Ross Mackenzie

Howard Dean and John Kerry, among other Democratic presidential aspirants, are stumping key states deploring President Bush's "lies." Leftie Dems, the heart of the Democratic constituency and hence the ones who generally select Democratic nominees, seem swoony about Dean - now 21 points ahead of Kerry in, for instance, New Hampshire.

For his part, with a public mood darkened by continuing American deaths in Iraq and (now) 22 consecutive months of fewer American jobs, Bush's national rating stands at the lowest point in two years.

More of this, and 2004 may not prove much different from the 2000 election, which but for his losses in a single state such as West Virginia, Florida or his home base Tennessee, would have given us as president alpha male Al Gore.

Congress, too, sends the message: Is this country closely divided - or what?

Yes, it's early, and practically none of the Democrats can argue he (or she) has reached anything approaching national recognition: Recent polls indicate two-thirds of the voters cannot name even a single candidate among the Democratic Nine. Because he ran with Gore last time out, Joe Lieberman leads the Democratic field in a number of national recognition polls. But he stands third in New Hampshire and lower in Iowa, and given the front-loaded setup of the forthcoming blunderbuss process, he remains a dark horse to win the nomination.

Nor does it help that he is just about the only Democrat speaking any sense.

Lieberman is an unabashed moderate in a party of ideological termagants. He terms his opponents soft on security and stale on domestic policy, and says "outdated extremes" fostered by the "far ideological left" will not return the Democratic Party to the White House. "That path will not solve the challenges of our time and it could well send us Democrats back to the political wilderness for a long time. ... Old Democratic policies like higher taxes and weakness on defense are not the solution."

His party colleagues on the campaign trail hate him for it.

Ross Mackenzie

Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.

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