It started just after the 2006 midterm elections. Every few days, CNN would announce a new entrant to the field. Recently, names we've heard about have announced their (potential) candidacy. Already, the leaders have emerged. The primary contenders are Rudi Giuliani and John McCain for the Republicans, and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the Democrats. However, before any of these four giants can clash against each other, they need to win their primaries.
The field of Democrats potentially seeking their party's nomination is fairly broad. Potential candidates include John Kerry, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Al Gore, and a lot of people you may or may not have heard of like former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich. Some of these campaigns are non-starters.
Al Gore — Gore has not announced that he will run in 2008. We haven't seen him particularly involved in politics. I'm even starting to like the guy. He's said he has no interest in running himself, and I'm inclined to believe him. I call Gore's campaign a non-starter because I think he will opt out. I suspect he will endorse somebody, possibly giving a huge boost to that campaign. Gore may soon be the "it" person to hang out with in Washington.
Tom Vilsack — Tom Vilwho? I'm sure he's a great guy, but I don't think he has the name recognition to get a national endorsement. He may start out strong with the Iowa caucus, but I don't think he has the record or name recognition to beat some of the bigger names.
Dennis Kucinich — A quick look at Kucinich's platform should indicate 1) he's serious about his progressive agenda, and 2) he's completely unelectable.
Reverend Al Sharpton — Is his first name Al or Reverend? If you look at what Sharpton says about his potential 2008 run, it seems pretty clear that he is running in order to put a spotlight on some of the issues he would like raised rather than to be elected President. There is nothing wrong with this—but I don't think even Sharpton thinks he will make a serious bid for his party's nomination.
Howard Dean — Not running. Dean's endorsement could be a boost or could be a liability.
John Kerry — Did I hear somebody speaking in a monotone? John Kerry had his chance.
Who is left? Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards.
The Republican party is similarly diverse. You've probably heard of McCain, Giuliani, Hagel, Pataki, and Gingrich, all of whom are likely running. Most of the other Republicans you have heard of have decided not to run.
Bill "What am I, a doctor?" Frist, George "Macaca" Allen, and Rick "Frothy Mixture" Santorum have all opted out with varying degrees of shame. They represented the big Christian-conservative type names in Congress. I use the past tense intentionally. They are no longer in Congress.
Other prominent Republicans, such as Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, and Jeb Bush have all independently decided not to run. All three are probably too close to the current, unpopular Bush presidency to have any chance in 2008.
Tom Tancredo — Do you really, really, dislike immigrants? Vote Tancredo! If your fear of immigration is something less than pathological, vote for somebody else.
Ron Paul — Who? I'd never heard of him, but Wikipedia says he's running. I guess he was the Libertarian candidate in 1988. He's also, evidently, still alive.
Tommy Thompson — You know, I might take Tommy Thompson more seriously if he wasn't named "Tommy."
Mitt Romney — Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, has been shoring up his conservative credentials for years. Now neither the moderates nor the conservatives will trust him. As Massachusetts governor, he tried to bring back the death penalty and ban gay marriage. All of these failed. He did not run for Massachusetts governor in the last election—but his deputy governor and logical successor was absolutely crushed by Deval Patrick.
Sam Brownback — Brownback is one of the remaining evangelical congressmen. He's a big Intelligent Design guy. He'll have a certain amount of popular support in the Bible-belt, but he's too far out there for most people to take seriously.
Newt Gingrich — I don't think he'll even run. Current polls put him in third place for the Republican nomination—but I think he's too much politician and not enough visionary to make a serious Presidential bid.
Arnold Schwarzenegger — Constitutionally prohibited. (When has that stopped anything recently? –Ed.)
George Pataki — Diet Giuliani.
Who is left? John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Jim Gilmore. What is Jim Gilmore doing in the mix? Who's even heard of Jim Gilmore? I don't know. Some conservatives think he's a contender, and I wanted to leave a far-right conservative in the mix.
I believe that Johnny Reid Edwards is still a viable name in politics. Over his career, he has been a lawyer and, relatively briefly, a senator. After his failed 2004 run, Edwards has become the director of the Center on Poverty at his former Law School, UNC Chapel Hill. As far as I'm concerned, he's a good guy—but I don't think he has anything, other than name recognition, that he didn't have in 2004. And this time around, he has some more formidable opponents than John Kerry. I don't think Edwards has a chance at the nomination.
Barack Obama is a younger, similarly idealistic lawyer-turned-senator. He was the first African American to be elected president of the Harvard Law Review. He went on to teach Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago Law School until his election to the Senate in 2004. While he is relatively inexperienced as a Senator, being a Washington outsider may be an advantage this time around. By all accounts, the man is brilliant. (On a side note, I would probably vote for him over any of the candidates in the field. Think how nice it would be to have somebody who cared about Constitutional Law as President!) However, it takes more than brilliance, charisma, eloquence, and a relatively spotless record to be elected President.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, the final Lawyer-turned-senator, is a veritable political juggernaut. She is immensely popular in many areas and enjoys more name recognition than almost any other candidate. She is older and has a longer Senate record than any of the others. On the other hand, she doesn't have quite the spotless record the others have. Clinton has a number of blemishes in her history. While none of these are likely to come back and haunt her, Hillary Clinton sometimes says things, perhaps without thinking. For example, saying that "young people today think work is a four-letter word" or that Mahatma Gandhi "ran a gas station down in Saint Louis" at the height of a campaign could cause a major implosion. Just ask Howard Dean.
There are a number of factors that might influence the Democratic primary. However, I think it comes down to one major factor. Who will Bill Clinton campaign for? After eight years of Bush, Democrats are nostalgic for the Clinton days. Want more Clinton days? Vote Clinton. Unless Hillary Clinton inadvertently deflates her own campaign, there is little that can keep her from the nomination.
I've left Jim Gilmore in the running as the token conservative Republican, but I might have chosen the wrong one. It could be Newt Gingrich. Like the Democrats, Gilmore is also a former attorney, though he has some military service and became Governor of Virginia and then Republican National Committee chair. If we learned anything from the 2006 midterms, it is that the classic, conservative Republicans are losing their grip. Even if they could control a majority of their own party, that tricky word, "electability," would likely defeat them. Fears of immigration and gay marriage just don't pull in the voters the Republicans had hoped.
This leaves John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. McCain is 70. Giuliani survived prostate cancer. McCain has been treated for recurrent skin cancer. Poor health could force either to leave the race unexpectedly. McCain has been divorced once, Giuliani twice. Giuliani, like all the others, is a lawyer. McCain is a war hero. Both are virtually unimpeachable on national security issues, though McCain' support of the Iraq war could hurt him.
Giuliani's pro-choice stance could hurt him as he seeks the Republican nomination, as could his somewhat messy second divorce. (Technically, the first was an annulment on the grounds that he had not received the church's permission to marry his second cousin.) Despite all of this, Giuliani is immensely popular.
McCain on the other hand is frequently called a loose cannon. He has openly opposed Bush on a number of issues, particularly the torture one. While news stories at the time claimed that McCain was taking a risk by doing this, it's hard to believe that trying to ban torture is a serious political risk. Still, breaking from the party on that issue might weaken his support from some parts of the party. Socially, at least, McCain is more conservative than Giuliani. Perhaps most importantly, McCain is very popular on the Daily Show.
This could be a very close race—but in the end Giuliani will win the primary, partially because McCain will lose votes on the right to Gilmore, or whomever the true conservative is.
A number of things will influence the final election. Will the third parties have any influence? The probably-Democratic candidates are far enough the left that I doubt the Green party will take many votes. On the other hand, the likely Republicans are moderate enough that the Libertarians might have a stronger-than-usual showing. Even worse for the Republicans, one of the conservatives like Tancredo or Brownback might split off and run independently. Still, the states where the überconservative would get the most votes are also the states where Hillary Clinton would get the least votes.
In the end, the national election will come down to counting electoral votes. Bush won the previous election—but not by much. What states are in play that weren't before?
Most of the traditionally Republican mountain states elected Democrats in 2004. However, those states elected a different sort of Democrat. Giuliani will play better than Clinton in these states.
New York. Giuliani is immensely popular in New York. If the Republicans can win New York, they should easily take New Jersey, which went to Kerry last election by about 2%. The two states, between them, have 46 electoral votes, which would force the Democrats to pick up both Ohio and Florida to catch back up. They would then need to take pretty much all of the Mountain West or a large chunk of the South to win. Giuliani, who has way more street-cred than Bush, could even put California up for grabs. Can the Republicans take New York? Could they at least make the Democrats fight for every vote? (If the Democrats draw the battle line in New York City, they're in big trouble.) Clinton also calls New York home. (At least, she does now.) To see if the Democrats could hold on to traditionally Democratic New York, I conducted a quick poll. It went something like this:
Me: Hey, Neil. You're in New York. In 2008, Clinton or Giuliani?
Neil: Why are you calling me?
Me: I want to know who the next President will be.
Neil: Um...okay. Most of New York, according to polls, would vote for Giuliani, but I would vote for Clinton.
Clinton: 1. Giuliani: 0
Me: Hey, Tom. You're a New Yorker.
Tom: Um...sort of. What's up?
Tom: ...Giuliani. He wouldn't be pretty but he'd get the job done.
Clinton: 1. Giuliani: 1
Who can I go to to break this debate? Now, I remember Marco's political leanings as of the 2004 election. Will he save this election for the Democrats?
Marco: Hey Dan, what's up?
Me: In 2008, would you vote for Hillary or Giuliani?
Marco: I really don't know anything about either of them.
Me: That's okay. Who would you vote for?
Marco: Um...that's a tough one. Right now, not knowing anything, probably Giuliani.
Congratulations, President Giuliani.
And Mr. Giuliani, when you're President, remember who put you where you are. Marco.org — We called it before any major news network.