George Will asks the question, “Could Howard Dean get 4.4% more than Dukakis?” After all, that is a small percentage:
Dukakis’s campaign lurched from his advice to Iowa farmers (grow endive) to his stance toward the Pledge of Allegiance (he opposed mandating that Massachusetts’s school days begin with it) to his weekend-release program for convicts (it enabled a murderer to commit a rape) to his affectless answers to questions about whether he would favor capital punishment for a person who raped and murdered his wife (gracious, no, we must not “glorify vengeance”) to his bobble-head appearance riding in the tank. His campaign is rightly remembered as the locus classicus of political incompetence.
Yet in spite of all his misadventures, Dukakis, a chilly vessel of New England’s starchy, hectoring liberalism, running in a conservative decade and in an unpromising year against Republican peace (the Soviet Union was crumbling) and prosperity (the unemployment rate was 5.5, the economy’s growth rate was a robust 4.1), convinced 41,809,074 Americans. Sixteen years later — and four years after an essentially tied election — there is a polarizing president who may have made the undecided “swing” voter an endangered species. How confident can Republicans really be that Dean or any other Democrat cannot conceivably get 4.4 percent more of the popular vote than Dukakis got?