When Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio was asked in a presidential primary debate about Democrats who don't consider him electable, he shot back: "Well, you know, I'm electable if you vote for me."
He, like many of his rivals, hopes voters judge him for his positions, character, and résumé. But in this election year, a high number of voters are playing political pundits, checking the electoral-college math, and often ignoring issues to see if someone has "electability."
Translation: Pick anyone who can beat President Bush.
The latest Newsweek poll finds 78 percent of voters feel Mr. Bush will be reelected. But while about half of Democratic voters would support a candidate who reflects their own views, 39 percent want someone who can simply take back the White House.
Such calculated strategic voting is driven by an anger and dislike of Bush - for the 2000 election anomaly and his actions, such as the Iraq war. Many candidates are focusing on their ability to win rather than how they would govern. Retired Gen. Wesley Clark even held an "electability rally."
But elections are diminished when voters don't choose a candidate who best represents them, putting pragmatism ahead of principles. If every voter simply tried to figure out what other voters want in a president, who would be the authentic voter?
Voters have complex reasons for choosing candidates, but to pick someone because he's not like Bush and can beat him runs the risk of overlooking a candidate's positions and ignores key differences with the other candidates. The tag of electability is also fickle, as pundits and candidates often discover. Democrats should pick someone who's more than simply the best anti-Bush.