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There's a strong argument on the Daily Kos front page, from Markos himself, about the weakness of Democratic candidates who run away from the progressive core of the party. Markos uses the landslide loss by Creigh Deeds as Exhibit A in his case for sticking to core progressive principles. Certainly, there's an argument to be made there, but I think it oversimplifies what happened in Virginia and perhaps draws the wrong lesson.

I don't blame Deeds so much as I blame Virginia's Democrats. After all, they're the ones who picked him as the candidate. Yet, a lot of the people who voted for Deeds in the primary weren't really excited about Deeds as a candidate. They just didn't think much of the general election prospects of the other primary candidates, Brian Moran (too progressive and too northern) and Terry McAuliffe (too notorious and controversial). So, the primary voters engaged in what's called "strategic voting" -- selecting their 2nd choice in hopes of getting something because they were convinced their 1st choice was a sure loser. For me, the Deeds race is another Exhibit A in the case against strategic voting.

Deeds won the Democratic nomination in large part because he was endorsed by the Washington Post. The paper's blessing gave progressive Democrats in northern Virginia the signal to vote for Deeds and anoint him as the successor to John Warner and Tim Kaine's Democratic/Independent coalition. The Post's implication was that northern Virginia's own, Brian Moran, was too liberal (and too identified with northern Virginia) to get elected statewide.

It was a signal for Democrats to vote strategically. Honestly, that never works. There's a reason why it doesn't -- it's based on a ludicrous premise: that one small set of voters can divine the future preferences of a larger, different group of voters -- preferences that are different than their own. This is why Democrats in Iowa decided at the last minute to vote for John Kerry in the Presidential Caucus in 2004. He wasn't necessarily their favorite -- most of them preferred Dean or Edwards, but they didn't see either of those candidates as electable. They presumed that Kerry, with his Vietnam war-hero resume, would be electable. Guess how that worked out?

Kerry lost to a guy who presided over an economy that was shedding jobs and plunging more Americans into crippling debts thanks to stagnant wages -- a guy who had led Americans into a war that was already unpopular. Kerry, though, was a lousy candidate. He couldn't convince voters that he had a firm plan to make their lives better and end the war. All those Iowans who weren't excited about John Kerry a month before the Iowa Caucus? Turns out their tepid enthusiasm for the man was a harbinger of the general election result. He wasn't a good candidate in Iowa, and it was a fallacy to presume other Americans would be excited about him later. The weaknesses Kerry showed in Iowa were the ones that finally gave the election to Bush. That's how nominating Kerry worked out.

The same thing happened with Deeds. He was a lousy candidate. He'd already lost to McDonnell once in a statewide race -- but it was achingly close. What he had going for him was a rural Virginian pedigree and a reputation for taking positions that were more in line with the conservatives in his region than the Democrats up north. Still, the Democrats up north voted for him in the primary, because they were convinced his brand of conservative politics would be more successful in the election than a progressive like Moran.

What did we get? A Democratic candidate who couldn't articulate a strong commitment to much of anything. He spend the race trying to finesse his positions -- his ideas and where he'd get the money. The rest of the time he spent attacking his opponent. There was no positive agenda from Deeds. I know for a fact that Deeds was pummeled for it -- I spoke to a McDonnell poll-working volunteer who turned away from Deeds because of his negative campaign.

Yet, I don't blame Deeds. This is who he is. He didn't win the nomination because he articulated a vision supported by Democratic voters. He won because those voters thought other Virginians wouldn't support a candidate who tried to articulate a more progressive vision for the state. Deeds fundamental weakness, though, was not that he wasn't progressive enough. It's that he just wasn't a great candidate -- and too many voters in the primary voted for him for the wrong reason.

The fallacy lies in progressive Democrats voting for a 2nd or 3rd choice because they think s/he has a better chance in the general election than their personally preferred choice. The truth is much simpler than that. If you do not prefer a candidate, it is sheer hubris to imagine that others will prefer him. It is stupid to support him as the "electable candidate". That is an argument that borders on total incoherence, because it rest on a the weakest of underpinnings.

If you don't like a guy, there are reasons for that -- and they probably aren't confined to political labeling.

Are Democratic primary voters more left-leaning than the voters in the general election? Undoubtedly, this is true -- but, it's still a mistake for primary voters to cast their votes strategically.

There were Democrats who didn't want to vote for Obama during primaries because they feared he wasn't electable. They were wrong. Those who anointed Deeds because of supposed electability were wrong, too. Instead, he dragged down the Democratic ticket in Virginia.

The lesson: Don't ever vote for someone because you presume he or she is the electable candidate. Vote for the candidate you are most excited about. If you're excited about the candidate, it's a good bet others will become just as excited, when they get to  know more about your candidate.

Originally posted to FischFry on Wed Nov 04, 2009 at 03:20 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Numbers don't really bear you out (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      killjoy, NYFM, cville townie

      While Kerry wasn't my first choice in 2004 either, if you look at the numbers, it's pretty clear that he mobilized the base pretty well.  Bush and Rove just mobilized their own base better than we did.  So I don't think your analogy holds up.

      That said: Deeds absolutely pissed off his base, and they stayed home.  Whether he could have won with a base mobilizing strategy is a different question, and one I don't have the data to answer.  Some of the VA people around here, though, probably can.

      "If another country builds a better car, we buy it. If they make a better wine, we drink it. If they have better healthcare . . . what's our problem? "

      by mbayrob on Wed Nov 04, 2009 at 04:06:03 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I think you miss my point (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        slatsg

        Your references to mobilizing the party base seem more of an appropriate response to Kos' argument, not mine. Actually, my argument is about how to best appeal beyond the base.

        Coming Soon -- to an Internet connection near you: Armisticeproject.org

        by FischFry on Wed Nov 04, 2009 at 04:18:10 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  he (kerry) (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        slatsg, Nedsdag, FischFry

        didn't mobilize the base...we were already mobilized and tired of bush.

        Remember when Kerry played with the idea of a '08 run? Crickets it was quickly put down.

        •  Kerry's moment had passed (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Nedsdag

          although 2004 was nearly the perfect moment for him (and us).
          He did very well.  Bush did a little better.
          2008 was Obama's and Clinton's time. There was no room for Kerry.
          mbayrob has it right.

      •  It's more like Bush motivated the base (0+ / 0-)

        Kerry needed to take the base one step further, but, alas, he failed to do so. Now, is it guaranteed that Dean or Edwards could have done it? Of course not. But, I think their chances would have been better than Kerry's, because Kerry had to qualify everything he said.

  •  VA Dems will learn another lesson with McDonnell (7+ / 0-)

    They'll learn that it's better to have a centrist Dem than a wingnut with a mandate.

    "It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses." - CS Lewis, Weight of Glory

    by Benintn on Wed Nov 04, 2009 at 03:26:37 PM PST

    •  I have added a line in the diary (9+ / 0-)

      I think I neglected a central point -- that Deeds didn't lose because of ideology, or even a lack of it. He lost because he was a bad candidate. He should never have won the primary -- he didn't win it on his merits, which is the only way to build a strong general election campaign.

      Coming Soon -- to an Internet connection near you: Armisticeproject.org

      by FischFry on Wed Nov 04, 2009 at 03:31:20 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  So true. There's Melissa Bean (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FischFry, Benintn

      in IL who gets so much shit sometimes...and I'm telling you, I know that district (it's not mine--I'm in Bill Foster's IL14) and she fits the district, and that's that.  Would you rather have a Republican there?

    •  You're presuming one thing that isn't true (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      slatsg, tidalwave1, TomP

      Dems didn't turn away from Deeds because he was centrist. They just didn't get excited about him. Dems still voted for him, though their turnout was lower than it needed to be. The problem was that the independents did not vote for Deeds. They weren't excited by his centrism.

      So, there is no lesson there for Dems -- at least, not the one you propose. The Post called on Dems to vote for Deeds because he was a centrist. That didn't work out too well. As others have noted, it was a tough year for any Democrat to run in Virginia, but Deeds did especially badly.

      Coming Soon -- to an Internet connection near you: Armisticeproject.org

      by FischFry on Wed Nov 04, 2009 at 03:53:47 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Well the choices were Moran, Deeds, and Terry Mac (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jj32, esquimaux, kestrel9000, dewley notid

    None were particularly exciting. Maybe Moran if he had not abdicated the Legislature was a possibility, but Terry Mac was never going to win.

    •  Moran focused too much on fund-raising (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NoMoreLies, TomP

      It's true that Moran spent too much time on big fund-raisers, even some across the Potomac , In Maryland. He needed to be out there winning over voters, not donors. The money would have followed his poll numbers, if the numbers had been there.

      My point, though, is to vote for your favorite guy and let the chips fall where they may. If you see something good in a candidate, there's a good chance others will, too. In any case, that's the best way to find out who is the most electable. You pick the one who has the most supporters -- s/he's gonna be the most electable.

      Coming Soon -- to an Internet connection near you: Armisticeproject.org

      by FischFry on Wed Nov 04, 2009 at 03:38:28 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I blame (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LordMike, FischFry, chicago minx

    Diebold.

    Which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day.

    by bugscuffle on Wed Nov 04, 2009 at 03:31:35 PM PST

    •  Usually a good choice (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      LordMike, VClib, bugscuffle, pelagicray

      But, this year, most Virginians voted paper ballots.

      Coming Soon -- to an Internet connection near you: Armisticeproject.org

      by FischFry on Wed Nov 04, 2009 at 03:34:27 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Oh. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        LordMike, pat208, FischFry

        Damn.

        Which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day.

        by bugscuffle on Wed Nov 04, 2009 at 03:35:18 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  You got some backup for that assertion? (0+ / 0-)

        Just wondering, since most of your other assertions are crap as well.

        Certainly from our standpoint, this gives us a sense of momentum -- when the United States has accolades tossed its way, rather than shoes. - PJ Crowley

        by nsfbr on Wed Nov 04, 2009 at 06:09:21 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Well, where I worked the polls... (0+ / 0-)

          In Fairfax and Alexandria, the precincts all had a touch-screen machine on duty, but most people marked their ballots by hand.

          Coming Soon -- to an Internet connection near you: Armisticeproject.org

          by FischFry on Wed Nov 04, 2009 at 06:30:20 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Nice mouth on you.... (0+ / 0-)

          Coming Soon -- to an Internet connection near you: Armisticeproject.org

          by FischFry on Wed Nov 04, 2009 at 06:30:39 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Why thank you. (0+ / 0-)

            I must be one of those Virginia Dems who you blame for the loss.

            Even though I voted for Moran in the primary.  Even though I voted while holding my nose.  It is my fault.

            Equating Kerry with Deeds is idiotic.  Blaming Democratic voters for Deeds loss is idiotic.  

            But if it makes you feel better to get upset because I think you have no idea what you are talking about here, feel free.

            And I voted on a machine that used no paper, just like I have every election since we scrapped our optical scan machines for reasons I'll never know.

            Certainly from our standpoint, this gives us a sense of momentum -- when the United States has accolades tossed its way, rather than shoes. - PJ Crowley

            by nsfbr on Wed Nov 04, 2009 at 08:24:56 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  The Kerry analogy seems apt (9+ / 0-)

    A vote for someone who seems "electable" can be a bad idea, as 2004 grimly demonstrated.

  •  I'm not from VA, but from the beginning (4+ / 0-)

    I found it hard to see how Dems would keep this seat. McDonnell seemed like a good candidate, who had already won statewide office, and none of the Dems seemed like great candidates. Combine that with the fact that Dems controlled the governor's office for eight years and the economy isnt great, and it was really an uphill climb for the Democrats here. Only Dem who might have won, might have been Mark Warner, but he of course ran for Senate.

    •  All that is true... (7+ / 0-)

      But, it doesn't explain the magnitude of the loss. A stronger candidate could have made the case better than Deeds did. McDonnell is a religious nut, who lets his faith infect his policy decisions -- but Deeds wasn't the guy to make that case. McDonnell wants to fix NoVA's traffic woes, yet he doesn't offer a way to raise the money -- but, neither does Deeds. He was a weak candidate who should never have won the primary.

      Coming Soon -- to an Internet connection near you: Armisticeproject.org

      by FischFry on Wed Nov 04, 2009 at 03:45:28 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Agreed (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        FischFry, TomP

        I was going to add, my main thought now is could Deeds or another candidate have kept the margin closer. And maybe a stronger candidate could have forced McDonnell into making a mistake, and capitalize on that, and possibly won. I just think there were too many bigger factors(economy and the Dem control of Governor's mansion for eight years) that would have hurt any Dem candidate.

  •  The Dems lost for one reason (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NoMoreLies, FischFry, dewley notid, fidel

    It's really this simple: Obama came in on a wave of hope and optimism and change. Fine, good, wonderful.

    And the signature piece of the new administration was health care and the economy. What sort of ineptitute does it take to fail to be able to get people to want health care regardless of their employment status or financial ability to pay at the time? It's like failing to get starving people to move into a supermarket.

    And it doesn't matter whose fault it was, the reality is that the administration failed to come through.

    On the economy, there has been some improvement. But that really isn't good enough. Economic recovery will almost certainly take at least another year to become less all-enveloping in people's minds.

    This was the biggest red flag the Obama admin could expect to ever see. And it says one simple thing:

    The Obama administration has to take charge. Legislation -- legislation to help people -- has to get through. Liebermann has to be spoken to.

    And the Democrats' usual routine will be to fail, fail, fail, to do these things. I hope everyone's ready to see the Republican majorities return to the House and Senate in 2010, and Sarah Palin being sworn in as the first female president of the United States in 2013, after winning in 2012.

    Just frickin' terrifying.

    •  I don't disagree (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      TomP, chicago minx

      This is where Markos' argument comes in. A Democrat who could have gotten behind an Obama agenda of accomplishment might have been a lot more popular. Instead, we had someone who ran from the Obama agenda. and that didn't get the voters to run his way.

      Coming Soon -- to an Internet connection near you: Armisticeproject.org

      by FischFry on Wed Nov 04, 2009 at 03:47:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  competence matters, esp at state and local levels (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NoMoreLies, FischFry, TomP, terabthia2

      In MA, we have a wonderfully progressive governor, Deval Patrick, who hasn't done squat in his 3 years in office.

      He will almost certainly win in the primary - I doubt there will be any serious opposition - and then get killed in the general, unless a whole lot of things suddenly change.

      His loss will not be a repudiation of progressive politics, though it will be spun that way. It will not be because he is African American, though some will spin it that way, too. It's just that he hasn't come through on anything. Our higher ed/university system is still struggling, nothing much has happened to Mitt Care, and a host of other issues are not being dealt with. The most visible thing to happen here is that there are lots of road projects underway, indicating that he and/or our congresscritters have been successful in getting some stimulus money. OK - but hardly a big deal.

      It's been all bad news - big deficits, cuts, more deficits, more cuts, and no one else to blame, and no inspiring plans to move ahead. Sorry to say it, but, meh.

      Fear is the mind-killer - Frank Herbert, Dune

      by p gorden lippy on Wed Nov 04, 2009 at 03:53:16 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I thought that the VA exit polls showed (0+ / 0-)

      that 55% of voters said Obama had no effect on their vote and only some small percentage said he had a negative effect.

      Starboard Broadside: Firing all guns at the Right since September 2008!

      by Cpt Robespierre on Wed Nov 04, 2009 at 04:41:54 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  they keep (0+ / 0-)

      on dragging the health care out.
      Remember the break in August, now they are talking about next year. What's next right after the '10 elections?

  •  In 1972 (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WIds, LordMike, beachmom, Nedsdag, FischFry

    Kerry had more guts than any progressive on this site.Just saying.

  •  A Good Candidate has not surfaced for CA (0+ / 0-)

    I am sick and tired of these Republicans who only solve our fiscal problems on the backs of students and the poor.

  •  Excellent Analysis (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    slatsg, Cpt Robespierre

    If you do not prefer a candidate, it is sheer hubris to imagine that others will prefer him.

  •  Kerry wasn't that bad a candidate (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    beachmom

    And Dean might not have been any better, and Edwards would certainly have been worse.  The fact is that the Rove-Bush campaign used lies, appeals to false patriotism, gay-bashing, and out-and-out skullduggery to win.  Against an incumbent President in a "time of war", it was really hard for Kerry to be able to find the supermajority necessary to beat the structural advantages Republicans have built into the system.  As it was, he actually almost won.

  •  don't think so (0+ / 0-)

    Kerry, though, was a lousy candidate. He couldn't convince voters that he had a firm plan to make their lives better and end the war.

    it should have been a no brainer, not even close, but the dems/left once again allowed complete freedom to the bush media machine to define and frame the election, which could not have happened if not for a complete ignoring of the coordinated repetition on their right wing talk radio monopoly. that is where the heavy lifting was done on the swiftboating and the left stupidly only reacted after it had already manured the whole country and fed the MSM.

    ignoring the talk radio monopoly continues to be the biggest political blunder in decades

    by certainot on Wed Nov 04, 2009 at 05:02:49 PM PST

  •  I don't buy the analogy (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FischFry

    for the reasons mbayrob lays out.  That being said, long time Red States tend to have an election like Deeds-McDonell.

    On the Republican side it's that the hardliners feel time is running out on them when people like them become unelectable.  They get themselves the best candidate they can.  They have urgency and are fairly respectful to their moderates and are as efficient as possible about swing voters.  

    On the Democratic side it has to do with a long period of being a Red State and feeling that there's a Democratic electorate of about 48% for any serious Democrat.  The question the Democratic establishment of the state faces is how to get to 51%.  The trouble is the remaining swing voters tend to lean Republican and that lean gets harder and harder to overcome as Democrats' normal baseline get closer and closer to the 50% mark.  On the other hand, the Democratic electorate is becoming much more confident and matures to liberal/progressive views rapidly.  Its expectations in victories, competitiveness, policies, and candidate quality rise fast.

    Usually- and this was the case in Virginia this year- the decision falls, after a long public discussion about 'electability', for a conservative nominee.  It could be a Party establishment decision, or it's voters persuaded (for good reasons, or bad) that a more progressive candidate has to be resisted.

    The Republican wins the general election, usually quite easily and by a large margin.  Basically, the conservative Dem thing fails at the ballot box.  And it and its establishments never really recover from that defeat- it's all decline from there.

    But the Republican win looks larger and more solid than tends to turn out to be.  Basically, the day after Election Day is the winner's best day.  The electorate tends to go past 50% national Democratic lean during his term.  He's in hock to the hardliners of his Party and has to perform for them, though.  That's a recipe for fairly rapid burnout of his support, and support for hardline Republican policies and governing generally, among the middle 20% of the electorate.  By year three of the term it's usually clear he won't get reelected.

    Governors like Tim Pawlenty in Minnesota, iirc Bob Taft in Ohio, or Pete Wilson in California are fairly typical examples.  Somewhat aberrant are ones like Schwarzenegger or Romney, but the concept is the same.

    In short, conservative Dems and hardline Republicans burn out with the electorate.  Usually an ideologically fuzzy moderate-to-liberal but solidly partisan, non-conservative, serious Democrat gets nominated and wins the next election.

    •  From your lips, to.... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      killjoy

      "Usually an ideologically fuzzy moderate-to-liberal but solidly partisan, non-conservative, serious Democrat gets nominated and wins the next election."

      We can hope. The solid sweep leaves the Dems in search of an entirely new slate, though.

      Coming Soon -- to an Internet connection near you: Armisticeproject.org

      by FischFry on Wed Nov 04, 2009 at 06:34:48 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  terry McCauliffe would have done a better job (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FischFry

    He would lose less and would have personal money to remain competetive.

    Dont let the LIARS win. Stand up for TRUTH! Stand up for Health Care Reform!

    by timber on Wed Nov 04, 2009 at 05:25:05 PM PST

  •  Good news (0+ / 0-)

    VA Dems saved progressives from getting the blame for likely loss...cant imagine Moran would have won...but it would have been closer

    "Republicans drove the country into a ditch and now they are complaining about the cost of the tow truck"-Jim Cornette

    by justmy2 on Wed Nov 04, 2009 at 05:33:25 PM PST

  •  Some truth to your line of thinking . . . (0+ / 0-)

    also if you look in the state history another name along similar lines "Marshall Coleman" and the 1989 Governors race.

    Deeds actually was well positioned in some respects, but he needed to make a much, much stronger play for the party base in the weeks and months after the primary.

  •  Thanks FF for the autopsy - I had been trying (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FischFry

    to piece it all back together in my own mind as to how we arrived here. The primary seems such a long time ago - the "memory hole" thing for me, I suppose. Thanks again.

    WAR IS PEACE FREEDOM IS SLAVERY FOX NEWS IS JOURNALISM

    by FakeNews on Wed Nov 04, 2009 at 06:21:04 PM PST

  •  I agree... to a point (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FischFry

    John Kerry was a non-candidate. I read one of his aides boasting that the campaign believed "90% of what he has to do is show up." Well, that's what we got. Can anyone recall even a single line of attack that Kerry used against Bush?

    Kerry was picked as a defensive move, because Dems were scared of Bush. He was the safe choice. If Dem voters had had any guts in 2004, the ticket would have been Dean/Clark, and we would have had something to be FOR-- instead of just against.

    However, I tried hard to make the case to Kucinich voters that they should be thinking more strategically of voting for Dean. I mean, trading Dean for Kerry hardly seems like a move to forard progressive values.

    Obviously, you can see how successful that argument was with purist Kucinich voters, but I stand by it. Some strategy is needed. After all, voting for the candidate on the ballot instead of writing one in is a kind of "strategic vote"-- since we're voting for the person we believe others will also vote for.

  •  I highly disagree! (0+ / 0-)

    John Kerry was the best candidate, and that is why he won!  Howard Dean had already made several strategic mistakes, and John Edwards was a lightweight with a good speech (see his debate with Dick Cheney where he was trounced).

    I can't comment on Virginia as I no longer live there, but I am sick and tired of people who supported Dean pissing on Kerry and Kerry primary voters as only voting strategically for him.

    Hello, you all forget when Rassman showed up in Iowa to talk about how Kerry saved his life.  Do you get that that was a big deal?

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