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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Contenders for the Crown (Part 1)

Countdown to Democratic Iowa Caucus: 363 days
Countdown to Republican Iowa Caucus: 367 days

We’re one year away from the Iowa Caucuses; one year away from the firing of the official starting gun in the race to the White House. On January 14, 2008, the Democrats of Iowa will go to their polling place and cast their vote for their favorite candidate. On January 18th, Iowan Republicans will do the same. Who knows how these candidates will rank in the minds of Iowans one year from now? Who knows how they’ll rank to all Americans?

Until that point, there will be a perpetual jockeying for position among the candidates, like horses heading into the final turn at Belmont. As this first caucus is one year away, I think this is an appropriate time for the first rankings of this fledgling blog. My old blog had these as well, and I will refer back to them to see how candidates have shifted rank over time. As 2007 progresses, there will be periodical updates.

This week, I’ll offer some general thoughts, possible VP candidates, a wildcard, a dark horse, and a ranked top five for the GOP. I’ll repeat the process for the Dems next Tuesday.

Without further ado…

REPUBLICANS

Overview:
For about a year now, political junkies have been aware of a Republican Big Three for the 2008 election. It is more than likely that either Senator John McCain, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, or former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani will be the next Republican nominee for President.

However, to get through those primaries, one of those men has to most appeal themselves to Republican voters, and as I’ll outline, each of them raise red flags for conservatives and for the GOP.

These qualms might mean a fourth candidate can sneak up and join the top tier. Some candidate might be able to mobilize and inspire the Republican Right and force one of the Big Three to either A) Drop out, B) Reform their views, or C) Broker a deal for the Vice-Presidential spot.

Top VP possibilities:
Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida – He won’t run for President until at least 2012, but he’s perfect for the bottom half of a Republican ticket in 2008. All accounts say he is smarter and a better governor than his older brother. With such credentials on the bottom half of a 2008 ticket, he probably won’t alienate too many voters. He could, however, single-handedly bring over all the fervent George W. Bush supporters remaining in the country.

Joe Lieberman, Senator from Connecticut – But only with John McCain on a third party ticket. I’m thinking the Hawk Party has a nice ring to it.

Sam Brownback, Senator from Kansas – Great conservative credentials would make this the perfect candidate to balance a ticket with the Big Three. He might, however, have bigger things on his mind.

Wildcard who could change everything:
Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State - She’s the only popular person in the Bush Administration. She’s very popular amongst women and minorities, and her undying love and support for the President makes her popular among the quarter of America who is still crazy about him. Her experience in foreign policy would be enormous in an election that will highlight the disagreements with Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, Mars, and the Klingon home world. She leads in nearly every GOP opinion poll, defeating the likes of the Republican Big Three, among others. Secretary Rice is almost certainly not running, but if she did, she would change everything.

Minor candidates:
Sam Brownback (toughest omission from top 5) – The Senator from Kansas can definitely make a run, especially in the absence of a legitimate right wing candidate. He might be the guy who can set himself up as the “conservative alternative.” (I should coin that.)

Tom Tancredo, Congressmen from Colorado – He’d have to run the ultimate grassroots campaign to compete, but he seems to have the fire in his belly. When he received some criticism for not speaking in unison with the President and the Republican Party, he said, “It is the President who is out of step with his party, not Tom Tancredo.” At a time when Republican lawmakers are unsure of how connected they wish to appear to President Bush, Tancredo is eagerly sawing at the cord. This could be exactly what the suddenly aimless Republican Party needs. Tancredo also had this to say about his Republican Party: “The American people don't understand what Republicans stand for anymore…American conservatives have watched dumbfounded as their Congress - their Republican Congress - and the Republican White House engineered the largest expansion of the federal government in modern history.” True conservatives should love this stuff.

Chuck Hagel, Senator from Nebraska – He was the first Republican Senator to have the fortitude to step up against President Bush’s foreign blunders, and this past Sunday he did a great job slapping down Joe Lieberman's morality argument on Meet the Press. He also has some of my favorite quotes. “To question your government is not unpatriotic -- to not question your government is unpatriotic.” and "I took an oath of office to the Constitution; I didn't take an oath of office to my party or my president.” I hope he runs and I hope he wins the nomination.

Top 5:
5. Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House (Darkhorse) - Gingrich is, without a doubt in my mind, the smartest man in the Republican Party. I could listen to him for hours on end, whether it is on the economy, social issues, or especially foreign policy. If only I didn't vehemently disagree with him on the former two, I might actually vote for him in a general election. He's an extremely competent leader and an extremely intelligent person. The question is: How does this throwback politician compete in 2008? The answer: His campaign needs to be all about the months and years leading up to the Election of 1994. When the GOP last lost their way, it was Newt Gingrich who led them back into power. He established a well oiled political machine that had increasingly gained power in the American political realm...that is, until two months ago. Now, once again, the Republican Party is in disarray. Why not turn to the guy that righted the ship once before? If this strategy is correctly spun, Gingrich might find himself as a legitimate candidate in 2008.

4. Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas - Last May, when I outlined much deeper rankings of both parties, I ranked him #14 for the Republicans. Why the jump to #4? Well, let's start with who he leapfrogged. There was Tim Pawlenty and George Pataki, two governors who have shown little nationwide appeal. There was Rick Santorum and George Allen, young stars whose contracts with the devil expired on November 7th, 2006. There was Bill Frist and Jeb Bush, who announced their decision not to run. Also aiding his surge, of course, is Huckabee himself. Of late, I have seen him on CSPAN and The Daily Show outlining a platform that could very well win a primary and a general election. His stance that "Pro life doesn't end at birth," has potential to be the most groundbreaking political platform since Barry Goldwater's Neoconservative movement. Huckabee has potential for some crossover appeal while still being firmly entrenched as a right win politician. He's the closest thing Republicans have to Bill Clinton. They just have to figure out if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

3. Rudy Giuliani, former governor of New York City - He has dropped one spot in my rankings since last May. He's steadily lost ground to the field, as he has made no effort to moderate his liberal stance on issues like gun control and abortion, among others. In fact, we can fully expect Giuliani not to change. His record shows that he doesn't sway with the political winds. While this is a noble quality, it will surely hurt him in the Republican primary.

How might we still see a successful Giuliani campaign? If this entire primary and general election is about homeland security, it's a two man race between him and McCain. They're tough guys and voters love tough guys in times of international turmoil. I'm not convinced, however, considering a controversial record and thus far limited geographical appeal, that Giuliani is bulletproof enough in a nation election. (And no, that was not a pun combining a political metaphor with Giuliani's political stance on guns.)

2. Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts - Romney gains a spot in the rankings as the least disingenuous conservative of the Big Three. Romney's appeal to Republicans is clear. Not only is he preaching conservative values, but as a popular governor from a liberal northeast state, he has the potential for major crossover appeal in the general election. At a time when Republicans have to be genuinely scared that they will lose control of a second branch of government, Romney gives them a great chance to hold onto the White House. Democrats should love his stance on education, and he was the first governor to introduce a form of universal health care for the state. While this may rankle some conservatives, Romney has positioned himself as a pro-life, pro-death penalty, and anti-gay marriage.

However, like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the Dems, Romney is looking to break a different kind of barrier. If elected, he would be the first Mormon president. Indeed, he's the first Mormon to even be a serious contender. A recent poll shown on NBC displayed that 35% of Americans would be uncomfortable voting for a Mormon. Unless that number comes down, Romney has no chance to win the primary or general.

(Quick Romney joke, now that you know he's a Mormon opposed to gay marriage: Mitt Romney feels that marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman...and a woman...and a woman...and a woman.)

1. John McCain, Senator from Arizona - Senator John McCain is still the front runner for the Republican primary as well as the entire presidential election. His lead, however, is slipping. It's slipping because he has led the push for a troop surge into Iraq, even before President Bush. Over the last six months, his approval rating among independents, his base, had dropped 15 points. He's losing the moderates that have championed him for years. Still, since 2008 presidential polls started going around in December 2004, Senator McCain has consistently beat both Clinton and Obama in head-to-head races. As those are the two biggest names on the Democratic side, that makes McCain an attractive choice for Republicans. Only three things can stop McCain from being the next President of the United States.


  1. -His age. On Election Day 2008, he will be 72 years old; by three years he would be the oldest elected President.

  2. -The troop surge is a complete disaster, which would greatly damage the careers of President Bush and Senators McCain and Lieberman, among few others.

  3. -McCain's slow strafe to the right might become an issue in the primaries, making him see like an insincere conservative. Look for candidates like Brownback and Gingrich to make this a sticking point.
Still, McCain is as close to a presumptive nominee either party has had since 2000. I expect him to get the nomination, but because of his continuing push for the war in Iraq, the general election looks more difficult than it did a year ago. The race is as close as ever.

Review
It's interesting that each member of the Big Three supports the troop surge. Aside from their questionable conservatism, this is yet another issue that allows the pack to catch up. Senators Brownback and Hagel both oppose the troop surge. Might they be the clear alternative for the anti-war Republicans? It depends on the outcome of President Bush's latest tactic. Numerous variables in a close race make this an incredibly exciting election. Stay tuned.

Next week: The Dems

8 comments:

Darren said...

Great analysis. I really like Hagel alot. Meet the Press was a great show this week. I'm proud that Dodd is running although the Giants have a better chance of winning Superbowl XXXXI than he does the Presidency. Anyway, my prediction is going to be McCain-Romney POTUS-VPOTUS ticket. I don't think age will play too much of a factor, as long as he appears healthy. For Hagel, he sounds too liberal on some issues and unfortunately in today's political age, it only takes on quote (or misquote) to smear someone's Presidential aspirations. Bush can't win unless the President has some miraculous turn-around in the polls. Jeb's surname will be his demise. No one will risk taking him on as VP no matter how smarter and more efficient at governing he is. I agree that Newt is the darkhorse. I don't think he'd accept the VP and ultimately McCain will top him because Newt has been out of politics so long, it will be easy to cast him as disconnected with America.

IC said...

I remember speculating about a McCain-Romney ticket. It's a great balance in several ways. There's the Southwest-Northeast balance, there's the legislator-executive balance, they each appeal to moderates while not being terrible options for their conservative base, the top is nationally known while the bottom needs more name recognition, and one is old while the other is relatively young. It has potential. Ultimately, I think anyone will get scared away by Romney's Mormonism to put him on the bottom half of a ticket. If Romney wants to be part of the general election, Romney is going to have to win it himself.

Charlie said...

Hagel is the one to watch, I think. He's conservative on domestic issues (social and economic policy) but clearly disagrees with the President (as do many) on foreign policy issues. He's the one I'd like to see win in 2008.

IC said...

Thanks for reading Charlie. I'm with you on rooting for him. Your blog is geared towards the Senator, so you'd know more about him than me. Still, I don't know if "Hagel is the one to watch" just because we like him. I don't know if he can grab Republican support after being the first to abandon the ranks of the mainstream GOP in the war effort. Sure, it was the right move, but not even retrospect could help a candidate who doesn't have the support of his own party.

PresidentWebb said...

Hagel is a flash in the pan. He is the proverbial Carl Pavano of the Republican party. A real x-factor is Brownback, who will no doubt spend the next few months at his Opus Dai meetings plotting the end of the world....er....his campaign for the presidency in 2008.
James Dobson decides the Republican candidate, and he hates McCain. This thing is going to get dirty....I can't wait.

IC said...

The question is, if the general election came down to McCain vs. Spongebob Squarepants, who would Dobson support?

PresidentWebb said...

Hilarious!
Well both are heathens, but Spongebob's sexuality is in question. I think in this scenario Dobson runs, ensuring a sweeping victory for Democratic nominee Matthew Santos.

Stephen C. Kurczy said...

What has Giuliani done since leaving the mayor's office? Why'd he resign from the Iraq Study Group? In New York City, BLOOMBERG is more popular among both Rs and Ds, and has a better chance of being a 2008 contender.

I just finished reading "Rudy!" by Wayne Barrett, a senior editor at The Village Voice, and I'm about to start "Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11." I've got a lot of respect for Barrett, and considering his 1988 book, "City for Sale," helped Giuliani get elected in 94, I think he's basically out to keep politicians honest. Despite the mythological character that emerged from 9/11, Giuliani's mayoral term is marked by two PUBLIC affairs and neverending internal strife and quibbling. He took credit for things he didn't do.

Sure, a Gallup poll found Giuliani to be the most "acceptable" nominee for Republicans, but that'll fade fast. Now on his third marriage, he has too many skeletons in the closet.

Neither Kerry or Clinton were front runners. Replace Giuliani with Bloomberg. And what about Bill Wyatt?

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