George Will

Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman also stressed the folly of nominating someone who cannot pass the threshold test of strength on national security, which Lieberman calls ``the first goal of our government.'' But many--probably most--Democratic activists have other first goals, including making the world safe from America's military.

Lieberman--supporter of the war and, like Sen. John Edwards, a critic of Rep. Dick Gephardt's health care plan (``we can't afford'' such ``big-spending Democratic ideas of the past'')--is remembering the general election. But you cannot steal first base--you must get nominated in order to win in November. Watch Gephardt. He supported the war, but has red meat for the liberal incorrigibles who choose Democratic nominees--a health care plan financed by repealing the Bush tax cuts.

Coming immediately after the Jan. 19 Iowa Caucuses and the Jan. 27 New Hampshire primary, South Carolina's Feb. 3 primary will the be first time African-American voters--perhaps almost 40 percent of the turnout--will be so important so early in the nominating process. But Delaware, Missouri, Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma also may vote that day, and Michigan votes four days later. The nominee almost certainly will be known no later than the evening of March 2, when California, New York, Maryland and perhaps Ohio will vote.

This is perilous. If such a compressed schedule had existed in 1984, when Gary Hart acquired astonishing momentum by upsetting Walter Mondale in New Hampshire, Hart would have won the nomination before Mondale had time to regroup and grind him down. The potential for volatility among Democrats is suggested by a poll conducted April 10-16 by the Pew Research Center showing that 69 percent of Democrats cannot name any of the nine candidates. Kerry, the most frequently named, is named by just 9 percent of respondents. Nine percent think Al Gore is running.

The president has 71 percent job approval. Ronald Reagan had 58 percent in 1984, when he swept 49 states.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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