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Campaign 2004: What Lies Ahead

February 17, 2004

With the presidential primary season in full swing, the race for the White House is beginning to heat up. Will John Kerry keep riding his recent wave of momentum? What's in store for President Bush? We discussed the latest events and what to look for the next nine months with two Bentley faculty members closely following Election 2004: Professor of Government Christine Williams and Associate Professor of Government Rick Frese.

Q: What about this primary season has surprised you so far?
"I think everyone is astonished with the collapse of Howard Dean's candidacy, and relatedly, the tremendous lift that John Kerry got with those two victories in Iowa and New Hampshire," said Frese. "He has the momentum with 15 victories in 17 states. All of this happened very quickly, and many people thought that Kerry just wasn't going anywhere."

"Band wagon effects and momentum seem to be bigger factors than usual. You would have expected Kerry to lose another place or two, or not to have won by such a runaway," said Williams. "I wonder if it's the 24/7 media coverage that's almost entirely focused on what we call the horse race- who's ahead and by how much, why that leaves little time for discussing much else."

Q: Is it typical to see all these candidates falling by the wayside before and around Super Tuesday and with over four months to go to the convention?
"States moved their primaries up earlier than Super Tuesday for the first time as part of the DNC's (Democratic National Committee) strategy to nail down a nominee so they could unify, fund raise and start challenging bush much sooner in 2004," said Williams.

"I think we knew that we'd have a pretty good idea by March 2 who the Democratic nominee was going to be," added Frese. "One thing with these candidates is that they're all first-time contenders for the nomination, and the dilemma for them is that if they stumble anywhere along the way early on, the campaign collapses simply because they don't have legions of long-time supporters. They don't have that national recognition that a Gore or a Clinton or Bush might have."

Q: Will July in Boston have any real value to it?
"Conventions are now basically celebrations because we all know going into it who the party nominee is going to be," said Frese. "The only excitement will be the vice presidential running mate. It's a great moment for Boston and New England though."

"The conventions have not had decision-making value in a great many years. Once more and more states switched to primaries starting in 1968 and 1972, the delegates are pledged to candidates as they happen and the press and everyone else need only keep track of the count until the magic 50% of total is reached," said Williams. "Today, the role of conventions is to unify the party and to put on a show that will bring the party good publicity and give candidate a bounce in the poll standings - and that is important."

Q: Is President Bush in danger of not getting re-elected?
"He has been slipping in the polls to the high 40 percent, and that's always a concern," noted Williams. "The upturn in the economy is good news for Bush, but it has been jobless and not a strong one, so not decisive. Also, the farther out you are from a rally point (such as the war in Iraq or Sept. 11), the more a president's standing declines. So his re-election is not a foregone conclusion."

"There's a possibility [of not getting re-elected], but I'm not betting money on it," said Frese. "Clearly, he has enormous advantages. For one thing, he is going to raise $200 million, and now that we're in the reconstruction phase in Iraq -even though there we still have casualties, we're still beating the resistance in that country that war itself is winding down. Now the economy is beginning to come back. If going into November, people have a good feeling about the improvement of the economy and are not experiencing continued casualties in Iraq, it could be enough for Bush to win a second term."

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