Election 2008, part 1: The Dems

Everyone is pretty much resigned to 2008 being an ugly election year. Barring the imminent death/dismissal of Dick Cheney, a sitting vice president will not be rrunning for the oval office. That means it’s wide open on both sides, and if you thought the Democratic primaries were a circus in ’04, wait until you’re slammed with primaries for two parties in ’08 — with over ten candidates per party! That’s a lot of ego, and the vast majority of it is grossly inflated. It’s impossible to know who will survive the coming media war, since heaps of dirt have yet to be dug up on most candidates. You can never predict who will be accused of corruption, sexual deviance, or having a black baby next year (better hide the kids, Barack). Nonetheless, I’m going to take a shot at predicting the top five candidates most likely to win their party’s nomination in 2008. Today, the Democrats:

1. John Edwards
Edwards has a few things going for him that put him on top for now. First, he has national name recognition, behind only Hillary and probably on par with Obama. Second, geography is on his side, now that 2006 has shown it is possible to make a red state bend blue under the right circumstances. Third, he succeeds on the human interest/likeability side — the tragedy of his son’s death and his wife’s cancer help humanize him, and his law career was spent helping individuals fight for money in corporate negligence and medical malpractice cases. He comes across as a guy who sincerely cares, compared to the considerably colder Hillary Clinton. Most importantly, he has learned lessons from a national campaign already, and is unlikely to repeat the mistakes he made in 2004. He’s already building himself a strong public image regarding the war, heading off any new claims of opportunism or flip-floppishness. He’s even coining new buzzwords, in order to try and win the framing battle that helped the Republicans defeat John Kerry. He carries none of the stigma that Hillary does — Democrats either like him or don’t seem too sure either way yet. The one big spot where he fails is in foreign policy. That’s going to be a top issue, if not the top issue in 2008, and Edwards simply lacks foreign policy credentials. He will need a campaign team and running mate that will help counterbalance this significant downside, but for now everything is going the right way for him.

2. Hillary Clinton
There are a number of big problems with Hillary. The biggest is that there simply aren’t a lot of undecided voters when it comes to her — everyone already knows if they like her or not, and for a substantial voting bloc, it’s a definite “not.” It’s unclear what Hillary really stands for or embodies as a candidate — she hasn’t been the leading public voice on any single issue since the health care debacle of Bill’s first term. Her relative hawkishness on the Iraq war is extremely unpopular within her party. She has little charisma or charm as a public speaker. So why is she #2 on this list? Because: she’s the default choice. Every other Democrat is going to have to fight just to be heard by as many people as possible; she’ll have the media following her every appearance. The grassroots liberals who can’t stand her don’t have a Howard Dean to rally around this election, and their influence may be greatly diminished if they split their vote between Edwards, Obama, and others.

3. Barack Obama
Short of tragedy, it’s hard to believe the 45-year-old Barack Obama won’t be president… someday. He’s intelligent, a spectacular public speaker, and a charming family man beloved by women of all political affiliations. Never mind that he’s biracial, his middle name is Hussein, and his surname has already been the subject of inevitable bumbling by Ted Kennedy, CNN, and others. The man has all the right stuff, and people are going to want to elect him. But where’s the experience? He just doesn’t have much to his name yet. Certainly there’s minimal foreign policy experience, but more immediately concerning is his lack of campaign experience. He’s run two major political campaigns to date: the first he lost by a good margin, and the second he won follwing the self-destruction of one opponent after another. Does he have the skills to win the biggest campaign of all? I just don’t see it… yet.

4. Bill Richardson
No US senator since JFK has won the presidency. Senators usually go in with the most money, and in the greatest numbers; but it is governors who more commonly ascend to the country’s highest office. Any senator leaves behind him a trail of votes that can be twisted and contorted to paint whatever image the opposition likes, while governors tend to have a greater element of mystery — and, therefore, a tougher image to crack. Plus, governors have, y’know, actually governed — something that would seem more relevant to being president than legislating. At the front of the governors’ line this time for the Democrats is Bill Richardson of New Mexico. He might be the best “experience” candidate, having served as a congressman, US Secretary of Energy, and (foreign policy points!!!) Ambassador to the United Nations. He is Mexican-American, so electing him would be every bit as progressive as selecting Obama or Hillary in that sense. Unfortunately, with the country as paranoid as it has been, this may not be the time for a hispanic president with relatively liberal views on illegal immigration. Also, he lags on the national name recognition front in a huge way.

5. Wesley Clark
Wes Clark ran a terrible campaign in 2004, but he still has some things going for him: real military credentials, a great brain for economics, and the ability to rally Democrats of all philosophical shades, moderate and not so moderate. He’s not a seasoned politician, which could make him more likeable in a crowd of Joe Bidens (though it didn’t quite work that way for him last time). If primary voters are unhappy with the choices they’re given and Clark plays his cards right, he could be a surprise winner.

Should Al Gore decide to run, this list could change, but he’d better hurry up. These Democrats will not win no matter what happens: Tom Vilsack, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and Dennis Kucinich.

But the guy perhaps least likely of all to win is Mike Gravel.

In my next post, I’ll investigate the Republican side of primary season.

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