The Also Rans

What makes Al Sharpton, Dennis Kucinich, and Joe Lieberman keep on running?

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Why are Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton — and Joe Lieberman, for that matter — still running for the Democratic nomination? Self-delusion? Vanity? Sheer cussedness?

The contest is barely underway and already Sharpton, Kucinich and Lieberman are painfully short of the three things any candidate needs going into the big-state, “wholesale” phase of the primary season: money, media, and momentum.

Lieberman got 9 percent of the vote in New Hampshire, which put him behind Kerry (38%), Dean (26%), Clark (12%) and Edwards (12%), into what most would describe a fifth place finish but what Lieberman describes as a “three-way split decision for third place,” causing one pundit to wonder “which state” he was referring to. Kucinich stormed home with 1 percent of the vote; Sharpton didn’t even bother to campaign in New Hampshire.

Of course, Sharpton and Kucinich never expected to win (right?). Sharpton, of course, has designs on Jesse Jackson’s mantle, and he’ll be hoping to do well in South Carolina, with its large black vote. ultimate goal will most likely to make an impact as a leader. The Chicago Tribune writes:

“Sharpton, the only African-American in the race, hasn’t been a factor (or a presence) in the season’s first two contests. But he’ll be all over South Carolina. And trust me, he’ll be hard to ignore…Sharpton has thrown virtually all of his resources into making a good showing in South Carolina, where 40 percent of the primary’s voters are black. Sharpton, in a bid for new respect as a national civil rights leader, hopes that a good showing there will propel him to a major role at the Democrats’ nominating convention this summer in Boston.”

A new ARG poll shows Sharpton holding third place in South Carolina with 15 percent, behind Edwards (21) and Kerry (17), and just ahead of Clark (14).

As for Dennis Kucinich, Ben and Jerry may support him, but few average Americans do. He placed fifth in Iowa with 1 percent of the vote, and sixth in New Hampshire with the same.

But Kucinich has vowed to remain in the race until the end, despite suggestions from some observers that he risks becoming “invisible”. One Ohio poli sci professor said that Kucinich really needs to be asking himself, “At which point do I gracefully bow out and move on with my life or my congressional career?” That may be no time soon. Kucinich claims to be the only true anti-war candidate and he hopes his campaign will nudge the eventual nominee in an anti-war direction. (He is also the only vegan candidate; it’s not clear whether he hopes to nudge the eventual nominee in that direction, too.)

Kucinich is not prepping his concession speech just yet. He told one radio journalist, “I’m not subject to [critics] idea of the way the world should be. I don’t need their permission to run for president.”

Kucinich’s and Sharpton’s continued presence in the race probably doesn’t much alter the overall dynamics of the contest. The same can’t necessarily be said about Lieberman. Noam Scheiber writes in The New Republic that if the senator doesn’t get out soon, he might become mess things up for a serious candidate:

“Lieberman isn’t just making himself look foolish by staying in the race. (If that were all that was going on, Lord knows I’d be all for it.) He’s actively hurting the chances of the one person who can still beat John Kerry and save the Democratic Party from apocalyptic defeat in November: John Edwards. That’s because, as my colleague Frank Foer points out today, Edwards is the most moderate remaining candidate in the field, and therefore the candidate most likely to benefit from Lieberman’s withdrawal. The longer Lieberman sits on his (admittedly dwindling) base of support, the harder it becomes for Edwards to consolidate the anti-Kerry vote.”

Lieberman says that he never expected to win the early primaries. As the most conservative of the Democratic candidates, he considers himself the most closely aligned with the mainstream Democratic party and therefore highly “electable” in the long haul.

Some voters might want to vote for the likes of Kucinich, Sharpton or Lieberman on principle but worry that it would be a wasted vote, or worse, that if one of them did win the nomination, they would sure lose in a head-to-head with Bush. Kucinich was once asked in a debate about Democrats who don’t consider him electable, he shot back: “Well, you know, I’m electable if you vote for me.”

The Christian Science Monitor says, rather highmindedly, that people who like Al, Joe, or Dennis should go ahead and vote for them:

“[Kucinich], like many of his rivals, hopes voters judge him for his positions, character, and resume. But in this election year, a high number of voters are playing political pundits, checking the electoral-college math, and often ignoring issues to see if someone has “electability.”

But elections are diminished when voters don’t choose a candidate who best represents them, putting pragmatism ahead of principles. If every voter simply tried to figure out what other voters want in a president, who would be the authentic voter?

Voters have complex reasons for choosing candidates, but to pick someone because he’s not like Bush and can beat him runs the risk of overlooking a candidate’s positions and ignores key differences with the other candidates. The tag of electability is also fickle, as pundits and candidates often discover. Democrats should pick someone who’s more than simply the best anti-Bush.”


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