I think there are a lot of reasons that the Kerry campaign has failed to catch fire. Count me as one who, 8 months or so ago, would have bet money on him becoming the candidate. I still don't think he's done with, and nor do I believe in the inevitability of Dean. But, I agree that one of Kerry's main problems is this:
Kerry and I had what candidates call a “spirited exchange” in which he defended his vote. He said he felt betrayed by George Bush, whom he had believed, had not yet made up his mind to go to war when the vote was taken. He never expected a unilateral war given the way Powell, Scowcroft, Eagleberger and others were speaking at the time. He defends his willingness to trust the president of the United States, but now realizes that this was a big mistake. At one point, after answering somebody else’s question, he turned back to me and pointedly—one might even say “passionately”—insisted, “And Eric, if you truly believe that if I had been president, we would be at war in Iraq right now, then you shouldn’t vote for me.”
Unlike plenty of pundits who pretend they don't understand what Kerry's position on the war has been, or pretend that he's being inconsistent, I understand what Kerry's is. He claims he truly believed that voting for the resolution was voting for a show of strength to put the pressure on Saddam. I'll take him at his word about that... but that's precisely the problem.
I think for the Dem base, the issue isn't supporting the war or being against it. To a surprising degree Dem voters were for - and continue to not regret - this war. The issue is just how thick can one have been to have not believed war was inevitable the minute Andy Card and the boys rolled out the "new product" after Labor Day. I think Kerry could have been strongly pro war (and still critical of the occupation) and be doing well. I think he could have been strongly anti-war and be doing well. His sin was trusting the Bush administration. Even more than the obvious dubiousness of the WMD threat, it should have been obvious to anyone that we were going to go to war no matter what Saddam did
Should that be enough to sink someone? I don't know - but maybe it will.
More generally, I've stopped having any opinions on who is the "most electable." After reading numerous pundits, amateur and professional, pontificating about this issue I've concluded that no one has any better clue than anyone else. There are some things which can be quantified - fundraising, poll numbers, etc - but none of these more quantifiable things break strongly enough for any of the leading candidates, largely because they tend not to be mutually reinforcing. So, people are just groping for external validation of what are basically their own personal biases. I know I sure don't have a handle on what does or doesn't appeal to the Amurcan people, and I haven't seen much evidence that anyone else does either.
What I do know is that this is truly going to be one nasty political campaign. Even more "respectable" pundits like Krauthammer are reaching levels of deranged and anger-filled dishonesty that didn't show up until much later the last time around (partly because they still had the Clenis to kick around). None of the candidates are innoculated against any of it (Clark's military service won't stop them from calling him a disloyal American, or a war criminal, Dean's fiscal conservatism in Vt. and his pro-gun stance won't stop them from calling him a tax and spend liberal who wants to take your guns away, etc... The media will play along because that's their script for Democrats.)
[Didn't you promise a primary free zone? --ed. So sue me.]
...and Jesse Berney had me beat by 24 hours on this point.