Democrats join the presidential race early

Can you believe that the Presidential primary cycle is in high gear almost two years before the 2004 elections? It seems that year after year the election cycle comes earlier and earlier. With a war going on, a bad economy and everything else going on around the world, it looks like the news cycle will have to make room for one more big news item the 2004 Presidential campaign in 2003.

Let’s take a quick count. So far we have Sens. Lieberman, Edwards, Kerry and possibly Graham of Florida and Biden of Delaware. Then throw in Rep. Dick Gephart, Gov. Dean of Maine and the Rev. Al Sharpton and you have an all star line up. It all seems so much so fast that you can hardly keep up, that is, if you are trying to this early. There have even been some rumors that Gary Hart might decide to enter the race.

Of course we all know why this campaign is starting so early. In early 1999 both Al Gore and George W. Bush had supplanted themselves as the candidate to beat in their respective bids for the Democratic and Republican nominations. With all the money committed early, it was hard if not impossible for anyone to give them a serious political race. Early money pays for later advertisements which are vital for unknown candidates like Dean of Vermont if they are to be viable in the early primaries. This time around no one wants to be left out of the pot. But like the old saying goes, money isn’t everything. So if you’re a Democrat running for President on a budget, here are a few things that should be considered while running for the White House.

First things first, forget about Florida. Obviously the Sunshine State still leaves a bitter taste and nightmare thoughts of waiting for the Supreme Court to decide a presidential race. Of course that was no way to decide an election but that’s the way it went down. Democrats can’t use Florida as the modern day “Remember the Alamo” cry. The 2002 elections pretty much put that to rest. If the overwhelming reelection of Jeb Bush doesn’t make you realize that, think about the election of Katherine Harris. Remember her, the ex-Florida Secretary of State now Congresswoman from Florida. Her election had a sort of thumb in your nose effect on the whole Florida revenge thing. The over-emphasis on winning revenge over the Bush family in Florida is over and the Democratic Party will be the better for it.

Secondly, the Democratic candidates must pay more attention to the South. There is no way a presidential candidate wins the White House without carrying part of the South. Contrary to popular belief, Democrats can win in the South. Liberalism in the South may not be alive and well, but southern Democrats are alive and kicking with more moderate platforms that relate well to southerners. Besides, before the November elections, think about what North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi had in common. They all had Democratic governors. Even now, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia still have Democratic administrations. Any candidate ready to be a contender will have to lean on them in the South.

The last thing I want to mention is a pet peeve of mine. That is, that we (when I say we, I mean both parties involved in campaigns) must stop placing such a high interest on fund raising. Of course you need money to communicate with voters. Believe me I know. But lots of money doesn’t substitute for a solid, effective, morally grounded organization. Like I said earlier, this mass entrance of candidates into the race for the Presidency is mostly because of money not name recognition. If you remember, Gov. Bill Clinton didn’t enter the race until late in 1991. Yet he placed high in New Hampshire and caught fire shortly after that to win the Democratic nomination and later the presidency. Now the entrance of a few Senate heavyweights, however, has set off a domino effect. Believe me, if President Bush wasn’t in office, Republicans would be doing the same thing.

So we’ll be forced to hear the 2004 campaign a year early. Despite some candidates having name and money, there really is no early favorite. For political junkies like myself, that makes it fun to watch. But even for me, it’s a little too early.

Davon Gray works as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., and resides in Woodbridge. He can be reached at [email protected]

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