For some, the big question in the Democratic primary race is not who will win, but what happened to Howard Dean.
As recently as Jan. 13, Howard Dean was pegged as the front-runner in the race for the Democratic nomination with the support of 26 percent of registered voters who described themselves as Democrats in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll. However, after two rounds of primaries, many political analysts have said it’s all over for Dean. Some wonder what happened to the support Dean gained early on.
MU communication professor William Benoit said he thinks there a couple of reasons why Dean has been lagging in the polls.
“After looking at exit polls from Missouri, 53 percent of Missourians decided who they were going to vote for within a week of the primaries,” Benoit said. “In addition, 43 percent think campaign ads are important. While Kerry and Edwards had ads in Missouri, Dean had few or none. So, if you’re making your decision in the last week and Dean has no ads, you get people voting for Kerry and Edwards.”
Early polls touting Dean’s popularity may have also been misleading, Benoit said.
“Pollsters don’t like to hear ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I’m undecided,’” he said. “They push on and ask who the person is leaning towards. So all of the early polls that had such high numbers for Dean may not have been accurate.”
Political science professor Rick Hardy credits faltering organization as the cause of Dean’s drop in the polls.
“Early on in Dean’s campaign, things were very organized and lots of hard-core activists were involved,” Hardy said. “However, many people just recently made their choice. John Kerry was building steam out of Iowa. There wasn’t much organization here in Missouri, so people voted what they saw in the media. As of now, Dean’s quest for the presidency is hanging by a thread.”
Dean voters still optimistic
Local Dean supporters, however, saw things a little differently at their monthly meet-up at W.G. Grinders on Tuesday night.
“Really, this is all about delegates, not popular votes,” said Dean supporter Bob Berlin.
Del Miller, also present at the meeting, credits lack of knowledge of the primary process for Dean’s poor showing in Boone County.
“People have been told that who they vote for in the primaries is who they want for president,” Miller said. “Everyone tries to out-guess everyone else. That isn’t the case here. We are voting for delegates to represent who we prefer.”
As far as pundits claiming Dean’s defeat, Berlin said that the race is just beginning.
“Ninety percent of people haven’t even voted yet,” he said. “Dean’s support isn’t nose-diving. We’re more in a yo-yo. Kerry used to be the front-runner. Then it was Dean, then it shifted again. After the third round of primaries, it will shift back to Dean.”
Local Dean supporters are now focusing on the Feb. 26 caucuses, which are the local meetings where delegates are chosen, but are still working on their strategy, Berlin said.
“We will remain stable and continue to do what we’ve been doing — helping people understand Dean’s issues,” he said. “We will take our country back and engage the citizens of this country.”