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Survival of fittest for Democrats

Abby Johnson

A wizard, a witch, and a princess. That’s what our 6-year-old friend Annie became for Halloween.

The 10 Democrats trying to unseat Republican incumbent Commander-in-Chief President George W. Bush should consider Annie’s approach.

The challenge for the Democratic Party and the 10 wannabee presidential candidates is for the one who gets the nomination to unseat the president. And they are going to need some triple-strength magic to make it happen.

This president apparently opted out of public campaign financing so long ago that his rejection of it is taken for granted. Money is no object for a president with a symbiotic relationship to big business.

Last week Democratic front-runner Howard Dean announced that he won’t take public campaign funds either, so he can exceed the limits imposed by the law. Sen. John Kerry then said “me too.'” Sen. Joe Lieberman let loose with a comment that these two were forsaking the principles of public campaign financing. Either Joe’s the conscience of the Democratic Party or he’s not close to raising enough money to exceed the limits himself.

Democrats jabbing at each other is barely a spectator sport for a country at war in uncertain economic times. In 2004, the American economy may improve but the war in Iraq may become the Bush Achilles’ heel as U.S. casualties mount and Iraqi rebellion festers.

Disagreements among the Democrats should be overshadowed by their shared objective: to deny George W. Bush a second term.

While the 10 squabble about who opposed the war when and who voted for what, they do agree to disagree with the Republican administration’s approach to foreign policy, health care, Social Security, education, and the environment. If it were a jury, there would be a conviction.

Walter Cronkite had it exactly right in Sunday’s Appeal when he concluded, “A contested primary always is a process of elimination. For the Democrats, the problem with this one is that it threatens to eliminate them all.”

Why? The primary campaign process itself encourages a “survival of the fittest” mentality. By the time the challenger has seized the nomination, the candidate and the party have spent precious energy and money fighting each other instead of preparing for the general election campaign.

What if the Democrats decided to do things differently this year? Here’s where our friend Annie’s alchemy comes in. This will require imagination and make-believe on the part of you, the reader.

Pretend that the 10 candidates could agree that it is more important to defeat George Bush than which one of them becomes president. Let’s say they all agreed to a weekend retreat to devise a strategy. They’d have to park their egos at the door (this is where the suspension of disbelief comes in). Inside the room are the candidate, spouse, policy staffer, and pollster for each campaign. And a really talented facilitator.

The objective and result: They select the strongest candidate able to defeat the incumbent; the vice president to balance the ticket, and cabinet secretaries. They agree on the principles that bind them together. They agree to work together for the entire campaign.

They emerge as a team, ready to campaign and debate against the incumbent Republican president and his administration.

The obvious criticism is that it doesn’t give the voters the chance to select a candidate, but only some voters in some states do that now. Voter participation in the primary system depends upon location and residence. Move to New Hampshire if you want to vote in an early, influential presidential primary election. Stay in Nevada if you don’t.

The team scheme would enable the Democrats to campaign for their issues and against the incumbent without fighting amongst themselves. Pesky details like fundraising and staffing would have to be worked out along with developing sound positions on each of the issues, the basis for the party’s platform.

The present challenge for the Democratic Party and its voters is not to find the candidate that they like the most, but the one most likely to unseat the incumbent.

That quest demands the extraordinary. Invoking the powers of the wizard, the broom of the witch, and the mystique of a princess could be the answer for 10 Democratic candidates who seek to sweep President Bush out of office in November of 2004.

Abby Johnson consults on rural community development, public involvement and nuclear waste issues. She is married, lives in Carson City, and has one high school-aged child. Her opinions are personal and are not necessarily shared by her clients.