What a difference a year makes. As 2004 dawned, a sputtering economy and a stubborn war made George W. Bush look unusually vulnerable for an incumbent president. Democrats lined up to challenge him-10 in all, trudging through the January snows of Iowa and New Hampshire, looking for the early wins that would turn them into true contenders.
Some of the flame-outs were predictable enough: former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun never made it to the first round of voting, and racial provocateur Al Sharpton failed to become a power broker in the mode of Jesse Jackson.
For others, though, primary season was full of unexpected highs and heartaches. House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri, one of the most powerful figures in Washington, bowed out after an embarrassing fourth-place finish in neighboring Iowa. Former VP nominee Joseph Lieberman failed to sell his centrist message despite his national name recognition, and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean went from darling to disgrace with a single speech.
Meanwhile, three candidates erupted from the single digits to become true contenders. John Kerry's surprise, back-to-back wins in Iowa and New Hampshire made him the man to beat, while John Edwards and retired Gen. Wesley Clark campaigned as more moderate alternatives to the new front-runner. Though Mr. Clark managed to pull off wins in Oklahoma and Arizona, it was Mr. Edwards's consistent record of second-place finishes in all regions of the country that made him the obvious choice for running mate once Mr. Kerry sewed up the nomination on March 17.