The New Republic's Etc. blog tipped me off to TNR editor Peter Beinart's musings on what the election would be like if Howard Dean was the Democratic candidate.
Beinart essentially makes the argument that Dean would be doing better off than Kerry because the focus of the election would be on Iraq, rather than flipflops. And he reasons, not without justification, that a continued focus on Iraq would help any Democratic candidate immensely. That being said, I think there are a few flaws in Beihart's argument.
First, Beinart seems a bit too dismissive about the likely impact of the GOP branding Dean as "the second coming of McGovern." Beinart argues that Dean can play defense by noting that he supported the Gulf War, and can turn the tables by getting aggressive on homeland security or the Saudis. In a just world, this would work, but it labors under the mistaken assumption that truth has any bearing on how voters percieve candidates. As TNR's own Jonathan Chait has pointed out, the media covers politicians in such a way to reinforce the existing storyline, regardless of whether the surrounding facts back it up or not (subscription only). The storyline on Dean is that he is a peacenik hard lefty, despite his commitment to a balanced budget and "A" rating from the NRA, neither of which is characteristic of your prototypical leftwinger. Since the press had already labeled him the liberals darling, he wouldn't be able to shift center during the election and make the voters believe him, because Americans had been told for months by their local newspapers that Dean was the favorite son of the hippie wing of the Democratic party.
Second, I don't think Dean's Iraq stance is an asset. The best attack the Democrats have on Bush still isn't that he decieved us, or missing WMDs, or anything like that. Its that Bush refuses to fight the wars he gets us into. Dean can't attack Bush on his Iraq policy failures because his solution--withdrawal--wouldn't fix the problem, it'd make it worse, and everyone knows it.
Third, even if Dean could translate his Iraq war opposition into electoral gains, I'm disturbed by the ethical implications. Regardless of whether or not its good politics, Dean's position on Iraq--that we should withdraw--is flatly wrong. Its bad for America, and its bad for Iraq. Isn't the subordination of principles to politics one of things we DISLIKE about Bush (subscription only)? Call me a hopeless idealist, but I don't think that Democrats should stoop to that level.
The REAL question is what the election would be like if Joe Lieberman was the Democratic nominee (subscription only).