(Now, that doesn't mean it was a great night. Bear with me.)
With less than two minutes left, Carolina scored, kicked thee point after and tied the game. Then, as every New Englander felt, Carolina lost. John Fox coached a typical last two minutes against the Patriots. He followed conventional wisdom and got conventionally lost.
What would have happened if Fox had gone for the two point conversion? They might have led, the might have trailed. New England's defense was confused without its starting two safeties. You could have tossed a quick one in.
Or, what would have happened if you let New England score quickly in the last 1.45 and then try to score before the end of the game? New England had two rookies playing safety, both of which Delhomme picked on mercilessly. Last team with the ball wins.
Neither case has a real good chance to it. But both chances are better than kicking off and playing for the tie. Fox gambled that he could hold Brady and Vinatieri. That bet has failed over and over again. It failed again in the Superbowl.
Dean is in Fox's position. If he runs a conventional campaign and challenges in the February 3 states, he loses. Kerry's momentum is too big, the scream is too fresh, and the money is too thin. If he challenges Kerry conventionally, the campaign is broke and dispirited. Instead he retreated and reloaded. He needed some luck tonight. He got that.
Right now, he is running the Thunderdome strategy. For that strategy to work, he needs the other candidates to drop by the wayside. Tonight, it appears that Sharpton, Lieberman, and Clark are on their way off the island. The stage is getting more and more empty. Basically, he is left with Kerry and Edwards.
Second, Edwards will be the headline tomorrow. He thrashed Kerry in South Carolina and appears to be close to squeaking out a win in Oklahoma. The coronation will be put off until at least VA and TN. Kerry will have to prove that he can "win in the south." If Kerry loses OK and NM, he loses the expectations game. Anything that slows Kerry is good.
Third, Edwards has followed Dean and gone negative. The two of them ganging up on Kerry should drive the negatives up. Kerry is no Clinton. He doesn't have the ideas flying or the "out from nowhere" history. If Edwards and Dean can get the populist machine going, Kerry's coronation will be held off for a few more weeks.
Finally, Kerry and Edwards have blown money out while Dean has pulled it in. While the money should be coming in in buckets for Kerry, he has sent it out in buckets too. If you put Dean at a conservative 5million right now, that should be enough to put up and keep going some ads and keep the staff working. (Everyone is getting paid now.)
So, Thunderdome Part I is going well. If New Mexico squeaks out for Dean-even a second-he gets to sit at the table for another round.
Now, he is still in deep, deep trouble and he needs to be on his game and continue to get some breaks. If he pulls the second stage off, I will put a thousand dollars on the bat.
He needs to move right and continue to be aggressive. He needs to be a "reformer with results." Further, he won't get his unfavorables below thirty, but he could get Kerry's up near his. This will mean, Deaniacs, using the black arts. It also means that the Repugs are going to have to help out. Seeing Bush's numbers against Kerry should encourage the Freepers to start data-mining the Globe and Herald. Maybe Maureen Dowd can take Theresa down for her accent. For Kerry to get messy, Dean is going to have to throw some mud. Get ready. It's coming (Neel has sharp elbows)
Edwards will also have to start tossing at Kerry. I think Edwards may do the same thing that Dean did. I think he will take a pass on Wisconsin, Michigan, Washington, and Maine, raise money, and fight in TN and VA. If the money rumors are true, he must be on fumes. This next debate will be a humdinger.
He needs to get good, effective, and fun ads. The ads need to pick up attention. They can't be the same (except for "courage." That was okay) The ads will get new viewers and, more importantly, encourage the Deaniacs who have been bitching about the ads for months.
The Deaniacs need to keep givng. 25,000 people gave on the last bat. Considering that Trippi got dumped and all of the bad news that was swirling, that is a remarkable number. The Deaniacs need a reason to give. They need to be given hope.
Finally, Dean needs to win something. The Deaniacs and their credit cards demand it. He needs to win Wisconsin or Washington or Maine. The Deaniacs have given money in order to have an effective campaign. (where's Hicks?) That campaign has got to, by organization and guile, win something. Kerry needs to fight those and keep spending money. Because, like a one-two punch, Edwards will be waiting for him in the south.
If Dean can make it past VA and TN and into Super-Tuesday, with a bloodied Kerry and his own resurgent campaign, we enter Thunderdome. (No, I don't know what happens to Edwards. It all depends on money.)
I have hope. If Kerry had swept this evening, I would have some trouble dropping money on the next bat. I think that Neel has done a great job letting the blog evolve. The chat, radio, and advertising additions have been tremendous. The comments threads have continued to fill.
Hey, it's not pretty and the odds are long. The odds have always been long. Before Iowa, the best bet was to run the table and build momentum. If the scream never happened and Dean placed second in both of those contests, he would be in almost the same position he is in today.
The Patriots were down to Denver, in Denver with two minutes left this year. They intentionally gave up the safety, with the hope that, by field position and defense they could get in field position and win. Dean gave up a safety today. Maybe he can still win.