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7.1.03

Daschle Decides Against Presidential Bid

Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) announced today that he has decided not to seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, preferring to challenge President Bush and the Republicans from his post in the Senate than from the presidential campaign trail.


This is a very good development. The crowdedness of the Democratic field is going to be one of the party's biggest hurdles in the race. Bush, with no challengers and a white house pulpit, will be able to take advantage of the necessary infighting during the Democratic primaries to reestablish his post-September 11 image as "a uniter, not a divider" who is above partisan squabbles. Further, Daschle's checkered history as the leader of the opposition -- recall the "how high should we jump?" Democratic Senate and the midterm election debacle -- make him a poor candidate to challenge Bush (not that any Democrat is a good candidate). Now if only Dick Gephardt, Al Sharpton, and Joe Lieberman would follow suit.

There will, of course, be plenty of comparisons to Al Gore. But I think other than being a high-profile likely contender who has dropped out ostensibly for the good of the party, there aren't a lot of similarities. For one, Daschle (as mentioned above) has been rather wishy-washy in opposing Bush -- for example, he initially dismissed the comments by Trent Lott that, when pursued, became a huge embarassment for the Republican Party. Gore, on the other hand, returned from a much-needed break from the spotlight with criticism of Bush so fierce that he at times traded his intellectualism for partisan rhetoric. And on the issue of the crowded field, Gore would have the opposite effect from Daschle. Rather than further splintering the party, Gore would have commanded such a huge lead that most candidates would be forced out early (barring any sort of upset in New Hampshire or Iowa). Gore's problem was that, by creating a 2000 rematch, he would have violated the conventional wisdom that says the Democrats need a new face, as well as handing the Republicans a list of sound bites about how he's a sore loser who won't go away. It's better that they're both out of the race, but for different reasons.

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