Sunday, November 12, 2006


I've spent much time monitoring a monthly GOP presidential straw poll, yet I cannot locate a similar one for the Democrats. With that in mind, I intended to do a rundown of current Democratic contenders, taking into account the early "dropouts", Mark Warner and Russ Feingold. I quote dropouts because they never actually declared, but their names were widely bandied about as potential candidates before they personally put the breaks on their prospective candidacies.

I was an early supporter of Mark Warner as he was a former governor of Virginia, an obstensibly southern state. I get all squishy inside for governors running for president as it's been a successful route for many a winner, including Bush II, Clinton, Reagan, and Carter; or three of the last four to hold the office. Contrast that with senators, who have a grand total of one win (and a dubious one at that) stretching back to 1960 when JFK did so.

As I noted earlier, I intended to do a rundown of the current contenders when, lo and behold, Democratic strategist Joe Trippi went it did it for me already! And a fine job he did. Have a look. For clarity's sake, I'll include whatever thought I have in italics (from the Washington Post):

Front-runner: Hillary Rodham Clinton
She has it all -- the ability to raise the money; a political team that's among the best, if not the best, in the party; a strong base of support; and an uncanny ability to avoid political mistakes. And I don't care what anyone says -- her husband is one of two rock stars in the Democratic Party and a huge asset.
Ironically, the problem with Clinton's candidacy arises from her strength. Front-runners have something to lose, so they almost always run cautious, safe campaigns. This almost cost John Kerry the nomination in 2004, and could cost the senator from New York the nomination in 2008. Her strength also creates the certainty that a campaign of bold new ideas will emerge to oppose her. She is so strong within the party that, with so many contemplating a run against her, the only viable option for a serious challenger is to put forth innovative ideas in hopes of breaking out of the pack. And there are plenty in the Democratic Party who are capable of doing that.

[Like much of the left blogosphere, I was no fan of Hillary, feeling she was just too despised by the the right and well-defined by much of the electorate to have any chance at winning the general. Then I took a gander at an exhaustive article by The Atlantic and found myself intrigued. I'm still not sold on her, but my mind is more opened than it was.]

The "Other" Rock Star: Barack Obama
He's the one candidate who can wrestle Bill Clinton for support in the black community and win. All the others are both thrilled about and terrified of this guy. They're thrilled that he might take black votes from Hillary. They're terrified because he might take a lot more votes from them and become a co-front-runner the day he enters the race, if he does. Obama's obvious downside is inexperience. Three years ago, he was an Illinois state senator; in 2008, he will not have completed his first U.S. Senate term. So he had better have some ideas -- or wait till next time.

[After Warner dropped out, I gravitated somewhat towards Obama, though I am by no means 100% sold on him. I fear a similar smear tactic that was used against Harold Ford in Tennessee's ugly Senate race might also prove effective against Barack. Still, consider him my prohibitive choice at this moment.]

The Oxygen Taker: Al Gore
Talk about setting a progressive agenda with bold new ideas. The man is doing it and he doesn't even have a job. In a party that tends to treat its past nominees like lepers, Gore has done an amazing job of reemerging as an important thought leader on issues such as the Iraq war and global warming. If he throws his hat into the ring, he will immediately suck all the oxygen out of the room for most of the other candidates. The media won't be able to stop doing the Hillary vs. Al 800-pound-gorillas-go-at-it stories. Everyone but Obama will be reduced to begging for attention. But entering the race means he suddenly would have something to lose. Could candidate Gore stop himself from playing it safe?

[He's not afraid to speak out and take an unpopular position, as evidenced by his early opposition to the Iraq war back in 2003. Granted, he was in a position where he had nothing to lose, so it's not like he was risking much politically. I fear we'd be looking at a dusting off of the anti-Gore playbook if he were the nominee, where we'd hear retreads of Gore the Exagerator and Gore the Wooden Man; neither of which was particularly clever or necessarily accurate.]

The Champion of 2006: John Edwards
Hands down the guy who improved his position the most this year. Edwards leads the field in early polls in Iowa, which is more important than ever, because the 2008 nominating process is more front-loaded than in prior years. The former North Carolina senator has a bevy of ideas, and is the only Southerner, important to a party that has elected only two presidents in the past 30 years -- both from the South. All of which earns him a down arrow -- because once you take the lead in Iowa, the entire field tries to destroy you. Good luck.

[Whereas I appreciate his more lowkey and positive message, I'm not certain that it can work in this type of environment, where it's often the ugliest message getting the most attention. Being a private citizen for the last couple of years can no doubt help his outsider cred, a big plus for any Senator. For me, Edwards gets a big "wait and see" from me.]

Down but Not Out: John Kerry
The former presidential nominee was doing quite well until the "botched joke." Democratic losses in the House or Senate would have made a comeback impossible, so no one was happier than Kerry last Tuesday. The senator from Massachusetts is going to need to present some bold ideas to regain relevance in this field; I'd start with Iraq. And for those who want to count this guy out: He has come back from the dead before. Trust me, I speak from experience. Handicaps? It's all up from here or he's out.

[Not interested. Unlike Gore (who won the popular vote), Kerry was defeated. I see nothing he can offer that we haven't already seen. And like the attacks on Gore, we'd just be looking at a flip-flopper redux. No thanks.]

Chairman of Foreign Relations: Joe Biden
The senator from Delaware is doing what Kerry should do: taking the lead on the Iraq war and staking out ideas for bringing our troops home safely. But the down arrow stays until someone gets this guy to shut up and listen.

[But if he's president, how will he continue with his prodigious appearances on Sunday morning talkshows? Seriously, this guy has never met a camera he didn't need to talk to. The guy walks through a Best Buy and feels the need to talk to an associate because he happens to be in the camera section. I'm not fan of the guy; can you tell?]

Running to the Right: Evan Bayh
A senator who has actually run a government, the former governor of Indiana also hails from the region that may be most critical to a Democratic electoral victory -- the Midwest. In 2004, Democrats lost Missouri and Ohio, electoral votes that would have put Kerry over the top. Bayh could be the best bet for picking up three or four Midwestern states. He seems to be running to Clinton's right, which will prove to be either pure genius (he has a lane all to himself) or a disaster -- ask President Joe Lieberman.

[See the Lieberman reference above. Skewing to the right is no way to gain my support.]

The One to Watch: Russ Feingold
Perhaps the most authentic candidate, the senator from Wisconsin has a deep connection to the grass roots and is a favorite of the party's progressive wing. If President Bush stays stubborn on Iraq and the rest of the field plays it safe, Feingold could get very hot.

[As I noted previously, he officially removed himself from contention earlier.]

A Resume to Die For: Bill Richardson
He'd be the first Hispanic to make a presidential run, and his r?sum? covers nearly every issue, foreign or domestic. Need bold ideas on immigration? New Mexico Gov. Richardson has grappled with that. Ideas on energy? Ask former energy secretary Richardson. How to deal with a nuclear North Korea? Former U.N. ambassador Richardson knows the turf. But can he raise the money, and earn enough early support to get his ideas into the mix?

[Eh, he's a governor, so you'd think I'd be hot for him, but I'm not big on the guy. I'm open to being convinced though.]

The General: Wesley Clark
He still has a strong following among progressives and the netroots and could get traction if there's no consensus on a new Iraq strategy soon.

[His major problem last time around was what a political novice he was. After two-plus years of media appearances and honing his message, I believe he could be an attractive candidate.]

More Than a Cameo: Tom Vilsack
I thought the Iowa governor's candidacy was a cameo until I saw him speak at Renaissance Weekend last year. He clearly gets that this will be an election about ideas. Vilsack will have a tough fight -- but I'm the last guy to bet against a governor from a small rural state.

[I've no opinion on Vilsack at this point.]

So, that's the people at this point. I would think over the next several weeks we'll see some of these people drop off and probably one or two join up. I'll track this list over the coming months and if anybody knows of any solid straw polls, drop me a line in the comments section.

1 comment:

The Ripper said...

I think the 2008 election is the Democrats to lose UNLESS they nominate Hillary, who as we all know is toxic to about 50% of the electorate. It's surprising that Al Gore is flying so quietly under everyone's radar: He's the guy who will ultimately stop the Hillary express. He was shafted in 2000, was right on Iraq, has the experience, and has been a true visionary and leader on the environment.