Fellow Patriot: The voluntary financial generosity of supporters like you keeps our hard-hitting analysis coming. Please support the 2022 Year-End Campaign today. Thank you for your support! —Nate Jackson, Managing Editor

Jonah Goldberg / January 15, 2020

Democratic Battle Is Reminiscent of 2004 Kerry-Dean Race

As of this writing, the Democratic presidential contest looks very fluid, with four candidates bunched up in Iowa and New Hampshire.

As of this writing, the Democratic presidential contest looks very fluid, with four candidates bunched up in Iowa and New Hampshire. But the sudden relevance of foreign policy, thanks to the confrontation with Iran, has made it look more and more like a two-person race between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

Both candidates think the issue helps them, and they’re probably right. Biden’s foreign policy experience and comparative hawkishness reinforce support from moderate voters, and Sanders’ long record of dovishness helps him among more progressive voters. Both candidates are trying to use the issue to freeze out their nearest competitors, Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren.

If it does become a two-way contest, we could be shaping up for a kind of replay of the 2004 Democratic battle between former Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. And that might be good for Michael Bloomberg.

Biden’s ace in the hole is his support from African American voters, which hinges on their belief that Biden is the most likely candidate to defeat President Trump. A new Washington Post-Ipsos poll has Biden capturing 48 percent of black votes, and 57 percent of black voters say the thing they’re looking for most in a candidate is the ability to beat Trump. Only a third say their main consideration is how closely a candidate aligns with them on the issues. These “issues” voters skew younger, which might partially explain why Sanders comes in second among black voters with 20 percent.

The whole dynamic is somewhat reminiscent of the 2004 primaries. Kerry was the establishment candidate, Dean was the firebrand outsider with a lot of support from young progressives.

It’s largely forgotten now, but Kerry won the early contests not because voters liked him best, but because they thought other voters would prefer him down the road.

“There were a lot of people out there who really liked Gov. Dean’s message of standing up to the Republicans and President Bush, and his strong antiwar stance,” Gordon Fischer, the Iowa Democratic Party chairman in 2004, told New York magazine, “but they ultimately felt that Sen. Kerry was close enough to those principles and was more electable in 2004. They chose their head over their heart.”

In New Hampshire, Kerry won by 12 points. Kerry beat Dean 4-to-1 among voters whose top motivation was selecting a candidate who could “defeat George W. Bush in November.” Kerry and Dean were even among voters who picked their candidate because “he agrees with you on the major issues.” And Kerry’s early successes helped fuel the electability argument in later contests.

The prevailing logic of the “dated Dean, married Kerry” voters was that given the war in Iraq and the war on terror generally, Kerry’s status as a decorated veteran would nullify Bush’s advantage as a wartime president. That’s why Kerry showed up at the Democratic National Convention announcing he was “reporting for duty” with a smart salute. Of course, Kerry’s military record later came under scrutiny, as did his antiwar activism, both of which undercut the advantage voters assumed his war record would give him.

Biden is positioned somewhat differently from Kerry — he’s more likable, if wackier, for starters. And Sanders has a much more robust organization than Dean had. But the similarities are real. It raises an interesting question: What if voters at the time had a better understanding of Kerry’s weaknesses as a “war hero” candidate — the main rationale for his electability claims?

Clearly, the White House (the real Trump campaign headquarters) is trying to test the question by muddying up Biden before the first primary votes are even cast. So far it’s not working very well.

But what if Biden stumbles?

The problem with campaigning on electability is that it’s a brittle rationale for a candidacy compared with organic support from the grassroots. Sanders had a heart attack (!), yet he’s gained support since then. It’s hard to imagine Biden’s candidacy surviving a similar setback or a major stumble. If Biden loses in Iowa and New Hampshire — a very real possibility — will pragmatic voters, including Biden’s firewall of black voters, stand by him?

If they don’t, that would be billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s opportunity. Sanders’ support is deep, but it isn’t wide. Many Democratic insiders and voters believe that the avowed socialist would lose to Trump. Whether that’s true matters less than the belief. Bloomberg’s “break glass in case of emergency” candidacy could do surprisingly well on Super Tuesday (and that’s clearly Bloomberg’s plan).

Of course, it’s not obvious that Bloomberg could seize the nomination or beat Trump. Having Sanders’ socialist dreams dashed by one of the very plutocrats he detests could divide the Democrats and help fuel the Democratic nightmare of a brokered convention. But for those of us with no favorites in this race, it would be fun to watch.


Start a conversation using these share links:

Who We Are

The Patriot Post is a highly acclaimed weekday digest of news analysis, policy and opinion written from the heartland — as opposed to the MSM’s ubiquitous Beltway echo chambers — for grassroots leaders nationwide. More

What We Offer

On the Web

We provide solid conservative perspective on the most important issues, including analysis, opinion columns, headline summaries, memes, cartoons and much more.

Via Email

Choose our full-length Digest or our quick-reading Snapshot for a summary of important news. We also offer Cartoons & Memes on Monday and Alexander’s column on Wednesday.

Our Mission

The Patriot Post is steadfast in our mission to extend the endowment of Liberty to the next generation by advocating for individual rights and responsibilities, supporting the restoration of constitutional limits on government and the judiciary, and promoting free enterprise, national defense and traditional American values. We are a rock-solid conservative touchstone for the expanding ranks of grassroots Americans Patriots from all walks of life. Our mission and operation budgets are not financed by any political or special interest groups, and to protect our editorial integrity, we accept no advertising. We are sustained solely by you. Please support The Patriot Fund today!


“Our cause is noble; it is the cause of mankind!” —George Washington

The Patriot Post is protected speech, as enumerated in the First Amendment and enforced by the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, in accordance with the endowed and unalienable Rights of All Mankind.

Copyright © 2022 The Patriot Post. All Rights Reserved.

The Patriot Post does not support Internet Explorer. We recommend installing the latest version of Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, or Google Chrome.