As we look to the final year of this eternal presidential election, the Crystal Ball gets right down to it. The Democratic field has already sorted itself out, and while that field will almost certainly reconstitute itself in various permutations between now and the determination of the nomination in February or March 2004, this is the order of likely Democratic nominees-to-be as of Labor Day 2003:
- Howard Dean
- Tie: Richard Gephardt/John Kerry
- Joe Lieberman
- John Edwards
- Bob Graham
- Dennis Kucinich
- Carol Moseley Braun
- Al Sharpton
When the story of the 2004 campaign is written, Howard Dean will be the phenomenon, even if he does not get the nomination â€“ much as John McCain was the best story of the 2000 campaign for president. Dean has come from nowhere, much as Jimmy Carter did in 1976 and Bill Clinton did (to a lesser degree) in 1992. The electricity surrounding Dean is now so intense that it will take major breaks for another candidate to snatch the prize from the Vermont governor. This is not to say that it cannot be done. Dean is devilishly divisive, with his supporters seeing him as the second coming of Josiah Bartlet, and to his critics he is the reincarnation of George McGovern, with a guaranteed loss of 45 states to George W. Bush in the fall. Dean is now virtually certain to raise more money, draw bigger crowds, and attract more media attention than any other Democratic candidate, at least until the start of the nomination process. The key question is which other candidate will become the anti-Dean. Most likely, it will be either the steady if boring Dick Gephardt or the heroic if aloof John Kerry. It is not yet impossible, though increasingly unlikely, for the anti-Dean to be Joe Lieberman, who appears to be too conservative to get the nomination, or John Edwards, who seems to be too inexperienced. The remaining candidates appear to be window dressing, though Graham can never be dismissed because of his home state support, Kucinich may take critical liberal votes away from Dean, Braun has the backing of important women’s groups, and Sharpton is the favorite of some rank and file African-American Democrats.
The current Senate margin, is, of course 51 R to 49 D. Republican gains appear increasingly likely, most probably on the order of two additional seats. The following Senate seats up in 2004 may turn over to the GOP, in this order of probability:
- South Carolina
- North Carolina
- South Dakota
The following Senate seats may possibly turn over to the Democrats, in the following order of probability:
The structure of the seats up in 2004 automatically favors the GOP. First, there are 19 Democratic seats to 15 Republican seats on the ballot. Second, 22 states with Senate seats up were carried by George W. Bush in 2000; just 12 states were carried by Al Gore. History and common sense tell us that Red states will be much more likely to yield Republican senators than “blue states.” Third, even with a number of self-funding Democratic candidates, the Republican nominees, thanks to the GOP national fundraising juggernaut, are likely to outspend their opponents significantly. Fourth, should Bush face Dean, or should Bush manage a solid reelection against any Democrat, then coattails would probably assist Republicans in close races.
The current balance of power in the governorships is 26 Republicans to 24 Democrats. There are three governorships this year (Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi) and 11 up in 2004. Surprisingly, the Crystal Ball currently believes that there will be virtually no change in the national party balance once all these elections are held. At most, the Republicans may gain one or two states. At present, all three 2003 governorships are highly competitive. The Republicans have a slight edge in Kentucky, the Democrats a slight edge in Louisiana, and Mississippi is a toss up. In 2004, New Hampshire and Vermont will very likely remain Republican, and the GOP has a good chance to pick up the state houses in Indiana and Missouri. The Democrats will probably hold Delaware, North Carolina, Washington, and West Virginia, and they have a fair to good chance to pick up Montana and even Utah. The net gains from both years combined have the Republicans adding three statehouses and the Democrats adding three state houses, with Mississippi potentially the tie-breaker. So the National Governors Association may very well continue to find itself deeply divided on a partisan basis.
House of Representatives
The current balance is 229 Republican, 206 Democrat. This is the one category where the Crystal Ball believes it is premature to make any precise forecast. After reviewing the very early indications of competition and retirements for the 435 House seats, we would be willing to hazard a guess that â€“ even without the re-redistricting of Texas â€“ the Republicans are likely to pick up a few seats, especially if Bush does well in November 2004. Should the Texas GOP get its way, with new and very partisan lines drawn in the Lone Star State, then the GOP gains could easily expand to close to 10. A Bush landslide, should it develop, would push Republican gains above 10 in the U.S. House. Our readers should expect these exceptionally tentative estimates to be revised substantially as we get closer to the general election of 2004.
Read the Crystal Ball Director’s most recent commentary on the wacky California recall. (A version of this article was published in the Los Angeles Times on Aug. 19, 2003.) At present, and after a dozen public and private surveys, it is clear that Gray Davis has an uphill climb to hold on to his governorship. Some would say that trek is akin to scaling Mount Everest; the Crystal Ball believes that it is closer to a steep foothill. Davis is tremendously unpopular, yes, but he has incumbency, the support of the Los Angeles Times, relatively strong backing from key Democratic constituencies, and most of all, a pretty good case to make that the recall process itself is fundamentally flawed. Should Davis be recalled, it is already obvious that the succession battle comes down to just two people, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (D) and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R). Despite a flood of media coverage, Arianna Huffington and Peter Ueberroth have no real chance to become governor. The only candidate who might become one of the front-runners is conservative Republican State Sen. Tom McClintock. Schwarzeneggerâ€™s very liberal positions on social issues have alienated many conservatives, and the recent revelations about Schwarzenegger (drug use, group sex, and the rest) will make it even more difficult for those conservatives to unite behind the actor. Schwarzenegger and McClintock are splitting the Republican vote, and unless McClintock decides to drop out before Oct. 7, it will be exceedingly difficult for Schwarzenegger to win part two of the ballot.