Deep Underground with Raul Groom

Friday, January 23, 2004

Afternoon, dear Reader. Had to take a test this morning; I'll tell that story in my next column. In the meantime, I've got a message for all the Dean supporters who are taking this occasion to rail against the press for their silly "horse-race" coverage of the Dem nomination.

THIS IS HOW IT WORKS.

It would be nice if the press covered important issues as heavily as they cover trash. They don't. It would be nice if the fact-checkers at the Post and the Times were as thorough as the celebrity-watchers. They aren't. And yes, it would be wonderful if there were some kind of public persona that a Democrat could get away with without being called either stuffy or insane. There isn't.

When Howard Dean belted out that hilarious yell, it was a mistake. In a world full of responsible, professional journalists, it wouldn't have mattered at all. See above.

However, the comparisons to Ed Muskie breaking down at the mic and crying after Karl Rove (yes, that Karl Rove) launched a scurrilous, cowardly attack on Muskie's wife during the 1972 race are a bit much. Dean didn't break down crying, he merely sounded his barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. If he had it to do over again, he probably would have toned it down. But this race ain't over.

At this point, the odds against Dean - in fact, the odds against anyone but Kerry - are really long. However, that has little or nothing to do with the Dean Scream. The minute Kerry pulled within the margin of error of Dean in Iowa, he became a prohibitive favorite to win the nomination. That's just the nature of the establishment candidate's campaign, and the fact that Kerry's strategists understand that is another advantage that he has.

On the other hand, Dean still has a lot of grassroots support and a lot of money, and that makes him dangerous. Money is how the field gets narrowed - when you run out, you get out. Dean has enough to play it right down to Super Tuesday, and if it's still close, he can spend all the way to the convention if he wants to.

If you're a Dean supporter, and you're feeling disheartened by the fact that Dean didn't win Iowa and he probably isn't going to win New Hampshire, cheer up. Those contests are very important, but in Dean's case they aren't as critical as they are for the candidates who don't already have a big war chest. Clark, for instance, could be in serious trouble if he shows poorly in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

The really heavy lifting will be done in New York and California, where Dean is very strong. Add in Maryland, where his support is good, and he's got the potential to come out of early March in very good shape. The key now is to keep the enthusiasm despite the fact that it's now clear he's a big underdog. And maybe to buy some better suits.

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