John Kerry, the Massachusetts senator and decorated Vietnam War veteran, won the most recent primaries in Maine, Michigan and Washington. This success takes his record to victory in ten of the 12 caucuses and primaries that have already taken place, firmly establishing his position as the front-runner in the race for the Democratic candidacy in America’s November Presidential election.
In January, Kerry amassed 37.7% of the vote to win the Iowa caucus. A week later, to the surprise of many commentators, he won in New Hampshire.
This success was regarded as particularly remarkable considering that the vociferous anti-war candidate, Howard Dean, had been placed 20 points ahead of any rivals in polls conducted before the vote. Kerry came from 30 points behind in December 2003, to attain a 12 point margin of victory.
Kerry certainly appears to be unstoppable. However, it should not be presumed that the accomplishments detailed above mean that the Democratic candidacy competition is over. Senator John Edwards, who came second in Iowa and won his native state of South Carolina, achieved 21% of support. Former general Wesley Clark gained 19%, while Dean was placed forth with 5%.
This last result may have been unexpected. Before the New Year, Dean had emerged as the candidate of choice. His initial success had been due to his staunch opposition to the war in Iraq, and thus subsequent ability to capture the hearts of Americans angered by the conflict.
The former governor of Vermont is widely believed to be on the way out of the race, especially if he fails to win Wisconsin next week.
The only woman candidate, Carol Moseley Braun, bowed out early on. Joe Lieberman (Al Gore’s running mate in 2000), Al Sharpton, Dennis Kucinich and Dick Gephardt have either also left the running, or very soon will. This leaves credible challenges for the prime position in Democratic Party politics from Kerry, Edwards and Clark.
Edwards, famous for his ‘Two Americas’ speech, has chosen a campaign centred on ironing out the disproportionalities in American society. The son of a textile mill worker, he is pitching himself as the man of the people. He certainly has the necessary charm, but there are concerns about his ability to appeal to the whole country. He has so far concentrated his campaigning on the Southern states. However, he has proved effective at capturing the support of independents.
Kerry has a reputation for being a tough-minded liberal. Like JFK in more than initials (Kerry’s middle name is Forbes), he is of wealthy North-eastern stock. Like Roosevelt, he has been described as patrician. Despite his strong position and reputation as a formidable campaigner, he has been accused by some of being unable to appeal to the ordinary American.
Hypothetical match-ups recently reported in The Economist show Kerry beating Bush by 53% to 46% and it has been argued that the sole reason for Kerry’s success is that Americans see him as the best candidate for championing Bush.