The Thinker

Pondering 2008 Election Possibilities

Because I cannot resist (and because I cannot think of anything else to blog about tonight), I am going to look ahead three years to the 2008 presidential election. For the first time in eight years, there will be no incumbent to reelect or throw out. I expect a spirited election. Moreover, it is not too difficult to assume that it will be a vitally important election. Most likely we will still be in Iraq or dealing with its detritus. The specter of international terrorism is unlikely to recede either. Citizens will have had plenty of time to judge the efficacy of our current war on terrorism. In addition, there will be many other issues to weigh in on including mounting health insurance costs, rising oil prices, environmental degradation and a skyrocketing national debt. In short, it should be an important and interesting election.

On the Republican side, it is not hard to figure out the likely candidates. Many have already made their intentions known. The Republican side is perhaps the most difficult to pick this far out. John McCain is the candidate with broadest appeal to undecided voters. Unfortunately, as a contrarian within the Republican ranks, his odds of winning his party’s nomination are not great. In 2000, he showed that Republicans had little appetite for straight talk. Nevertheless, things may change. By 2007 the Republican Party may become much more pragmatic, particularly if their party’s approval ratings keep going down. The evangelical wing may lose their advantage. Discredited neoconservatives may be lying low. If Republicans can understand that their normal message has lost national appeal then John McCain could win his party’s nomination.

More likely though their candidate will be someone who neither looks nor behaves too differently than our current president. Bill Frist, the majority leader of the Senate, is making little secret of his desire to run for the presidency. He is deluding himself. He does not have a base and he is unlikely to develop one. This suggests that younger, up and coming Republicans are more viable. My senator George Allen of Virginia often ranks well in hypothetical polls. I frankly do not understand his appeal. Like Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, he is male, rich, tall and handsome. Sadly, these seem to be important attributes for anyone running for the presidency. Yet his actual record in Congress is nothing about which to brag. Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchison has set her sites modestly by trying to succeed Rick Perry as Texas governor. Rick Santorum could be popular with Republicans. Yet his far out family values and over the top corporation loving behavior would not endear him nationally. It is not even clear if Pennsylvania voters will reelect him.

When it comes to presidential nominees, we tend to prefer governors to senators anyhow. Most governors are not people who are well known outside their state. Since he was born outside the United States, Arnold Schwarzenegger cannot run. Nevertheless, with approval ratings in California in the thirties he would be no prize even if he were available. Arguably, Jeb Bush could run on his brother’s coattails. However, I suspect that Americans will be so Bushed out by 2008 that Jeb will smartly bide his time. Maryland governor Robert Ehrlich runs a very blue state but he has not wowed Marylanders. Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is popular in a very blue state too. He could potentially attract votes from both sides of the aisle. Yet I cannot see Republicans picking anyone from the northeast, and that includes New York’s retiring governor George Pataki. He might have presidential ambitions but has an unremarkable record and disenchanted constituents. Governor Rick Perry of Texas will be available and it is hard to imagine that he plans to play golf for the rest of his life. He is probably the most likely to win the nomination, should he choose to run. Overall the Republican governors for 2008 look to be a lackluster crowd.

One name heard frequently is former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. He was a very popular mayor during most of the time he governed New York City. His spirit and concern during the aftermath of September 11th was widely praised. In his last year in office his constituents turned almost hostile against him. His open affair with Judith Nathan hardly promoted the sort of family values that will endear him to the evangelical and family values wing. Moreover, he is still battling cancer. Therefore, if I had to pick a likely nominee this far out I would expect George Allen or Rick Perry, although neither have been forthcoming about their plans for 2008.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton polls better than any Democrat does, but she seems coy at best about running for president. Mostly she seems uninterested so I bet that she will give 2008 a pass and stay in the Senate. This is just as well. She has too many negatives to win in 2008. She has been busy repairing her image but she portrayed as a New York liberal. She needs time to make people more forgetful and more nostalgic.

John Kerry might well decide to give the presidency another shot. I would hope he would not. Most of the enthusiasm around him in 2004 was halfhearted. John Edwards may be back too, but I do not expect that he will be able to charm any more people than he did in 2004. Unless he resigns as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean is unfortunately not on the playing field. Joe Biden may be very centrist, but he does not excite many Democrats. The same is true with Joe Liebermann, Al Gore’s running mate. Speaking of Al, he may be weighing another run also. Like Kerry, we Democrats were never that enthusiastic about Gore either. Generally, if you win the nomination but lose the election you are damaged goods. Gore is probably smart enough to know this.

Looking at Democratic governors, Virginia Governor Mark Warner looks very viable. He is a centrist Democrat in a red leaning state. He enjoys high approval ratings in spite of doing unpopular things like raising taxes. It certainly would be ironic if he won the nomination and ran against George Allen in the election. Warner is probably one of only a couple of Democrats who could balkanize the southern vote. However, rank and file Democrats don’t really know him yet. He may be too centrist to win the nomination. Among other Democratic governors with some positive name recognition, there are Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Bill Richardson of New Mexico. Napolitano is not well known enough to be viable, but Richardson has distinguished national and state credentials and could be a strong candidate. Whether he could surmount the fundraising hurdles and get sufficient name recognition remains to be seen. Those Democrats who know of Richardson view him very positively.

As I said, I strongly suspect that 2008 will be another election where national security will be the most important issue. That is why I suspect that General Wesley Clark will run again. He started too late in 2003 to gain sufficient traction, but he will be worth many new looks in 2008. People will be looking for someone who will be stellar as commander in chief. Clark brings the necessary hubris to that aspect of the presidency. While he has also won many detractors during his career, he has demonstrated an ability to get things done and correctly call tough decisions. That should seem very appealing in 2008. We will want someone sober and focused on solving the terrorist threat. Whether Clark can be as convincing on domestic matters remains to be seen.

One Democrat I would love to see run for president, but who will not, is New York State Attorney General Eliott Spitzer. Of course, he is busy running to replace Pataki as governor and seems a shoe in for the office. Therefore, it is hard to imagine why he would change tracks and run for president. However, if he ever chooses to run for president he will be an excellent nominee. I suspect sometime in the next decade he will run.

Looking so far into the future my bet is that Wesley Clark will likely get the Democratic nod in 2008. Naturally, I am not willing to wager too much money on it as this election is still very far out. A Clark vs. McCain contest would be almost ideal: a contest between two sober, experienced and competent candidates. We have not seen that in decades. I will root for it, even though I think it is unlikely to happen. Nevertheless, a political junkie like me can at least hope that in 2008 we will not have to pick between two more boring, well moneyed but lackluster nominees.


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