorsements to be mined should he decide to run.

1. Gore (1)
2. Gephardt (2)
3. Daschle (5)
4. Kerry (3) and Lieberman (3)
6. Edwards (6)
7. Bradley (7)
8. Dean (8)
9. Dodd (10)
10. Davis (11)
11. Sharpton (n/a)
12. Biden (13)

Labor

We're a tiny bit skeptical that the Democratic party's single most influential and far-reaching interest group is so fixated on the midterm elections that they're not buzzing at all about 2004. But we certainly can believe that, given the close margins in the Senate and House, they're inclined to hold back and expend their political energies on more pressing matters.

When they do begin fixating on the presidential race, though, one well-placed source expects labor as a whole to be practical and weigh each wannabe's electability, asking each of them how they plan to win, rather than just move as a herd toward one candidate or another. Some fracturing likely will take place.

That said, Gephardt remains at the top here. Labor sources credit him for making a point of meeting with local leaders and deny that any grudge is held against him over his role in passing campaign finance reform. We're keeping Gore in second place for now, but have heard of so little evidence of him reaching out to labor folks who supported him last time that unless he makes reparations soon, he will slide further down the list.

According to labor sources, beyond Gephardt and Gore, Kerry has been working labor pretty hard, and Edwards is now reaching out. And of course, most of labor likes what Daschle has been doing in the Senate.

1. Gephardt (1)
2. Gore (2)
3. Kerry (6)
4. Edwards (3) and Davis (5)
6. Daschle (8)
7. Lieberman (7)
8. Bradley (10)
9. Dean (11)
10. Dodd (12)
11. Biden (13)
12. Sharpton (n/a)

Democratic Base Vote

Daschle's water-carrying for the party drives up his rating here as well, as does Gephardt's. Gore remains tops among African-Americans, but several other candidates are jockeying for position among this key voting bloc.

1. Gore (1)
2. Gephardt (4)
3. Daschle (10)
4. Kerry (2)
5. Edwards (5)
6. Lieberman (2)
7. Bradley (6)
8. Sharpton (n/a)
9. Davis (8)
10. Dean (9)
11. Dodd (10)
12. Biden (13)


Un-Gore

No changes to this category.

1. Edwards (1)
2. Daschle (2)
3. Kerry (3)
4. Bradley (4)
5. Lieberman (5)
6. Dean (7)
7. Gephardt (8)
8. Dodd (10)
9. Sharpton (n/a)
10. Davis (11)
11. Biden (12)
12. Gore (13)


Party Support

Gore's re-emergence and confronting of George W. Bush on a range of issues — for being too conservative, and for being too tied to special interests — drives up his rating here among the Democratic Establishment, meaning the Democratic National Committee members and other party officials. Gephardt, however, still is doing the best job of working these folks.

1. Gephardt (1)
2. Gore (4)
3. Kerry (2)
4. Edwards (3)
5. Lieberman (5)
6. Daschle (6)
7. Dodd (9)
8. Dean (8)
9. Davis (10)
10. Bradley (7)
11. Sharpton (n/a)
12. Biden (13)


Staff/Consultants

No changes to this category since the last round. While they collectively have less presidential campaign experience than the Edwards and Gephardt folks (assuming everyone gets who they're currently in line to get), the Kerry team has been just as technically adroit to date. Lieberman has been building a political staff more slowly, while Gore has assembled a political shop which, outside its press operation, seems quite shaky and not exactly first-tier.

We are still waiting to see whether Gore can move to the head of the class in one fell swoop by getting the services of Carter Eskew, Joe Lockhart, and the rest of the their shop.

1. Kerry (1) and Edwards (1) and Gephardt (1)
4. Gore (4)
5. Lieberman (4)
6. Daschle (6)
7. Davis (8)
8. Bradley (7)
9. Dodd (11)
10. Dean (12)
11. Biden (13)
12. Sharpton (n/a)

The Categories

Money potential — Almost always, the candidate who has raised the most money by the time of the Iowa caucuses wins the nomination. Actual cash in the bank eventually will matter more than the potential to raise it, but until that point, here are the questions being asked: How much money can the candidate raise — in reality, in the candidate's own opinion, and in the opinion of close observers? Has he gotten commitments from heavy-hitter fundraisers and the party's major donors? Is he funneling money into a re-election campaign fund for 2002 or 2004, which could be rolled into a presidential account? Is he making the stops in New York, Hollywood, Texas, and Miami? Is he viewed as able to raise the approximately $25 million deemed necessary — and in the federally required increments of $2,000 or less? Does he have his own vast personal resources to help fund a run? Has he set up a PAC to help fund his political travel and make contributions (read: sow goodwill) to other candidates? In any big political campaign, money is one of the three legs of the stool, also known as the "virtuous cycle:" fundraising leads to good press coverage, which leads to better poll numbers, both of which are shown to would-be contributors, leading to more money, to even better coverage and poll numbers, and so on.

Message/Issues—One of the heartening aspects of US presidential politics is voters' tendency to demand that candidates base their campaigns on something meaningful. A good message is future-oriented and easy to understand, and reflects issues voters care about. And oh, yes, it helps if the candidate actually believes his own message and has been haranguing passionately about it for at least a few years. Although Bill Clinton made Democratic presidential politics safe for debate over certain crossover issues (the death penalty, welfare reform, balanced budgets, etc.), a party orthodoxy still exists, of which candidates' past "votes and quotes" and present positions can run afoul. Also, as voters' priorities change in the face of bigger, non-political events like, say, a war or a recession, which candidates are helped, and which are hurt?

Iowa— Although other states are being allowed to hold their contests earlier this cycle (starting one week after New Hampshire, under the current proposed calendar), at this writing at least, Iowa's caucuses and New Hampshire's primary seem likely to retain their dominance, holding a disproportionate (given their meager number of delegates at stake) influence, on the determination of the nominee. Winning the largely invisible run-up to the balloting in these two states means building a presence there — personally, in terms of appearances and local media coverage, and through support from key operatives and elected officials. As the contests draw closer, statewide polling will come to matter, too, in terms of setting expectations.

New Hampshire— Same as Iowa, with local press also including the Boston media market.

Other states (in terms of the nomination calendar)- Is the candidate methodically building a presence — through personal appearances and/or support from key local operatives and officials — in the states whose nominating contests are likely to follow close behind Iowa and New Hampshire's? South Carolina is the only state to have moved, so far, but the rest of the calendar will remain in flux for awhile. As of today, states viewed as likely to fall in line behind Iowa and New Hampshire include Arizona, Delaware, Michigan, and possibly Washington state.

Perceived electability— After losing the White House, the activists and voters of the party out of power are always hungry to win it back. Bill Clinton in 1992 and George W. Bush in 2000 are two good examples of candidates who were helped because their party faithful smelled a nominee and general election winner.

In-person campaigning skills — How does the candidate do in formal speeches before large audiences, smaller venues, spontaneous situations, pig roasts, sledding, flapjack-flipping, and town meetings? Coat on or off? Tie loosened or tight? Can the candidate turn on a room? Perhaps most importantly, can he "hang?"

Television campaign skills — Mastering the medium through which most voters get their information about the candidates — even in retail-politics states like Iowa and New Hampshire — is vital. Formal speeches, press conferences, Oprah, and Oprah-like settings usually have in-person audiences, but learning how to sell yourself to the thousands or millions in the local or network TV audience is more important. The same goes for how the candidate does on-camera in paid TV advertising, though those appearances last only a matter of seconds. Forgoing wonky talk and being interesting are good, but having enough experience to not look nervous or rattled is also key.

Wartime leadership/anti-terrorism credentials — What kind of track record does the candidate have on national security issues, both pre- and post-September 11? Has the candidate focused legislatively on in speeches on these issues? Has he racked up a bunch of past votes in Congress that an opponent could use to cast him as pro-terrorist or anti-defense? Insert Vietnam service here.

Media coverage—As noted above, good press clips are essential in raising money. They also help a campaign create buzz, hire better staff, and strengthen the perception of electability. Halperin's Rule of winning a party nomination: in order for a candidate to win, two national political columnists must openly suggest he CAN, in fact, win the nomination, while also secretly wanting him to, plus two national political reporters must also think he CAN become the nominee.

Buzz/momentum- You know a candidate who's hot when you see him, and breaking through to the wider media culture beyond just the political junkies is a sign that a candidate is creating a stir. When things are going well for a campaign, good days get even better, and truly bad days become avoidable. There usually isn't enough political oxygen during the invisible primary for more than two or three candidates at a time to enjoy any real momentum.

The Clinton factor -This one is as unpredictable and hard to control as the man himself, and can cut for or against a candidate, depending on the circumstances. Is the candidate consulting with the former President? What is Clinton's public stance toward the candidate? Is he counseling the candidate or doing anything to help him behind the scenes? What is the candidate's rhetorical stance toward the Clinton years? Senator Clinton plays a role here, too.

Polling/name ID — Don't get us wrong: apart from Al Gore, we don't expect a vast majority of voters nationwide to recognize these guys for awhile. But we do expect to see some movement among the polls in key states like Iowa and New Hampshire, where they'll be spending more and more time. Again, improving his standing in the polls usually helps a candidate raise money.

Fire in the belly — How badly does the candidate want it? How hard is he willing to work? Will he do "what it takes" to win, including shedding or at least temporarily freeing himself from other responsibilities and distractions? Is he ready to ask strangers for $1,000 contributions and sleep in bad hotels away from his family night after night? Endorsements.- Political insiders and reporters sometimes overestimate how the support of local and national elected officials can affect on voter turnout on election day. But winning key endorsements during the invisible primary, particularly in Iowa and New Hampshire, is a great way to attract media attention and, to a lesser degree, attention from would-be donors. Since almost every key elected Democrat endorsed Gore in 2000, some defections will be inevitable this time, and other candidates who snag any of his former major supporters will get a bump.

Labor — Judging from the past few cycles, the Democratic candidate who has the support of labor in certain states has a big advantage in those primaries and caucuses, and thus an advantage overall. Labor does not seem likely to stay united behind Gore if he runs, especially if Gephardt also runs. And if any of the other candidates manage to persuade any or all of the AFL-CIO and its member unions to stay neutral, that could be considered victory enough. Particularly influential: the always-ready-to-mobilize teachers, government employees, auto workers, and service employees unions.

 


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