Thursday, May 04, 2006

Handicapping 2008-the Republicans

Now it's time for the Republicans. The first thing to consider is how George Bush's popularity or more likely lack thereof will affect the contenders. My own take is that some candidates who have really tied their horse to Bush's popularity by carrying water for him over the year(such as Frist and Allen) are going to be hurt by association with him, while the outsiders and mavericks should be relatively unaffected. Here are profiles of those Republicans likely to attempt a run:

George Allen- Allen is probably closer to Bush politically than any of the other candidates, and is thus a favorite of Republican insiders. He was a pretty successful governor of Virginia before being elected to the Senate. His drawbacks are many, however. He's not a good speaker, he has race problems in his past, his sister wrote a book detailing years of abuse at his hands, and he's generally not considered one of the brighter bulbs in the Senate. Since GOP primaries tend to be more coronations than actual exercises in democracy, he can't be discounted. But if Bush is still hovering below 50% in early 2008, Allen won't be a good pick. And if there's one thing Republicans haven't done since 1964, it's pick a sure loser(with the exception of Dole, but that's because Clinton was unbeatable anyway and it was Dole's turn).

Haley Barbour- Barbour has become prominent because of his handling of the Katrina crisis. Although he'll never be compared to Rudy Giuliani, he did a much better job than Blanco did. He was also a very successful Republican National Chairman, so we know he knows his politics. The problem for him is that he's not very charismatic, comes from a small red state, and although a competent governor, doesn't exactly have much better than a C+ record to run on. If he's the only governor in the race, he's got a decent chance, but if Huckabee and Giuliani are in the race, he's second-tier.

Sam Brownback-With Bush's popularity waning, and thus Allen and Frist's as well, Brownback is quickly becoming a favorite of religious conservatives. Although not especially charismatic, he's a very down to earth speaker who can connect with an audience and persuade. His economic conservatism is appealing to the remainder of the Republican base, but it's obvious he's setting himself up as first and foremost a values candidate. This guy's top tier, although I question whether he can beat any but the weakest Democrats in the general election.

Bill Frist- Frist's stock has fallen not just because of Bush's slide in the polls, but due to his ineffectiveness as majority leader. He's got a good biography, being a doctor. He also has the virtue of sticking to a campaign promise to serve only two terms in the Senate. Although he's definitely a first-tier candidate due to his name recognition, it's hard to see him having that much appeal to well, anyone. Conservatives don't like his poor performance as majority leader and independents generally just don't like Senators.

Newt Gingrich- This one is intriguing. Gingrich is the "ideas" man of the GOP field, much as John Edwards was and probably still is in the Democratic field. The problem for Gingrich is that his ideas are more often than not poor, although that is partially offset by the fact that some of them are really, really good. However, he lacks discipline, has the hypocrisy problem on values, and had ethics problems while in the House. On the upside he is a compelling speaker and an eternal optimist. His name recognition is high. He's a wildcard. He can flop completely, or he could contend for the nomination.

Rudy Giuliani- Giuliani leads most preference polls. He was a practically legendary mayor of New York even before 9/11. New York's renaissance under his leadership was extraordinary. One would think that a mayor might not be qualified to run for President. One would be wrong in Giuliani's case. New York is larger than most states, and the change was so dramatic he has to be considered a capable executive. Just the kind of person voters look for in a President. The big question is whether or not he will actually run. He'll have a bruising primary fight, being liberal on social issues. But my fearless prediction is that if Giuliani runs, he's probably gonig to be taking up residence in the White House. He's one of the few bona fide rock star politicians of our time.

John McCain- The other big gun. He is right up there with Giuliani in preference polls. He's a maverick, which has harmed him with the Republican base, but he is currently working hard to mend fences. Some think that this is going to hurt his chances in the general election, but I say he'll do fine. Independents don't care much about internal party politics. McCain can kiss up to any conservative figure he needs to and it won't harm him in the general election. The only question mark on McCain is whether he can win the nomination. If he does, he's almost certainly the next President.

Chuck Hagel- Hagel is the poor man's McCain. There is simply no rationale for any Republican to support him if McCain is already running. He also shows little enthusiasm for becoming President. He's only considering it because he knows he's popular and has a good shot. Provided McCain stays out. If McCain does choose to stay out, Hagel would be the main maverick in the race. Which would make him a first-tier candidate. He'd probably do well in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Like McCain and Giuliani, South Carolina would be the primary that could bring his house of cards down.

Mike Huckabee- Huckabee is the governor of Arkansas. A former man of the cloth from Hope, Arkansas(Bill Clinton's home town). A genuine nice guy with solid conservative credentials. No one is noticing him right now, but he'll be a player, especially if Republicans feel the need to rally around an outsider due to Bush's unpopularity.

John Kyl- Kyl is probably not going to run, but for some reason he's listed in a lot of polls. He's one of the most solidly conservative members of Congress and a good orator to boot. This is just not the time, though. He's facing a reelection fight in 2006 that he is almost sure to win, but will have to work hard on. If he runs, he's a contender, but he doesn't really have the same appeal as Brownback for conservatives.

George Pataki- Another guy who probably won't run, but who has to be taken seriously simply because he was governor of a large state. If Giuliani runs, he's toast. If Giuliani doesn't run and throws his support behind Pataki, he's got a great shot. The problem is that he's just not very inspiring and wasn't really that great a governor. Most of New York's success during his administration can be laid at Giuliani's feet.

Tim Pawlenty- Pawlenty was considered an up and coming star by Republicans in his first year as governor of Minnesota, but his popularity has slipped in the last two years. He's in a fight for his political life in 2006, so probably won't have any desire to take on a Presidential race in 2008. I consider him to be one of the better governors in the nation, but not enough of a superstar to enter this field and compete.

Condi Rice- The dream candidate of Bush administration supporters. She has an outstanding biography, but has never held elective office. Her views on many issues are probably liberal. She's a contender if she runs, but it's hard to see her wanting to go through the ordeal. Seeking the highest office in the land is tough enough for hardened politicians. It's a lot tougher for someone who has never campaigned before.

Mitt Romney- Romney's stock has gone up in recent months. He's probably the highest profile governor in the race. He is handsome, a great speaker, and a competent executive. He got a health care plan passed in Massachusetts that will eventually lead to universal coverage. He's probably the only Republican who can win on health care, especially if Hillary Clinton of failed Hillarycare fame is the Democratic nominee.

Mark Sanford- A darling of liberatarian conservatives. Young, charismatic, and often unfairly maligned by the local press as an ineffective governor. Sure, if you consider effectiveness to be spending a lot of the taxpayers' money. He's not particularly interested in running and probably wouldn't get far anyway, but he has a good future. Maybe in 2012 or 2016.

Rick Santorum- His name has been bandied about, but I say forget about it. I still say he's nuts. He's also going to be a loser in 2006. You don't go losing your seat and then running for President. If he was serious about running he would declined reelection so he could concentrate on running for President.

Tom Tancredo- Tancredo isn't well known, but has been tearing up the GOP speaking circuit with his indignation over illegal immigration. He's probably equivalent to Dennis Kucinich in terms of his ability to win the nomination. He'll liven up the debates considerably, but as a House member he's just not going to be able to raise enough money.

Tommy Thompson- Another guy who has been talked about a little bit here and there, but probably a non-factor if he runs. Former governor of Wisconsin. Pretty effective, but once again, not good enough to be considered for President.

John Thune- Thune was profiled in a major publication as a possible 2016 nominee against Barack Obama. While Thune is young and charismatic, he just arrived in the Senate and is likely going to sit this one out, like Obama. However, let's be clear: he's no Obama. While Obama has embraced the national stage, Thune has concentrated on parochial interests in South Dakota. That may make him a better Senator, but Senators are notoriously bad at winning Presidential elections. History's exceptions have been Senators who grabbed the national stage by the throat and disdained parochial concerns. That's not to say that Obama or McCain don't take care of their constituents, but their main claim to fame isn't a Road to Nowhere or saving a military base.

My predictions:

Allen, Brownback, Frist, Gingrich, Huckabee, McCain, and Romney will make it to Iowa. Giuliani's sitting this one out.

Allen, Frist, Gingrich, McCain, and Romney will flop in Iowa. Brownback will win the state with Huckabee finishing a strong second. The only candidates who will withdraw will be Frist and Gingrich.

McCain will take New Hampshire, with Romney a close second. Allen may drop out at this point, leaving the field Brownback, Huckabee, McCain, and Romney.

Brownback will take South Carolina. Huckabee will pull out.

So that leaves Brownback, the conservative favorite, McCain, the favorite of economic conservatives and populists, and Romney, the charismatic governor. When it all shakes out I think that McCain will come out ahead, although the fight will be long and hard and may go all the way to the last primaries.

If the Democratic race shakes out as I predict, then that means it's Clinton vs. McCain. I have no doubt McCain wipes the floor with her, so my bold prediction is that John McCain is going to be our next President. And that's a-OK with a cherry on top with me.