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Handicapping the Candidates
Sunday, February 25, 2007

The day after the 2006 mid-term elections, the race to ’08 began, kicking off what has become a 2-year campaign season. The presidential campaign has never been nearly this long; Bill Clinton announced his candidacy on October 3, 1991; Mario Cuomo, a potential frontrunner, announced he would not run two months later. So at this point in the 1992 presidential election, Dem frontrunners probably looked like: Cuomo, Bradley, Jesse Jackson (!), Jay Rockefeller, Al Gore (who decided not to run), and Dick Gephardt. Most Americans had not heard of Bill Clinton. And wouldn’t for another 8 months.

Two years before he was president of the United States, Jimmy Carter was sufficiently unknown that he appeared on What’s My Line? (true; I saw footage on the Stephanopoulos show this morning.)

What are the odds that the next president of the United States is a relative unknown who has not yet announced his intent to explore the feasibility of considering an announcement that he formally plans to decide whether to run or not? Slim, right?

About all this, 2 things:

1. If history tells us anything, it is that the polls and pundit opinions this far out mean absolutely nothing. It is foolish to conclude that the race comes down to Obama or Hillary versus McCain or Rudy, just because they are the frontrunners 21 months before the election. Right now we are measuring something far closer to name recognition than actual likelihood of vote.

2. I think we can say with certainty that the 2-year campaign cycle is here to stay. Some have speculated that the race has started so early because a sweeping disillusionment with Bush has made Americans yearn for the next administration. And too, the new laws that require you to announce you might announce in order to start raising money have lengthened the cycle. Whatever. The point is, this isn’t the kind of thing that is likely to get undone. I mean, I remember when Christmas started the day after Thanksgiving. Now it starts the day after Halloween. I’m sure we’re moving toward a Christmas season that kicks off on Labor Day.

For those of us who follow politics like its sports, this is great news. It’s like when they made the baseball playoffs longer by adding a round. More news to follow, more games to watch. Is it good for the country? Who cares? It guarantees there’s always something to watch on cable!

But it also means that, as Tom Vilsack found out, raising money is even more important now. In fact, to some extent the campaign is to see who can raise money, not to see who can win the hearts and minds of Americans. Obama just made a bigger splash raising money in Hollywood than others have made winning the Iowa caucuses.

Herewith, APW’s first quadrennial presidential run-down.

Democrats

Hillary Clinton: The frontrunner. She wins all the polls, she has the money, and she has the organization. She has everything a candidate needs on paper. Very soon though, we are going to find out that you don’t win elections on paper, that polls this early are measuring name recognition and nothing else. She does not come off as an expert on the issues, she doesn’t stand for anything in particular, she doesn’t instill a warm feeling of confidence, she doesn’t win over converts when she speaks, she comes off abrasive, she has never debated a meaningful opponent in a major forum, she has yet to engage in the retail politics of baby kissing and rib eating. Very soon—like after the CNN debates in New Hampshire April 4th and 5th—she’s going to start falling back to earth. Because as a candidate, there is no “there” there. She’s going to get trounced in that debate, and it says here she’s an also-ran by December.

Barack Hussein Obama: He’s SO articulate and clean! Seriously, here’s what I think Biden meant to say about him: that Obama is the first African-American candidate for president who isn’t “the black candidate;” he’s a candidate who happens to be black. His race is a descriptive demographic trait, not the defining characteristic of his appeal. He’s the guy with the ‘zazz, the one Hollywood has anointed (as goes David Geffen, so goes Kansas), the guy college kids love. He speaks well, by which I mean, he energizes a crowd; he has that JFK thing going. All this is great stuff, and his buzz and early momentum is deserved. But keep in mind that it is not good to peak too soon. When the ‘zazz dies away, experience remains an issue. He’s been a senator all of 2 years, and before that, he was in the Illinois state legislature. It’s a resume like Abe Lincoln’s, but Lincoln never had to go on Hardball. Yes, America will want someone fresh and new, but I like to think President of the United States is still a job for which your resume is important. If he wins he’d be the first Gen-X president, and personally I think we’re due for one more Boomer. I like him a lot—for 2016. In ’08, he’s going to make someone a very good running mate. (By the way, I do think Americans will vote for a black man. So long as he isn’t a Mormon.)

John Edwards: He’s America’s little brother. I like him for president… of the Des Moines Kiwanis Club. Next!

Dennis Kucinich: Bill Maher made the point recently that there is no such thing as the American left. There seems to be no view that is too far right to be considered mainstream in American politics—including the belief that evolution should be replaced by creationism in our schools-- but we seem to think a left-centrist like Nancy Pelosi is two clicks from Che Guevara (because, you know, she’s from “San Francisco!” Nudge nudge wink wink.) Well, outside of Ralph Nader, there is an American left. And his name is Dennis Kucinich. He’s a decent, earnest guy who voted against the war, and whose ideas deserve a fair hearing. But here’s the thing Dennis: you have to be THIS tall to run.

Al Gore: This is easy. If he runs, he wins. Consider that since 2000, he’s only improved his standing; he turned out to be right on the war (while Bush was drawing a line is the sand on Iraq and WMD, Gore was warning that a war would have lingering consequences and result in a quagmire; it was portrayed in the press as sour grapes, but turns out he was spot on). He was right about the environment (and now there is an actual consensus among the world’s scientists that global warming exists, and that it is 90% likely that man is exacerbating the problem.) He might win both a Nobel Prize and an Oscar this year; he’s a stone cold lock for the Oscar. And oh yeah, all this after actually WINNING the popular vote in 2000, so it isn’t as if his starting position is too shabby. He says he isn’t planning to run, but he can get in late, and within days raise a ton of cash, suck all the air out of the room, and catapult to the pole position. Many are speculating about him using his Oscar acceptance speech tonight to announce. It is sort of a fantasy, but listen to the ovation he gets; if he did announce then, it would be Coolest. Announcement. Ever. Again: if he runs, he’s the next president.

Bill Richardson: I have a friend who says Richardson is a great candidate, and among the reasons he cites is the fact that Richardson is Hispanic, but doesn’t have a Spanish surname. As New Mexico governor, Richardson will be helped by the fact that Nevada has moved up their caucus to January, between Iowa and New Hampshire. New Mexico neighbors Nevada, and besides the state has a high concentration of Latino voters. Richardson is eminently qualified, he has foreign policy experience. He says he’s not going to run as the Latino/Hispanic candidate. But I keep thinking of Paul Rodriguez, a comedian popular in the 80s. He had just one joke, and it went like this: “White folks be all like THIS, but Mexicans be all, like THIS!” It got old fast. Something about Bill Richardson reminds me of Paul Rodriguez. That probably isn’t fair, and it is probably borderline racist. But every time his name comes up someone talks about him being a Latino, way more than Obama’s race ever enters into his candidacy, and that probably isn’t good for him. (But, and I can't stress this enough, at least he’s not a Mormon.) I think he’ll get stronger, and eventually pass Hillary (once her free fall begins) and Edwards.

Joe Biden: Our guy here at APW. He has the tremendous asset of looking like a president, and he has a great command of the issues. And he has an ability, as my wife points out, to speak about the issues in a simple, compelling fashion that makes them understandable and makes him sound smart yet not patronizing. That’s three powerful assets I like in a leader, and Hillary for example doesn’t have any of them. He also has this going for him: he’s right on Iraq. He was first to tout a one-nation, three-state solution. It was an idea that was belittled at first, but that has turned out to have legs, and it will end up being right. And being right on Iraq ought to count for something. I expect Biden to be one of the big winners at the April debates (victory defined by point gain in the polls after the debates.) Edwards will probably also come out with a bump, because he’s third behind Hillary, who will falter, and Obama, who I expect to hold tough.


Republicans

John McCain: This guy has a problem. He was well-liked in 2000 with his Straight Talk Express, and he was—and is—a true crossover candidate, a Republican who Democrats could like. He even disavowed Falwell and Robertson. And therein lies the problem. Because the core of the party’s right wing doesn’t like him, doesn’t trust him, doesn’t see him as a true conservative. So he has to court them. And the more he does—speaking, for example, at Fallwell’s Liberty College—the more he loses his standing with centrists and Dems, the people he will have to appeal to in the general election. I tend to think he, and not Giuliani, is the guy to beat on the Rep side, but like all Rep candidates, he’s going to have a tough time in the general election.

Rudy Giuliani: As a New Yorker, I know just how unlikable and abrasive this guy is. He gets points for losing the comb-over, but the better America gets to know him on the stump, the less they’ll like him. For eight years, here in NYC we would see him on the local news from his command post every time there was a snow storm, a water main break, whatever. He got the plows out and the streets cleared, you have to give him that. But that never made us think for a minute that he could keep it from snowing. After 9/11, though, somehow America got the idea he could, essentially, keep it from snowing. He can’t. I don’t see how he can win the Rep nomination, not unless the conservative wing of the party is prepared to vote for a pro-choice, pro-gay rights, anti-gun, twice-divorced candidate. And I don’t see that happening.

Sam Brownback: Credit for his opposition to the surge. He is the social conservative that the conservatives seem to want, and I don’t understand why he doesn’t have more traction. I actually think this guy is a sleeper, and I expect him to have legs if he can raise the dough. He’s one of the guys who will gain ground when the leaders hit the inevitable wall of “we’re sick of these guys” that a 2-year race will inevitably breed. But this is a guy who is in too deep with the zealots, and in a general election he will play like a religious nut.

Mike Huckabee: His faith has a soft edge, he comes off as reasonable, and a lot of Rep pundits like the guy. He'll wear well, and he'll play well. I think he’d be a strong candidate. But let’s face it, no way this country ever sends a guy from Hope, Arkansas to the White House.

Mitt Romney: Good bloodlines, looks like a president. But there’s the Mormon thing. The religious nuts won’t vote for a different kind of religious nut. And too, he has a problem like Rudy; Giuliani as mayor of NYC, and Romney as governor of Massachusetts, are both Reps who managed to win over a heavily Dem constituency. They position that as, “Hey, I’m general election material!” But the positions they took, the things they said (In print and, worse, on camera) to appeal to those Dem constituencies, will haunt them in this age of YouTube. I’ve already seen Romney speak in favor of abortion rights and gay marriage.

Newt Gingrich: Not running. If he runs, he mat become the candidate with conservative street cred that the party ideologues crave. But I still think he comes off as a guy named Newt.

Labels: ,


Posted by: --josh-- @ 12:26 PM  


1 Comments:
At 2/25/2007 5:19 PM, Anonymous Annie said...   

1) Would you have a problem with President Gore? Seriously. Because I know I wouldn't. Also, could he win with VP Clinton? VP Obama? VP Biden?

2) On 9/11, didn't you think to yourself, "Well, thank God that idiot Giuliani's in charge"? I did.

3) Just an aside: it does not take brains, humility, or spiritual goodness to be a good president, and these things combined could be considered a guarantee of being in the Top Ten Worst Presidents Ever. Refer, if you will, to the text on Jimmy Carter.


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