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Inside Politics

Carlos Watson: The political road ahead

John Kerry speaks to supporters on Super Tuesday night in Washington, with stepson Chris Heinz at his side.
John Kerry speaks to supporters on Super Tuesday night in Washington, with stepson Chris Heinz at his side.

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• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
Carlos Watson
America Votes 2004
Presidential primaries
Democratic candidates

With Sen. John Kerry having cinched the Democratic nomination with a definitive Super Tuesday showing, CNN political anlayst Carlos Watson offers some thoughts on the process to date and where the candidates go from here.

Fresh Take: Five insights on the campaign

1. Possibly a brilliant general election map for Democrats

While some Democrats point out that non-representative states like Iowa and New Hampshire disproportionately affected the nomination process, if the Democrats win, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe will get big credit for featuring early on four of the six states that got decided by 1 percent or less in 2000.

That early exposure and the associated millions of dollars of free media may help the ultimate Democratic candidate win some tough races in places like Missouri, Ohio, New Mexico and Wisconsin.

2. Reverse coattails: Don't ignore 34 Senate races in 2004

While they are getting a lot less attention, one of the big factors in the 2004 presidential race may turn out to be what happens in a half dozen open U.S. Senate seat contests and another four or five hotly contested races. The fortunes of President Bush or his opponent in pivotal states like Florida, Illinois and Louisiana could be dramatically affected by the popularity of their party's Senate candidate, campaign and voter turnout efforts. While overshadowed at the moment by the presidential race, a handful of Senate contests ultimately could help decide the presidency.

3. Bush as strategist

President Bush does not get enough credit as an experienced political strategist in his own right. Going back to his father's first run in 1980, he has been intimately involved in no fewer than five serious White House bids including his own. Leveraging that knowledge, one of the smartest things he and Karl Rove have done is to stave off a Republican primary challenge. Over the last 40 years, every incumbent president who has faced a major primary challenge has ended up a one-term president: LBJ, Carter, Bush 41. Those who have won re-election avoided that fundamental misstep: Nixon, Reagan, Clinton. Don't underestimate the president.

4. The rise of the political venture capitalist

Although he "dropped out" of the presidential race, Howard Dean still may end up being one of the most influential Democrats of 2004. Perhaps the second most important thing he said in his exit speech is that he intends to use his impressive Internet fund-raising apparatus to raise funds for key congressional races. In a year in which the spotlight on the presidential race will deny many congressional candidates key fund-raising dollars, Dean the political venture capitalist could conceivably help Democrats win crucial races in California, Alaska, Washington, and Illinois -- and perhaps even take back the Senate.

5. A different foreign policy debate

You may remember that in 1992, although his mantra was "It's the economy stupid," then-candidate Bill Clinton used foreign policy matters to attack the first President Bush. Significantly, Clinton did not focus on Iraq where President Bush had recently won a war, but instead focused his foreign policy attacks on other issues in other parts of the world including China, Haiti and Bosnia.

While those issues arguably did not have the same substantive importance as Iraq, Clinton was able to use these smaller foreign policy hotspots to make larger symbolic points and in doing so undercut the first President Bush's supposed foreign policy expertise. Could that happen again in 2004 with North Korea, Venezuela, Haiti and other countries?

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