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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Contenders for the Crown (Part 4)

Days until Democratic Iowa Caucus: 328
Days until Republican Iowa Caucus: 332

It's no secret that one of the following three Democrats will be the next Democratic nominee for President of the United States. In all honesty, the current ranking of these three candidates is irrelevant. The political landscape is constantly changing. The candidate with the inside track now could lose it within a month. This is much more evident in the Republican race, where on any given week I feel like making a case for McCain, Giuliani, or Romney as the Republican favorite for the GOP nomination.

On the Democratic side, I vacillate much less. There is a Big Three, and I'm confident with whom I've ranked #1, though I wouldn't dream of counting out the other two. The greatest advantage of #2 and #3 is that, while they may be in the hole to #1 in the primary election, they are both more legitimate threats in the general election. If Democratic voters come to their senses in time, it could be enough to thrust them into the lead during the nomination process.

But who is #1? And who are 2 and 3? We'll tend to that in short order. Let's first examine the state of the Democratic race.

The bulk of the country will look at this race as The White Guy vs. The Black Guy vs. The Woman. (Throw in Bill Richardson and the fourth candidate is The Hispanic.) Even if we don't want to admit it, that's the way some of us look at it. It's not because we are racist, prejudiced, or sexist but rather because we understand that these aesthetic differences can play a significant role in the race to the White House. They are the most relevant of irrelevant issues.

Another issue: Am I myopic to see this only as a three-person race? After all, at this point in 1991, Bill Clinton wasn't even on the map. One must examine, however, the differences in scenarios, and believe me, there are many.

First, Al Gore's invention, the Internet, had not yet become popularized. Enormous politically oriented websites like DailyKos, MoveOn.org, and Presidential Politics for America were seven to fifteen years away. They now play a huge role in shaping the political landscape. It's websites like this that anoint presidential favorites and examine the potential candidates well before they even declare their candidacy. At this point in 1991, people weren't talking about Bill Clinton because at this point in 1991, people weren't talking about presidential politics.

Second, in 1991, no one saw any Democratic nominee as having a realistic chance at knocking off President George H.W. Bush. His approval ratings were high after victory in the Gulf, continued tranquility with the Russian state, and his natural incumbency advantage. Thusly, no leading Democratic threw their hat into the ring. Potential candidates like House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt and New York Governor Mario Cuomo stayed out of the possibly suicidal race. Ultimately, however, President Bush's advantages ended up being his downfall. His strength in foreign policy ended up being irrelevant because he had successfully confronted the threats in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. There was no longer a need for a strong national security president. Therefore, when the economy began its recession later in the year, a Democrat seemed like a great idea. Enter Bill Clinton, who in 1988 had established himself as a moderate that Republicans and Democrats could support (and did). With a little help from Ross Perot, Bill Clinton became the 42nd President of the Unites States.

The landscape is completely different now. There is no presumed nominee on either side. There is no overwhelming candidate. The Presidential election cycle continues to get pushed up earlier. No longer is the topic broached in the middle of the preceding year of the general election. Now, you'll hear presidential talk as early as the close of the previous presidential election! By the midterm elections, which signals two years from the next presidential election, all potentially strong candidates will already be discussed and established by pundits, analysts, and bloggers. And when determining who is and isn't viable, the media and the Internet now play as big of a role as the candidates themselves. There is no room for a legitimate surprise. Who we know now is who will be there in 2008.

And for the Democratic Party, here's who we, the media and blogosphere, have anointed as

The Big Three

3. Barack Obama, Senator from Illinois - When Senator Obama announced from the Illinois capital two weeks ago, the Lincoln comparisons would not have been lost on us, but he made sure to point them out anyway. Honest Obe reminded us, while in front of the Old State Capital where "Lincoln once called on a divided house to stand together," that "beneath all the differences of race and region, faith and station, we are one people." He likes to lay it on thick.

But you know what? I'm not complaining. Obama's greatest advantage is that he is currently the greatest show and biggest draw of all elected officials in this country. Aside from former President Clinton, no one is a bigger star in politics right now. But where Clinton was a steady star, slowly but steadily burning hydrogen into helium, adequately warming every room he walked into - Obama is a red giant, quickly using all available gases to burn as brightly as possible. This, of course, leads to the star burning up all of its oxygen and eventually going supernova before collapsing into a dormant black hole. It can be likened to a runner hitting his peak too early, mistakenly leaving nothing in the tank for the biggest moment of the race. (Yes, that was back to back metaphors.)

The point is I find it highly unlikely that Obama can keep up this level of invincibility. He is the candidate du jour. Without the heat of battle picking apart his inexperience, he seems like a perfect candidate. Consider, for example:

  • He's the guy that was against the war from the beginning.
  • He's the outsider, having only been in Washington since 2005. Hillary Clinton, though having only just begun her second term in the Senate, can easily be cast as the Washington insider, as well as a continuation of the Bush-Clinton dynasties.
  • Similarly, he's the New Guy. With so many people becoming disenfranchised with their perennially present and impotent politicians, someone who only 26 months ago was not a part of the federal government might appear attractive. The voting public seems to be getting sick of the same old same old.
  • The media adores Obama. No one this side of Fox News has anything bad to say about him.
  • He's a liberal that even Russ Feingold could be proud of. This excites many Democrats, who see the Democratic Primary looming early in 2008.

But beware of the Red Giant.

Before you know it, the issue won't be that he was against the war, but the fact that, as only a State Senator, he was never presented with the evidence the U.S. Senate was, highlighting the green behind Obama's ears.

Before you know it, the outsider role will be undesired, as his lack of foreign policy experience will be the sticking issue for a country at war.

Before you know it, being the New Guy will be seen as a handicap, as learning on the job will be looked on as unacceptable, especially against experienced politicians like John McCain and Hillary Clinton.

Before you know it, the media's free pass will be retracted. The big pay day will go to the first media outlet that can find dirt on Obama, factual or otherwise. This will need to be matched by others in the media who are losing money and attention to their competitor's big story.

Before you know it, desperate Democrats will look in the mirror and realize a northern liberal is not the way to get back the White House. Seventy percent of the country might disapprove of President Bush, but that does not mean they disapprove of the conservative ideology. In fact, there is very little evidence supporting the claim that the country is any less conservative than when it elected the President with 53% of the vote in 2004.

And until now, not once in this section did I mention that he's a bi-racial candidate in a country that has elected five African-American Senators in its entire history. In sum, yes, he looks perfect now, but so did the 2003 Howard Dean.

2. John Edwards, former Senator from North Carolina - Edwards will either be the nominee or the last man to drop out and I'll tell you why. This primary season's biggest battle will be the Clinton camp versus the Obama camp. Battle lines are being drawn. The supporters are digging in their heals. Somehow, these supporters will come up with reasons why the other side is wrong and their candidate is unworthy. Neither will support the other until it becomes absolutely clear that they are the nominee. Obviously, both campaigns will not be victorious. Edwards' sole task will be to outlive one of these two campaigns. This is because Edwards will set himself up as everyone's second choice. He will of course have his own supporters, but every candidate to drop out will see Edwards' advantages as the Democratic nominee. (For my complete take on the Edwards campaign, click here.) There might be enough delegates in this strategy to overtake the favorite.

As I don't want to get repetitive from my Edwards blog, I will just say that two underlying issues- one politically correct the other not - will loom over every development in the Democratic race.

First, no incumbent Senator has been elected President since 1960 (Kennedy) and 1920 (Harding) before that. That works against Clinton and Obama. Be aware that this is not some mystical historical trend that is waiting to be broken, a string of coincidences that are due to even out. There is actually a reason as to why the last eight Presidents were Governors or VP's. United States Senators are continually casting votes in Washington. This, of course, does not cease if one is in a Presidential campaign. These votes go on records. These records are available to the entire country. Often times, Senators vote for what is best for their constituents from their state. And what is good for say, New York, is not always good for, I don't know, the entire Midwest. Therefore, if a northeast Senator were to place a vote against a federal subsidy for ethanol, there is absolutely no chance Iowa will support that Senator in a national election, and similar states will follow suit. Thus is the difficulty of a U.S. Senator running for President.

Second, we cannot underestimate what John Edwards is and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are not. White and male. Like all 42 people to previously hold the office.

Still, despite these trends, there is one trend that seems to trump all others: $$$


1. Hillary Clinton, Senator from New York - And this, friends, will be examined by yours truly in three to four weeks time.

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The next two weeks will be guest columnists, both writing more in depth on a candidate.

Next week - Steve, a great friend of mine, a high school buddy, a writer, will have an article on Rudy Giuliani.
The following week - Saj, another great friend, another high school buddy, an aspiring lawyer, will have an article on Barack Obama.
The following week - I shall return. (sorry)

4 comments:

PresidentWebb said...

The references to Howard Dean when discussing Obama are money.

Including your own blog in a list of sites "shaping the political landscape" was hysterical.

I do still think democracy reigns and that there is still time for a dude to come from parts unknown to win the primary. You only have to be a fan of the Green Party to see it actually happen.

Drew said...

I can't help but notice that Steve, a white male is writing about another white male. Then you have Saj, a minority extraordinaire, is writing about another minority. I smell a conspiracy.

taraskiej said...

Hey Ian, if money trumps so effectively, why's Dodd not on your radar?

IC said...

Webb, tell me the dude. I'm dying to know.

Drew, I think you're on to something!

Taraskie, Dodd was on the radar. He's the 8th largest blip on it.

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