Sunday, January 15, 2006

Handicapping 2008-the Democrats

Now we'll move on to 2008. Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about 2006. I'll post interesting stories about 2006 races as the news comes up. But 2008, for obvious reasons, is a far more significant race, the one everyone is looking ahead to. Congressional races are obviously impossible to handicap, as it's three years out and there's no clue who is running, who is retiring, or who is in trouble. So we'll concetrate strictly on the Presidency here. And oh, is this one going to be fun. For the first time in oh, I don't know, a heck of a long time, both parties will enter 2008 with open fields. The Democrats naturally are out of power, so we expected them to have an open field. But Bush doesn't have a clear successor either. Cheney is almost certainly not going to run, and even if he did he wouldn't be the frontrunner because he is generally considered unelectable. Let's face it, his personality is not one that inspires love from the masses.

Of course, this far out we really don't know for sure who is running and who is not. We only know who is interested. At least half of those interested in running won't make it to the first primary. Many more will decide not to run in early 2007 and say so. Some who were speculated to be running, like Mark Sanford and Al Gore, have made it clear they won't run. So the first thing we need to look at is who is running?

For the Democrats, we have these prospects:

Evan Bayh- A DLC favorite, the most conservative Democrat likely to run. Not much charisma, but a responsible, steady guy. As governor of Indiana, he was known as cautious and responsible. He ran a budget surplus and didn't raise taxes in his eight years of governing. I have no doubt he would make a solid President. The problem with Bayh is that he won't generate much excitement among primary voters. He can only win if the rest of the field makes them want to flock to someone steady and responsible. Bayh will likely declare his candidacy, and he will probably make it through at least the first couple of primaries.

Joe Biden- A longtime legislator, former Presidential candidate. A great speaker, but over the years the base seems to have grown less enamored with him. He's a compromiser by nature. Another very responsible,thoughtful guy. A mainstream liberal compared to Bayh's conservativeness. Problem is, I just don't see it working. The party has sent a lot of Northeastern liberals up, only to have them soundly defeated by the GOP. Biden is the both of all worlds: a liberal who isn't loved by the liberal base. He would make a decent President, but there are many better to choose from. I don't think he'll even declare, because he won't raise any money.

Wes Clark- Anyone paying attention in 2004 remembers this guy. Took the party by storm in late 2003 but flamed out early. Personally, I think it's because he didn't run as a general. He let himself be packaged as Mr. Democrat and was as slick as any politician. The problem with that is that being viewed as a politician rather than a general means he gets compared to the other politicians. Other politicians with more experience and who are better at playing the game. At this point, I see no sign that Clark has learned anything from his defeat in the primaries. I don't think he'll bother to declare, and even if he does he won't be a factor unless he runs on a solid national security platform.

John Edwards- In contrast to Wes Clark, Edwards has shown that he's learned from the 2004 campaign. Edwards is a brilliant, telegenic candidate, with an idea for every problem. He's got a great story, being the son of a millworker who went to law school, became a trial lawyer, and is now a great family man. Unlike Clinton, another young southerner, he won't have bimbo eruptions. Edwards run in 2004 basically mirrored his career as a trial lawyer. It was all about fighting for the little guy. A nice idea in theory, the US is a lot more complicated place than that. There aren't "Two Americas" there are dozens of Americas, representing the diversity of this great nation. Edwards, if his recent speeches are any indication, seems to have grown beyond his trial lawyer worldview of Little People vs. Evil Corporations. He will almost certainly run and he will almost certainly go at least until the southern primaries. And I think he has a good shot at the nomination.

Russ Feingold- Feingold is an interesting case. The far left of the party really seems to want to get behind him based on his willingness to speak out against Bush policies when many other Democrats scurry for political cover. However, he's not so much a liberal doctrinaire as a maverick who has some right-wing positions as well. Like Howard Dean in 2004, he believes in the 2nd amendment right for individuals to bear arms. He's also against pork barrel spending. Realistically, he has little chance of winning the nomination. He's a liberal without the benefit of being able to mobilize the Democrat's traditional interest groups. However, it is possible he could make a splash in New Hampshire, a state that LOVES mavericks. But once campaigning shifts to the South and Midwest, he's toast.

John Kerry- John Kerry is under the impression that Democrats chose him in 2004 because they loved him. He's also under the impression that because he came close to unseating Bush in 2004, that he has a shot in 2008. He'd be wrong on both counts. John Kerry has one man to thank for his win in 2004- Howard Dean, who sent supporters scurrying to find a responsible, sane candidate to support. Kerry was the most liberal candidate left standing. Edwards was too green, Lieberman too conservative, Gephardt had just choked in Iowa. Even if he does win the nomination, he won't beat the GOP nominee unless it's someone insane like Santorum. I woudln't count on it though. The GOP doesn't pick candidates who can't win, at least not since 1964. Hard to say whether he'll actually declare or not. If he does, he'll go far simply because he'll raise decent money and has name recognition. But he is unlikely to win unless the field is extraordinarily weak.

Bill Richardson- Richardson is in my opinion the most qualified person to run for President of the likely field. A very successful governor of New Mexico, a Secretary of Energy, and a UN ambassador. All three of those pertain directly to the problems we'll be facing in 2008. The only question is whether primary voters will get excited about him. He has informed the party that he intends to run, so that's probably a sure thing. If he's the only governor in the race, his chances of winning are excellent, as governors tend to wipe the floor with Senators on the campaign trail. But if Mark Warner, a good, but not AS good, governor gets in the race, Warner's charisma could defeat Richardson's superiority on substance. Not that Warner isn't a man of substance. Its' just that Richardson is far more qualified and a far more successful governor.

Mark Warner- Warner is also a successful governor. What is making him attractive to primary voters is the fact he's a southerner who won in a red state. He'd probably make a fine President too. He balanced his budget, but he did it by raising taxes, unlike Richardson and Bayh. His record on crime is excellent. His approval rating in Virginia is 80%. The fact that he can win Virginia alone makes him formidable. However much better Richardson is, Richardson's state is not necessary for the party to win. Virginia on the other hand would be huge.

Barbara Boxer- Yeah, right. As loony as Santorum, albeit on the left rather than the right. Liberal activists want her to run, but even she's not that delusional I would suspect. If she does run, she goes nowhere. She'd be lucky to get past 3% anywhere but the Pacific Coast.

Phil Bredesen- Another governor, another good one. Great campaigner as well, probably better than Warner, although Warner's done a much better job of getting press at this point. He has a strong background in health care, another issue that will be important in 2008.

Hillary Clinton- The obvious frontrunner should she run, which seems likely. She's managed to annoy many party faithful with her centrist positions and extreme hawkishness on national security. Nothing wrong with that strategy however, as she's got the nomination should she want it. The only way she can be defeated is if those same party faithful annoyed with her centrism and hawkishness rally behind er, someone else centrist and hawkish, like Richardson or Warner or Bayh. More likely they'll rally around Feingold. That won't get them far.

Tom Daschle- Who? I don't think so. Feckless, uncharismatic, a loser in 2004, and a loser when it came to getting the Democrats to put up serious opposition to the GOP in the Senate. Not the kind of man anyone really wants leading this country.

Chris Dodd- As a friend of mine said, the answer to the question no one was asking? Will Chris Dodd run? In a field which may already have two northeastern liberals, Dodd is the third wheel. And the least charismatic one to boot.

Al Gore-Sure, he said he wouldn't run, but Gore is the kind of guy to change his mind if he thinks he has a shot. Actually, I take back what I said about Hillary. Gore can beat her because he provides a liberal person for the base to rally around to defeat Hillary. He'll also be able to attract the interest groups better than any other candidate. The question for voters is, who is the real Al Gore? Is the real Al Gore the conservative candidate who ran in 1988? Is he the New Democrat who governed with Bill Clinton for eight years? Is he the liberal who ran for President in 2000? Or is he the extreme progressive champion who has spoken out on many issues since 2000? Does he even know?

Dennis Kucinich- Probably the least qualified man in the field, having held numerous positions in government and been a failure at all of them. Has some of the worst ideas ever articulated in public by a Congressman. Non-profit health care system? Dept. of Peace? If he runs, he'll do as well as he did in 2004.

Gary Locke- Another very successful governor, this time from Washington. Another Democrat who didn't raise taxes. What sets him apart from Richardson and Warner is the fact that not only did he not raise taxes, but he had the courage to make deep budget cuts in order to keep that promise. At a time when even Republican governors were caving in and raising taxes.

Barack Obama- A future superstar in the party. Smart, charismatic, honest, and clear-headed on national security. Very liberal, but with his leadership skills that won't be an obstacle. I'm sure everyone would love to see him run in 2008, but that's probably not in the cards. I'd say his target for running is 2016.

Tom Vilsack- Another governor, but by far the weakest in the field. Typical Democrat despite his centrist reputation. Massively increased spending, and vetoed attempts by the legislature to cut taxes and ease business regulation. This in the face of a recession. The base likes him, but he's just not Presidential timbre.

It's really far out, so I'll probably be spectaculalry wrong here, but this is what I think will happen:

Bayh, Edwards, Feingold, Kerry, Richardson, Warner, and Clinton will make it to Iowa.

My money is on Clinton. Second would be Warner, who will probably stick around the longest. Edwards, Richardson and Bayh will also probably hang around awhile. Feingold and Kerry will be out early.