Dean's Grip on Democratic Nomination Appears Shaky, Says UB Political Scientist

Formidable obstacles remain for Dean as Iowa caucus and primaries get underway

Release Date: January 16, 2004

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Conventional wisdom says Howard Dean will win the Democratic presidential nomination, but there are very strong reasons to be wary of this conclusion, according to a University at Buffalo political scientist who studies presidential elections.

"As impressive as Dean's achievements to date have been -- leading in the polls, high-profile endorsements and exceptional fundraising -- there still are some impressive obstacles to his nomination and candidacy," says James E. Campbell, UB professor of political science and author of "The American Campaign: U.S. Presidential Campaigns and the National Vote."

Campbell points out that several polls now indicate that Dean's opponents are well within striking distance of him in Iowa. Dick Gephardt, for example, is within three to five percentage points of Dean in various polls, and the get-out-the-vote effort of the labor unions for Gephardt may overcome this gap, Campbell says.

"Polls also indicate that Wesley Clark, who opted out of Iowa, is closing in on Dean in the run up to the New Hampshire primary," Campbell says. "If Dean loses in Iowa or New Hampshire, after being thought of as the front-runner for several months, it will be certainly a setback to his campaign."

Despite being the widely acknowledged front-runner for the Democratic nomination, Dean barely registers 30 percent of Democratic support in the polls, Campbell notes. "About 70 percent of Democrats are still inclined to other candidates," he says.

Moreover, Dean barely registered 50 percent among Democrats asked in a CNN/Time poll to choose between Dean and each of five rivals for the nomination, Campbell says.

"This indicates that about half of the Democratic Party is very uneasy about Dean as the nominee or would prefer any of the other top-tier options," he adds. "If the field remains crowded with several respectable options to Dean, this resistance may keep the Democratic nomination an open question for a lot longer than generally expected."

Democratic unease with the Dean candidacy is also evident in a CBS poll that pitted Dean against

President Bush, Campbell says. In this poll, 91 percent of Republicans favored their party's candidate, but only 70 of Democrats were willing to say that they would vote for Dean in the general election.

"Many Democrats will come back to the fold over the course of the campaign, but this means that President Bush can be working the center ground while Dean is shoring up his Democratic base," Campbell contends. "This is a huge advantage for President Bush."

Dean's greatest vulnerability against Bush is his stance on the war in Iraq, according to Campbell, who notes that in an ABC News/Washington Post poll voters favored a pro-war candidate to an anti-war candidate by a margin of 57 to 35 percent.

"Dean's position on the war would make the election a referendum on this rather than on issues like the environment, healthcare, and education on which Democrats are regarded more favorably by the public," Campbell says.

"If Dean does survive to become the Democratic presidential nominee, there is a real possibility of a large Bush victory in November despite the even division of partisanship nationally," he concludes.

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