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With the demise of Howard Dean and the emergence of John Kerry, the White House has seen its big chance for a blowout on the scale of the Nixon and Reagan landslides slip away.

President Bush remains the winter-book favorite to win in 2004. Perhaps going away. After all, Kerry is a Massachusetts liberal who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, backs civil unions for homosexuals, voted to defend the infanticide known as partial-birth abortion and wants to raise the federal income taxes that George Bush lowered.

And like Dean, another New England liberal, he lacks that rapport with African-Americans that civil-rights champions like LBJ and Hubert Humphrey, and Southerners like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton naturally have.

Nevertheless, the White House would be advised to take Kerry seriously. For the country has changed since the Silent Majority days of Nixon and Agnew and the “Reagan Democrat” days of the 1980s.

The great proletarian cultural revolution of the 1960s has been absorbed and internalized by much of the baby-boomer generation and its GenX offspring. But the conservative Silent Generation of the 1950s is small and the Greatest Generation of World War II is fading away.

California, which Nixon carried all five times he was on a national ticket and lost only to Gov. Pat Brown in the wake of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, and which Reagan won four times, is moving out of reach of the national Republicans. Yet, California has more than one-fifth of the electoral votes needed to win the White House.

There now exists a Northern Strategy for the Democratic Party, the elements of which, for John Kerry, are as follows:

If nominated, Kerry must be conceded Hawaii (4), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (12), Rhode Island (4), New York (31) and D.C. (3), for 64 electoral votes. These five states, plus D.C., will be virtually uncontested.

Since 2000, California has been awarded two more electoral votes. Kerry should be favored in the Hispanicizing Golden State (55), as well as Oregon (7) and Washington (11). Al Gore swept the Left Coast. Should Kerry do likewise, this would give him 73 additional electoral votes, bringing his total up to 137.

Assume Kerry cedes to Bush all the other Western, Mountain and Plains states all the way to the Missouri River. He can still win. His imperative is this: He must sweep the Rust Belt that has borne the brunt of a 2.8 million manufacturing jobs loss under Bush.

If Kerry can win New Jersey (15), Pennsylvania (21), Ohio (20), West Virginia (5), Michigan (17), Illinois (21) and the anti-war Upper Midwest – Wisconsin (10), Minnesota (10), Iowa (7) – he can put in his bag an additional 126 electoral votes for a total of 263.

Kerry is now only seven votes shy of the presidency.

Any two out of the three Upper New England states – Ben and Jerry’s Vermont (3), New Hampshire (4), which Kerry just won, and Maine (4), which Bush’s father lost in 1992 and GWB lost in 2000, puts Kerry over the top. Winning Connecticut (8) alone would do it.

If Kerry were to put Gephardt on the ticket, that could give him Missouri (11) for a cushion. It would also help Kerry in Iowa and Illinois, across the river from Gephardt’s St. Louis district, as well as in the indispensable industrial heartland where Gephardt’s anti-NAFTA and fair trade stands retain their resonance.

It is thus possible for Kerry to lose every Southern state and every Mountain and Plains state, and win the Oval Office. But there is no reason Kerry cannot be competitive in Arizona (8) and New Mexico (5). Then there is Florida (27).

Kerry’s campaign will almost surely be polling the Sunshine State to determine if Sen. Bob Graham has recovered the popularity he lost during his brutal but failed campaign against George Bush on the war issue. Had Bob Graham not run for president, and not done so poorly, he would be at the top of the short list of vice presidential prospects.

If Kerry can win Florida, he can afford to lose Ohio and West Virginia to Bush, who carried both narrowly in 2000 but is in trouble there now.

Kerry’s problem is that he not only comes from Massachusetts, but that he votes Massachusetts. He not only talks the talk, he walks the walk. His votes for unrestricted abortion on demand and support of civil unions for homosexuals may be mainstream in Cambridge, Mass., but they put him beyond the pale in Middle America.

Let it be said: George Bush is beatable. He has no explanation and no cure for the hemorrhaging of manufacturing jobs at Depression rates, no plan to stop the outsourcing of white-collar jobs to Asia, no desire or will to stop the invasion from Mexico.

Yet, he remains a favorite against Kerry, because Kerry has no answers, either. Both are globalists. Both are free-traders. Both favor open borders. Again, it needs to be said: There is no conservative party in America.

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