It's been a while since I've ranked and reviewed the field, and the picture has changed somewhat since then. Here's who's up, down and (even if they don't know it yet) out of play from my vantage point.
: Senator Kerry has always been at the top of my list, and recent developments have done a lot to justify my faith. A stronger campaign team, sharper campaign message and significant campaign success has converted his so-called 'front-runner' status of a year ago into the Real Deal. Last year his presumed lead was a media illusion. Today it's the considered judgement of actual voters. Of course, there are a lot more voters to hear from, but they're starting to listen and they seem to like what they hear.
The biggest potential stumbling block, though, is for Kerry to get to complacent with his success. He needs to stay hungry and fight for every vote, every delegate, everywhere. I think he will.
: The most eloquent candidate in the field, Edwards' New Hampshire performance was a disappointment to some after his suprise showing in Iowa, but as the race turns South, his prospects grow brighter. There's a funding question - how many trial lawyers are there, anyway? - and a substantial experience gap that he's managed to avoid by putting an 'outsider' gloss on his pitch, despite being an incumbent U.S. Senator.
He insists that he's not running for Vice President, and I believe him. He wants the top of the ticket nomination, but I suspect it's just out of reach for him. Maybe not, though. He's certainly the top contender to Kerry. Personally, I think he'd be the perfect complement to Kerry, post-convention.
: Based on the breadth of his organization and his fundraising potential, Dean has to be tagged for third place in the field, but really, it's over. All that money, all those email addresses, all the hype wasn't enough to put him within single digits in two of his strongest states. There's no win in sight in the next round, either.
In fairness, he's done well for an insurgent candidate in many respects, has a very faithful throng of supporters and has revolutionized small donor fundraising for Democratic politicians. He won't be the nominee, though, and shouldn't be. The sooner he turns his energy and expertise away from his increasingly divisive 'anti-establishment' crusade and gets behind a real campaign to recapture the Presidency and the Congress - and I believe he can have a positive impact in both arenas - the better for everyone.
: With all due respect to my friends in the Clark camp, there's just no valid rationale for his candidacy at this point. A long time ago, in a place far away (OK, last month in New Hampshire) it seemed like he was a real possiblity for people searching for the Anti-Dean. Well, Iowa pretty much put an end to the idea that we really needed an Anti-Dean, of that Wes Clark was the leading prospect for the position if we did need one. Dean's collapse (and two consecutive double digit losses for a guy who celebrated last Christmas as the so-called 'pre-emptive' front runner is a collapse, no matter how hard Trippi spins) is Clark's downfall.
But it's always good to have ex-General's on the Democratic side, and we could really use a Democratic Senator from Arkansas.
: Dennis Kucinich is a message candidate, and it's a message that's welcome in the Democratic Party debate. I still think he's the most authentic voice of the Wellstonian 'Democratic wing of the Democratic Party,' and I'm glad there's still someone willing to say 'single payer health care' out loud everywhere Democrats gather. I have a real soft spot for the guy, and look forward to watching him fight the good fight in the House of Representatives for many years to come. Meanwhile, I hope he can muster a handful of delegates and secure a decent speaking slot in Boston.
: His mother is right, you know. He is a good man, and contrary to some of the bashing he takes, he's taken more good votes than bad ones as a Senator. Unlike his mother, though, I'm not surprised that his campaign hasn't taken off. It's time to go, Joe.
: Another message candidacy. A lesser one. But he will almost certainly get his handful of delegates, and his convention speech could provide some welcome entertainment.
That, anyway, is how I see it. Over the next few weeks, I expect this will boil down to a Kerry v. Edwards contest that I hope will turn into a Kerry & Edwards ticket.
Actually, things haven't changed very much at all from my vantage point...