Dems vie for Gephardt supporters’ votes
After a disappointing fourth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, in which he received only 11% of the votes, Dick Gephardt’s withdrawal from the race for the Democratic candidacy came as little surprise to many. At Washington University and across the nation, once-enthusiastic Gephardt supporters were forced to look elsewhere for a presidential candidate worthy of backing.
According to a national poll conducted by NBC News, on December 18th Gephardt had the support of only 12% of registered Democrats-a noticeable but not overwhelming percent of the population. After his withdrawal on January 20th, those Gephardt supporters, suddenly finding themselves without a leader, immediately became vital to the remaining presidential hopefuls. Winning this 12% of the Democratic population could give any of the candidates the momentum needed to take the White House.
In the Feb. 3 Missouri primary, Senator John Kerry flaunted his plan for comprehensive healthcare along with an extensive record of political experience in order to pick up the votes of Gephardt’s supporters. Senator John Edwards tried to appeal to the blue-collar families who formed the core of Gephardt’s support base by emphasizing his own humble beginnings, but he was unable to stop the momentum of Kerry’s campaign that led the senator to win five of the seven states on “Big Tuesday.”
Senior Andrew Fraerman, a former Gephardt supporter and campaign organizer, was unsure if Edwards’ blue-collar past would give him an upper hand in gaining Gephardt’s constituency.
“It may affect some people’s views, but it seems that Edwards has more difficulty getting his message across, and that will overshadow any advantage he might have because of his beginnings,” said Fraerman.
Gephardt’s supporters are a vital constituency for the Democratic candidates because of their location. The vast majority of Gephardt’s support came from Missouri, the state in which he was born and raised and that he served as a senator.
Political analysts for the BBC believe that control of the Gephardt votes is essentially control of Missouri. Missouri’s importance lies mostly in its existence as a swing state, possessing a great deal of electoral power depending on which party’s candidate the state decides to endorse.
Only once in the past century have the electoral votes of Missouri been wrong in predicting the majority of the electoral votes in the country. According to the Associated Press, only in the 1956 election of President Dwight Eisenhower did Missouri fail to endorse the winning candidate.
Political science Professor Randall Calvert agrees that Missouri may very well play a critical role in this fall’s presidential elections.
“Missouri is a pretty important state because it’s reasonably big and has a lot of delegates,” said Calvert. “But it’s also more of a microcosm [of the nation] than most other states. When Gephardt was running, he was going to win [the Missouri primary]. For the other candidates in his absence, winning could serve as a signal of the candidate’s likely success nationwide.”
Some of the strongest support for Gephardt could be found here in the Washington University student body. When John Kerry and John Edwards made campaign stops in St. Louis on January 28th, many of these former Gephardt supporters had been or were in the process of making a decision about who to endorse.
“I think Gephardt supporters from Missouri will be supporting Kerry because of endorsements from Senators Jean Carnahan and Tom Eagleton, as well as St. Louis’s Mayor Francis Slay,” said Fraerman prior to Tuesday’s primary. “Because Missouri would have almost undoubtedly been won by Gephardt, it is up for grabs, and the endorsements might make the difference.”
According to Professor Calvert, Gephardt’s departure gave both Kerry and Edwards “opportunities they wouldn’t have had if Gephardt was still in the race,” allowing them to demonstrate which voter groups are their strongest supporters.
“Kerry won in the urban and suburban areas, and Edwards won in the rural areas,” said Calvert. “Essentially, Edwards won the parts most like the South, and Kerry won in the regions resembling the North. We wouldn’t have learned that with Gephardt still in the race.”
Although Edwards appears to appeal more to rural voters than fellow front-runner Kerry, Calvert thinks that Kerry’s win in Missouri is “a big addition to his campaign’s momentum.”
However, Senator Kerry’s impressive showing in the Missouri state primary does not guarantee that he will win Missouri or all of Gephardt’s support base in the presidential election itself. The Missouri primaries may be over, but the campaign for Missouri’s electoral support has just begun.
Additional reporting by Kelly Donahue.
Popularity: 1% [?]