No, I am not calling our next presidential election in July 2007. We still have six months to go before the first presidential primary vote is cast. Moreover, history is replete with front-runners going to the back of the pack, and visa versa. Back in January I sized up the presidential candidates and warned that only fools would pick them that early. So, no, I am not picking our next president.
Nonetheless, if I were a bookie setting the odds, I know on whom I would place my money. Ladies and gentlemen, I award four out of five odds to our 44th (and first female) president: Hillary Rodham Clinton!
Please understand that I am not placing odds on Senator Clinton because I am particularly enthusiastic about her candidacy. I am not particularly enthusiastic about any of the current lot. Unlike Howard Dean’s candidacy four years ago, for whom I was feverishly attending meet ups and emailing my friends, while I think most of the Democratic candidates running are pretty good, none of them has connected with me the way Howard did. (I did give John Edwards $50 last month, not because I am enthusiastic about him, but because he needed the money more than Senators Clinton and Obama did. I wanted to see him achieve rough fundraising parity.)
However, particularly after reading this Washington Post-ABC News Poll it is hard to escape the conclusion that barring some rather stupid screw up (which seems unlikely from the stage-managed Senator Clinton) that Hillary Clinton will probably win the Democratic presidential nomination and thus the general election.
My gut tells me that given the current political dynamics there is no way that any nominated Republican candidate can win the 2008 presidential election. Chuck Hagel, should he run as an independent could possibly alter the dynamics of the race and win or tip the election, but his odds are very long too. He has expressed zero interest in running for president in 2008. Even if he did the odds would be markedly against him, since he would start out far behind in both recognition and money.
Republicans have a four-letter word problem this time around and you know who he is. Back in March, I said the obvious: Bush was killing the Republican Party. Since that time, President Bush has exacerbated the Republican Party’s election problems to a degree even I did not anticipate. Virtually every action he takes makes his anemic poll numbers drop even further. While Congress’s poll numbers are equally bad, they are bad because Republicans have enough votes to obstruct much the agenda of the Democratic Congress. This in turn is driving more animus toward Republicans in Congress. Voters took a swipe at Republicans in last fall’s elections. Now they are ready to go for the jugular. In a normal election, since Democrats picked up seats in 2006, they would lose seats in 2008. However, this will not be a normal election. I fully expect Democrats to pick up both House and Senate seats in 2008. Moreover, I suspect the margins will be similar to the 2006 midterms.
To me the likelihood that any Republican will win the presidential race in 2008 is about one in ten. One can get a sense of this by looking at hypothetical match up polls. Even in hypothetical races like Republican favorite Rudy Giuliani vs. back of the pack John Edwards, the Democratic candidate still comes out ahead. This could reflect the voters’ lack of enthusiasm for individual Republican candidates. Yet it is also likely indicative of a general bias to vote for change over voting for more of the same. Clearly, the Democrats are well positioned as the party of change.
Which leaves looking at the poll numbers among the Democratic candidates. Senator Obama continues to generate the most enthusiasm and money. However, at least so far, that does not seem to be enough to catapult him into the lead. Nor is it that he is not well known. At this point, he has excellent name recognition across the country. People have formed opinions about Senator Obama. Regardless, as the Washington Post poll measured, despite some narrowing of the race earlier in the year voters are not as enthusiastic about Obama as they were. Currently Senator Clinton leads Senator Obama by 15% among Democratic primary voters. John Edwards polls at a relatively anemic 12%.
In the money race, while Clinton is a bit behind Obama, they are close enough where the money factor should not matter too much. Both candidates will be able to tap and retap a reliable donor network. Given that most of those who are likely to vote have already formed their impressions, the number of minds that can be changed among primary voters is likely rather small. This leaves only major goof ups between now and the general election to substantially alter the dynamics. Senator Clinton, having studied at close range the way her husband ran his campaigns, is too smart and stage-managed to make any severe goofs. She knows how to stick to a message.
Senator Clinton herself if a formidable candidate. She is smart, articulate, attractive and well informed. She sounds convincing and plausible on the campaign trail. At one time men seemed less inclined to vote for her, but now men like women have a positive opinion of her overall. Senator Obama may not have the baggage of voting for the Iraq War Resolution but as the Washington Post poll demonstrates, Democrats do not seem to be holding that vote against her. While some in Republican circles see Senator Clinton as radical, in fact she is quite mainstream. For example, she is not calling for all U.S. troops to leave Iraq. She is not too public about it, but when pressed she thinks it will be necessary to keep tens of thousands of U.S. troops in and around Iraq to quickly react to events in the region. In short, when the general election rolls around, while she be in the center of the political arena. The closest Republican candidate who can run from the center is Rudy Giuliani. However, he is also very strongly in favor of continuing Bush’s disastrous foreign policies. He would need to change his positions rather strongly to overcome that perception. In doing so, he will likely be seen as insincere and pandering. Since elections are typically won from the center, Senator Clinton is the likely beneficiary.
So my money is on Hillary Clinton. I do think it is quite possible that John Edwards will win the Iowa Caucuses, simply because he has practically lived in Iowa the last few years. Yet I doubt unless there is a change in the political dynamics that he can sustain momentum much past Iowa. We will have a clearer picture in about six months.
If you disagree, please leave a comment telling me where my logic fails.