Dean’s Early Momentum May Sweep Race

This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, September 2, that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIT HUME, HOST: From the University of Virginia Center for Politic, there came today the latest edition of the Crystal Ball, an Internet-based journal. Which took a long look at the current democratic presidential race. And joining me now is the man responsible for the publication, Professor Larry Sabato, director of the center.

Well, you rated all nine of the candidates, Larry. I was struck by the fact, just taking a look at the list, Howard Dean (search) you had strongly in first place, even though on national polls he is not first in national polls. A two-way tie in second, John Kerry (search) there and Joe Lieberman (search) and everybody else going down.

Now, talk to me about, first of all, about Dean and Kerry and New Hampshire. And what caused Kerry to do what he did today in your judgment.

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: Sure. Brit, Kerry as you noted, Kerry re-launched his campaign. One thing I have learned over the years, you never re-launch a campaign that's doing really well. So there's a problem there. And the problem is that nominal frontrunner John Kerry has lost that status. And he has lost it to Howard Dean who has turned on the liberal democratic activists who love to hear Bush-bashing, who love to hear attacks on the Iraq policy. He has got them. He is raising the small money. He is doing what's needed to win the democratic nomination.

Kerry faces a life or death battle with Dean in New Hampshire. Kerry is trying to suggest today in launching…re-launching in South Carolina that he has a second chance. He has a firewall in South Carolina. I don't think that's true, but his campaign does.

HUME: Now, the season is you have Iowa first with the caucuses. Then New Hampshire hard on its heels, and then there's a series of states. New Hampshire…I mean, South Carolina comes right along in there in between. Am I right about that?

SABATO: Yes, February 3 is South Carolina, and a bunch of other states.

HUME: Right. Now, South Carolina is…that's also where Lieberman is hoping to do well, correct? I mean, what…what does Kerry hope to do there? I mean, how well can he expect to do in your judgment?

SABATO: Well, Kerry is hoping to win South Carolina. Lieberman is actually putting his hopes in Oklahoma and Arizona, which also have contests on the very same day, February 3.

Brit, what's interesting here is that Howard Dean is competing everywhere, and now he is leading in Iowa, which Dick Gephardt was expected to win. He is leading by a mile in New Hampshire, which neighbor John Kerry from Massachusetts was expected to win.

So what's happening? All the other serious candidates are saying, oh, don't worry about Iowa. Don't worry about New Hampshire. You watch February 3. We're going to come back on February 3. Well, they may or it may be over.

HUME: Why would you say that? I mean candidates have survived rough spots in places like Iowa and New Hampshire and come back to win before. Why do you think that's less plausible this time?

SABATO: Well, there's a big difference this year, and that is that we have never had a system so front loaded. That is, we've never had so many primaries and caucuses crammed together in January, February, and on March 2. The whole process is essentially over March 2. So in six weeks you have a nominee selected.

How do you stop the momentum of a candidate who sweeps Iowa and New Hampshire? Suddenly everything could change, and on February 3 you could have Dean winning in places he wasn't expected to win. People need to remember that people voting in the democratic primaries and caucuses in the south are really the same people as are voting in the north. They're liberals.

HUME: So, do you think it's a risk then for Kerry, for example, to do what he did today, which is to choose the symbol of an aircraft carrier, repeated references as you heard even in the portions we played to his military record. He had the people who served under him in Vietnam in his audience.

Is that a message that may have nowhere to play in this…in this current state of the Democratic Party?

SABATO: It could easily be, and he is taking a great risk. He has to win New Hampshire. And anybody in this campaign telling him otherwise and telling him he can lose in his back-door state and still win the nomination is, I think, very, very wrong.

HUME: Let me ask you a question about another issue. The Democrats have been hoping that the economy would be the peg they could hang their hat on this time. It looked like a potent issue. The economic news has turned a bit. How do you see that issue shaping up now?

SABATO: The economy is moving in Bush's direction. You never know what's going to happen tomorrow, but if the economic indicators continue to strengthen, it's going to be very difficult for any Democrat to win.

And notice the candidates are all starting to focus on foreign policy and national security. I think they're privately fearful that the economy will improve to the point where they'll either win on national security or they won't win at all.

HUME: Larry Sabato, it's always a pleasure to have you. Thanks for coming.

SABATO: Thank you, Brit.

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