Saturday, August 30, 2003

Worried Democrats See Daunting '04 Hurdles

Every month or so Nagourney gets another article to explain how Bush is almost unbeatable. This time the New York Times puts him on the front page.

I think it's a three-person race: It's us, Dean and Kerry," said Steve Elmendorf, a senior adviser to Mr. Gephardt, in a formulation that was echoed with only slight variations by advisers to Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Edwards.

Associates of General Clark have said he has told them that he will probably join the race. But aides to most of the other candidates say he is too late to have a good shot, and they view him more as competing for a second spot on the ticket.

Aides to his rivals said they had drawn a lesson from Dr. Dean's unsteady appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" in June, which was mocked as near disastrous among party leaders but now appears to have served to rally his base around him. Several said they feared that Dr. Dean would be strengthened by conventional political attacks. As a result, Dr. Dean's rivals are all stepping gingerly, waiting for someone else to risk the first shot.

What is increasingly clear, several Democrats said, is that primary voters are not likely to choose someone who is promising to run a nuanced campaign against Mr. Bush. Dr. Dean has set the tone on that, as he made clear again today.

"John Ashcroft is not a patriot," he said, referring to the attorney general's advocacy of the Patriot Act. "John Ashcroft is a descendant of Joseph McCarthy."

"Democrats in Iowa and across the country recognize that this is a vulnerable president," Mr. Vilsack said. "The president is going to have to defend his policies. He isn't going to be able to get by with platitudes like compassionate conservatism."

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