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Rerun Kerry

By Bruce Walker
web posted November 29, 2004

John Kerry has not ruled out running again for president. No one else should rule out such a run either. Rerun major party candidates have proven fairly common in the last century or so of American politics. Richard Nixon, of course, lost a squeaker in 1960 and returned eight years later to win a squeaker in 1968. The sense that he "should" have won in 1960 doubtless motivated him to run again in 1968.

Kerry also seems to feel that he "should" have won in 2004, and his attitude toward life in general appears to be one of entitlement. He viewed his scant, relatively safe service in Vietnam as the rough equivalent of the very genuine heroism of John Kennedy, Bob Dole, George McGovern, George H.W. Bush and Barry Goldwater. The Senator also has twice married heiresses to fortunes which they did not earn, but made available to Kerry.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., makes his first speech on the Senate floor on November 17 on Capitol Hill since losing the presidential election to President George W. Bush
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., makes his first speech on the Senate floor on November 17 on Capitol Hill since losing the presidential election to President George W. Bush

The relatively gracious concession of Kerry and the relative unity of the Democrat Party behind him have left him still popular and still the titular head of the Democrat Party. If Kerry decided to seek the presidency again, then he has carefully laid the groundwork to do just that (another trait quite familiar to those who have studied Kerry's life.)

His antiwar record will not - and, in fairness, should not - be an issue if he ran again for the White House. While his war record will not help him much, what he did in Vietnam and the years immediately after his service will not hurt him much. That means his viability will depend upon whether or not he can build a record of opposition during the next four years.

Unlike Gore, who was an anointed nominee, Kerry had to work for his nomination and that will make him more the real leader of the Democrats than Gore after 2000. Beyond that, Senator Kerry is still very much an elected official who can introduce legislation, demand inquiries and so forth. The defeat of Daschle will give Kerry even more of the limelight, because Harry Reid is about as telegenic as Bob Dole. Kerry, by contrast, comes across pretty well on television.

John Kerry also has vast wealth at his disposal, and that is a great advantage for anyone who is seeking the Presidency. Kerry, if he wants, will have one more shot at the Presidency before he becomes too old to really contest for the office effectively. If he wants it, then Kerry must run in 2008.

Because President Bush will not be the Republican nominee and because Republicans may have a real fight for the nomination, 2008 may seem like the ideal time for Senator Kerry to become President Kerry. The absence of any other Democrat who could seriously seek the office - Hillary is simply too divisive - may encourage Democrats to encourage Kerry, an overly ambitious man who needs little encouragement.

That will be his downfall. Although Richard Nixon, the only president to resign from office, did win the Presidency in 1968, he was the exception and not the rule for rerun candidates. William Jennings Byran ran three times as the Democrat standard bearer and did worse each time. Tom Dewey ran in 1944 and then in 1948, not only losing the second time but getting a smaller percentage of the popular vote in 1948 than in 1944.

Adlai Stevenson ran twice against Dwight Eisenhower and the 1956 defeat was a landslide significantly greater than the loss in 1952. Stevenson, the "acceptable" candidate, is the sort of rerun candidate that Kerry would be. The American people did not strongly dislike or distrust Stevenson in 1956. They simply did not support what he supported.

The campaign season for 2008 begins about January 1, 2005, so any Democrat seriously interested in the nomination will have to decide fast or have no chance. Kerry will have to decide fast too, but if Kerry wants to run again in 2008, it is hard to see how anyone could possibly stop him.

It is also very difficult to see how he could possibly win. This is particularly true is, as many suspect, Vice President Cheney steps down soon after the midterm elections and President Bush gathers together a consensus candidate to become the new Vice President. Who might that be? Martinez? Santorum? Frist? Rice? Coleman?

It could be - it could well be - that Americans will know the two standard bearers of the Republican and Democrat parties by early in 2007. And the odds greatly favor 2008 being another 1956, another 1948 or another 1900 election with the rerun Kerry losing again.

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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