Sen. John F. Kerry’s major victories in primaries and caucuses Tuesday all but seal for him the Democratic presidential nomination.
He won decisively in the Minnesota caucuses and in primaries in Maryland, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, California and Ohio; he lost Vermont to the state’s former governor and favorite son, Howard Dean, who has dropped out; and ran close only in Georgia to his last remaining major challenger, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.
Sen. Edwards ended his campaign Wednesday after failing to do even moderately well in the North or even to succeed with fellow Southerners in Georgia.
In his victory speech Tuesday night, Kerry highlighted the themes he will be using in coming months. “We can and we will win this election,” he said. His views struck only weak chords for those who seek limited government and a vibrant free market. He called for “repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.” He wants to ensure that corporations don’t move offshore to avoid paying U.S. taxes, to raise the minimum wage, provide new incentives to “good companies” that keep jobs in the U.S., create “a plan for energy independence for the United States” and “create 500,000 new jobs.”
He also advanced a longtime Democratic plank of universal health care, which he said is “a right and not a privilege.”
On foreign policy, Kerry promised that “we will rejoin the community of nations.”
His victory means that now begins in earnest the battle against President Bush, who has a clear record of both accomplishment and failure, knows how to campaign and has more than $150 million in his campaign kitty.
“This is probably Kerry’s high-water mark at least until the Democratic convention” in Boston in July, said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College. “Up to now, he’s had many opportunities to make headlines by winning primaries. But now that the contest is essentially over, he’s going to give a lot of speeches, which aren’t as newsworthy as an election. So he’s going to have trouble staying on the front page.”
How will the battle with President Bush shape up? Kerry’s victory speech outlined positions that may play into one obvious Bush campaign theme — that the senator is too liberal to be president. Kerry ranked as the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate, according to a National Journal voting record list released this week.
But it will be hard for the Bush campaign to paint Kerry as a liberal big spender when Bush has presided over deficit spending now rising above $500 billion for the fiscal year which begins Oct. 1.
On another front, Sen. Kerry should realize that a soak-the-rich tax campaign didn’t do well when tried by Democrats Michael Dukakis in 1988 or Walter Mondale in 1984. By contrast, Democrat Bill Clinton won in 1992 promising middle-class tax cuts.
And only time will tell if common folks around the country will connect with a wealthy patrician New Englander whose environmental policies might mean raising the price of owning and driving an SUV.
Kerry has a hard road to drive to November. But as he said, “I am a fighter.”