2003: All of the candidates declare by mid-October, with Wesley Clark holding out the longest. Lieberman leads the polls through the summer, mostly because the other candidates still have no name recognition to speak of. Dean pulls out in the fall and leads polls until December, when Saddam Hussein is captured and the Doctor's anti-Iraq rhetoric begins sounding sillier to many. Gephardt picks up in the wake of Dean, and the two are tied nationally going into the new year.
January 19, 2004: Iowa caucuses. Kerry, Edwards, Gephardt, and Dean enter caucus day in a statistical dead heat. Kerry and Edwards are a close first and second, while Dean is a distant third. Gephardt withdraws from the race.
January 27, 2004: New Hampshire primary election. Clark ignores Iowa to put in more time in New Hampshire. Kerry and Dean share the lead on the night before the election, but Kerry wins by more than ten percentage points over Dean, with Clark and Edwards a distant third and fourth.
February 3, 2004: Edwards wins South Carolina, Clark wins Oklahoma, and Kerry wins five other states including Arizona and Missouri. Lieberman drops out.
February 11, 2004: Clark drops out, giving his support to Kerry.
February 18, 2004: Dean ends his candidacy.
February 22, 2004: Ralph Nader declares his independent candidacy on Meet the Press.
March 2, 2004: Super Tuesday. Kerry wins every state save Vermont. Edwards drops out the next day.
July 6, 2004: After months of speculation over potential VP candidates (John McCain, Richard Gephardt, Hillary Clinton, and Tom Vilsack being ongoing favorites), Kerry decides to pick Edwards as his running mate.
July 26, 2004: Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts begins a month-long Kerry high over Bush.
August 30, 2004: Republican National Convention in New York City. Bush picks up strength in the aftermath and remains slightly ahead of Kerry through the month of September, scaring the liberal rank-and-file to the point where Michael Moore had to write them a letter telling them to stop being wusses.
September 2004: I stop paying attention around this time because I've already made up my mind. But the first debate takes place near the end of the month, ignoring the fact that I'm not interested in it, and Kerry supposedly does pretty well.
November 2, 2004: Bush and Kerry enter the general election on roughly equal terms. Kerry scores notable victories in most exit polls, prompting Zogby to predict a Kerry landslide. As the ballots come in, the electoral vote becomes ominously close. Pennsylvania goes for Kerry; Florida goes for Bush amid much speculation about absentee and provisional ballots. By midnight, the race focuses upon Ohio, which Fox News calls for Bush but CNN is more hesitant about. Neither side gives in just yet.
November 3, 2004: Kerry concedes. Bush wins.
George W. Bush
"Strong leadership in times of change"
"Moving America forward"
Going For Him: The rally round the flag effect, capped off by bombs over Baghdad. His military victory in Iraq proved that his administration is effective and powerful, and that power has translated into a total lack of opposition from within the Republican camp. Bush has more money, power, and public support than anyone else in the running.
Going Against Him: Liberals and anti-Bush protestors haven't gone away. The stock markets continue to lag, and many are still wary of Bush's economic policy. The elder George Bush lost to a relatively unknown Bill Clinton in 1992 under similar circumstances: will history repeat for the younger Bush, or will his power base hold up until November of '04?
In the heat: VP candidate Dick Cheney and senior advisor Karl Rove, twiddling their fingers Montgomery Burns-style. Then there's Senator John McCain, the Ambiguously Democratic Republican, who comes out strongly for Bush from time to time. Senator Zell Miller, the Blatantly Republican Democrat, doesn't keep his mouth shut for long. Osama bin Laden is out there somewhere.
The other contenders
Al Gore, Gary Hart, and Christopher Dodd backed out early, and Hillary Clinton refused to run... but there was still a massive slate of candidates who vied for the nomination up to the primary season. The winner happened to be:
"Let America be America again"
"The future does not belong to fear: it belongs to freedom"
Going For Him: He's practically a household name among liberals, and his history as a Vietnam veteran could counterbalance the Republican mantra that opposing Bush is supporting the terrorists. But the main reason most of his supporters are in his camp can be summed up in three words: "Anybody But Bush."
Going Against Him: The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Much of his platform is still poorly-defined, and he has contradicted himself on many issues. He also has goofy hair, and conservatives love to think of him as a caricature of all the bad things Democrats can be.
In the heat: Populist VP candidate Senator John Edwards, every Republican's least favorite trial lawyer. Subtly reviled DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe competes with Gov. Dr. Howard Dean for title of Democratic figurehead. Everyone loves Barack Obama, everyone fears Ralph Nader, and everyone distances themselves from Ted Kennedy.
David Cobb won the nomination, making Nader look kind of, well, irrelevant.
Michael Badnarik won the nomination.
Ralph Nader. Will he do much? Probably not. If history is any indication, he might take votes away from the Democrats...
Carol Moseley Braun (Left the race in January)
Former senator from Illinois, ambassador to New Zealand
Going For Her: She was the only woman in the race, and an African-American to boot—two key Democratic constituencies. In 1992, Braun captured the imagination of both by becoming the first black woman in the Senate.
Going Against Her: Braun did some unpopular things as senator, including shaking hands with brutal African dictators, so her integrity was kind of suspect. More importantly, women and blacks don't tend to become president. Braun never had a real chance of winning, but her campaign was still there on the principle of the thing. Just one week before the beginning of the primary season, Braun left the race and endorsed Howard Dean.
Wesley Clark (Left the race in February)
Former United States Army general and supreme commander of NATO forces
Going For Him: Many high-ranking Democrats were behind Clark, including (reportedly) Bill Clinton. He had awesome credentials as a military commander, and could easily beat Bush in the foreign policy debate.
Going Against Him: He entered the race on September 17, 2003, putting him well behind the other candidates in terms of fundraising and official campaign activity. He also had no political experience and no experience in domestic policy making.
States Won: Oklahoma
Howard Dean (Left the race in February)
Former governor of Vermont
Going For Him: Dean broke the party line on several issues—most notably gun control and taxation. However, as governor of Vermont, he had instituted universal health insurance for minors and legalized gay marriages, giving him a virtual handshake with many satellite constituencies. He had the best grassroots organization out of all the candidates and polled high among liberal peaceniks: for the duration of his campaign, he also had the best fundraising apparatus, which had drawn millions from small-ticket donors over the internet. Al Gore endorsed him.
Going Against Him: Many Democrats (and almost all centrists) were reluctant to support an occasionally crazy left, sometimes borderline conservative governor from a tiny state, especially if he had an A rating from the National Rifle Association and had a tendency to howl on camera for no good reason.
States Won: Vermont
John Edwards (Left the race in March)
Senator from North Carolina
Going For Him: Edwards was, without a doubt, the smartest, most ambitious, most charismatic, and downright best-looking guy on the Democratic ticket. If you wanted a GQ-style president, Edwards was your man, and many people were expected to vote for him on image alone. Like Bill Clinton, Edwards had Southern charm and an uncanny ability to connect with voters.
Going Against Him: Many Edwards supporters in North Carolina felt abandoned in their senator's quest for fame, as he has pretty much neglected the state during his tenure at the Capitol. He was also an inexperienced candidate in comparison to the others, and bought his way into politics from being a trial lawyer.
States Won: South Carolina
Richard Gephardt (Left the race in January)
Congressman and former minority leader from Missouri
Going For Him: He was experienced and high up in the party ranks, and had run for president before (in 1988, although it wasn't exactly a successful bid). He pushed hard for universal health care, which many Democrats supported. Labor unions also appeared to like him best, and hawks appreciated the fact that he voted in favor of the war in Iraq.
Going Against Him: The Democrats incurred major losses in the house following the 2002 elections, which made Gephardt look slightly... well, lame. As for universal health care, that failed under Clinton, and many people expected that it would fail under Gephardt as well. And Dick voted in favor of the war in Iraq, which made him look like a total wanker to pacifist and anti-Bush Democrats. He was also a major protectionist, which didn't resonate with businesspeople. His campaign's credibility largely rested on winning Iowa, and after his dismal fourth-place showing, he decided to drop out.
Bob Graham (Left the race in October)
Senator and former governor of Florida
Going For Him: Graham had never lost an election since he entered politics in the early sixties, making him the most experienced candidate of all. Florida was a hotly-contested state between the two parties, and Graham was also expected to appeal more to swing voters in the endgame, especially because of his strong anti-terrorist stance and work on the Senate Intelligence Committee that investigated 9/11.
Going Against Him: The ideological core of the Democratic Party wanted a more liberal candidate. Graham was not well-known on a national scale, and he lacked the slick charisma of many of his competitors. He had a late start in the campaign. He was also old, and his health was iffy, as he recently had to undergo double bypass surgery and had part of a cow's heart in his chest.
Joseph Lieberman (Left the race in February)
Senator from Connecticut; Al Gore's running mate in 2000
Going For Him: Lieberman ran for vice president last time, so he seemed to be a natural for the presidential nomination. As an Orthodox Jew, he was expected to win the support of many of the Democrats' Jewish constituents, as well as AIPAC. Conservative Democrats liked his policies on censorship.
Going Against Him: Lieberman ran for vice president last time, and was inextricably linked to one of the most partisan political fiascoes in history. As an Orthodox Jew, he scared off many voters who expected him to be the target and/or instigator of Middle East conflict. Liberal Democrats disliked the fact that he was a conservative. And he talked like Ben Stein.
Preacher man and professional candidate from New York
Going For Him: He was well-known, and always gathered votes from the African-American community whenever he runs for office. This time, he was also one of the only hard left-wing candidates in the running, so he appealed more to the ideological core.
Going Against Him: Blacks don't tend to become president, especially when they're as controversial as Sharpton. Sharpton was also the only candidate who hadn't held office and holds only part of a college degree, so his lack of experience was a major issue.
Congressman from Ohio
Going For Him: He was the polar opposite of Bush in almost every area of policy, seeking peaceful foreign relations, universal health care, higher minimum wages, and the like. Voters who are fed up with Bush were drawn to his platform, as the moveon.org primary in 2003 showed (he polled second to Dean).
Going Against Him: Kucinich fiscally destroyed the city of Cleveland, Ohio back in the seventies, which killed his political career for a decade and a half. The powers that be did not forget this. Kucinich also looks so elfin that you'd expect him to sit in a tree making crackers.
, New York Times
, Washington Post