A Second Chance for Kerry in '08
Yepsen: A second go for Kerry? He'd need to convince Iowans why
By DAVID YEPSEN
REGISTER POLITICAL COLUMNIST
October 11, 2005
So, should John Kerry run for president again?
It appears Iowa Democrats may be asked to answer that question. The Massachusetts senator was back in the state on Sunday doing appearances and looking as if he were ready for another bid for the White House in 2008.
The conventional wisdom is that Kerry shouldn't do it. He's had his chance and muffed it. He's so scarred by the 2004 campaign, he'd still be damaged goods in 2008. A Kerry candidacy would be a rehash of the past, just as it would be if Al Gore ran again or if Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton runs. Instead, goes this logic, Democrats should look for a fresher face.
As with all conventional wisdom, there's some truth to it. And as with all conventional wisdom, it may be wrong. Presidencies are won by risk-takers who beat conventional wisdoms.
Kerry's advice to Iowa Democrats this week could easily apply to himself: "You can't sit around and cry in your teacup and lament about it. You've got to take that frustration and, in some places anger, and channel it into doing what we know how to do."
If he runs again, Kerry would have an uphill struggle. Democrats haven't given a losing presidential nominee another shot at the White House since they renominated Adlai Stevenson in 1956. He lost in a landslide to President Eisenhower.
The senator was having no public talk of another run in 2008, but you could tell by his schedule he was sending a "keep me in mind" signal to activist Iowa Democrats on Sunday. He made appearances in the party strongholds of Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.
You also could tell he'd learned some lessons from 2004. His Des Moines speech was only about 15 minutes long, not one of those wonkish lectures voters had to endure during the campaign. He also slipped in a little discussion of religious faith, something Democrats learned they need to do.
What's the case for another Kerry run?
• He came close, oh so close, in 2004. Bush got 51 percent. Kerry got 48 percent. Only 120,000 more votes in Ohio, and you wouldn't be reading this column.
Kerry reminded his Des Moines audience of his strong showing by saying: "Remember, we won 10 million more votes than we've ever won in a presidential race in the history of the country. We actually exceeded our targets in every single precinct. Trouble is, they learned how to get out the vote, too, which means we just have to get out and find more votes."
Considering Kerry was running against a wartime president, someone Americans are always reluctant to boot from office, he didn't do that poorly.
• Kerry's been vetted. He's been through the crucible once, and the lessons he learned would be useful again.
Media people, opponents and voters have all had a chance to study the man. Many saw him as presidential material. He did well in the debates. The smear attacks on him in 2004 will be old news in 2008. And considering how poorly Bush has been doing of late, Kerry looks better by the day.
• He was a classy loser. Unlike Al Gore, who skulked off to grow a beard, Kerry withdrew quickly and honorably. He set about tending his duties in the U.S. Senate, giving speeches and trying to help fellow Democrats win elections in 2006, which is shaping up to be a good year for them.
• Kerry understands why he lost. Strategists in his camp say if he does run again, the campaign will be more nimble in responding to attacks than it was in 2004. He won't be isolated from key Democrats seeking to offer advice.
Also, Democrats hindered Kerry by nominating him a month before Republicans re-nominated Bush. That made Kerry the official candidate of his party before Bush became the official candidate of his, which limited Kerry's ability to spend money to respond to the attacks coming from the other side. It's a mistake Democrats won't repeat.
If Kerry wants to run again in 2008, he'll have to discuss these things publicly with Iowa Democrats. They gave him an important victory in the 2004 caucuses, largely on the strength of his argument that he was the most electable of their choices.
Since he didn't win, they'll need to hear just what he'd do differently if they gave him another chance.