In this early stage of presidential politics and buzz-making for the 2008 presidential election, two names currently blot out all others. Or, at the very least, they would seem to frame the debate and will have to be willfully shoved aside to create a new picture.
Therefore, I don’t think it’s too early to ask if the hypothetical presidential match-up of Sen. John McCain (R – Arizona) versus Sen. Hillary Clinton (D – New York) is a foregone conclusion.
Personally, I don’t think it’s foregone – at least not yet. But major ripples in the political waters will have to take place to enter other names into the debate. Of course, Howard Dean was hardly known by most people until he screamed (if you’ll pardon with the term) out of obscurity and into the foregone category of Democratic politics in 2003 and early 2004. Then, he slipped back into the pack before finally installing himself as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Keep an eye on McCain and Clinton, and you’ll get to see some fascinating dynamics at work. McCain is now tacking right as he knows he is wildly popular with independents and even many Democrats. After outraging some conservatives via his leadership role in the Gang of 14 compromise on filibusters and averting the “nuclear option,” John McCain is now talking tough on Supreme Court nominations. As primary season approaches, I’ve no doubt we’ll hear much about McCain’s longstanding anti-abortion position as well.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has been staking out middle ground for a number of months now. Taking a page from her husband’s political playbook, she recently spoke out against sexual and violent content in video games. She also received a great deal of publicity for softening her stance on the abortion issue. It was exactly these sorts of Small Government initiatives that assisted Bill Clinton to a two-term presidency.
So, can a politician in either party knock one of these potential and likely candidates off before momentum (see: Big Mo and John Kerry’s whirlwind 2004 primary campaign) sweeps them right into the ’08 conventions?
For McCain, the challenge will likely come from the right. The only moderate candidate with the name recognition and firepower to take the Vietnam War hero on is former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. The Achilles heel may well be Rudy’s pro-choice position on abortion, which could well kill him among the social conservatives who vote heavily in the GOP primaries. That said, McCain is no favorite of the far-right as well. That’s why a strong social conservative and/or neo-con is the best bet to overtake John McCain.
Bill Frist, the Senate Majority leader, likely flamed out during his failure to flip the nuclear option switch, leaving a number of potential candidates who will try to tackle Mountain McCain. Frist has also recently been exposed as a political opportunist because of his support for President Bush’s controversial ban on stem cell research. Look for a conservative governor without an enormous record to defend – such Mitt Romney of Massachusetts or Bill Owens of Colorado – to potentially do the most damage.
For Hillary Clinton, the challengers will come from all sides. However, the famous former First Lady is already amassing a campaign war chest to match her overwhelming name recognition. As big name challengers to her reelection bid in the Senate in ’06 are skittering away, a high-percentage victory (which could be in the offing due to Senator Clinton’s dogged pursuit of upstate Republican regions) could well get that big ball of Big Mo going.
However, because of steady Democratic losses since the end of the Clinton years, there are a number of blue-colored heavyweights ready to test presidential waters. Chief among them, of course, are John Kerry and John Edwards, the losing ticket during the 2004 presidential campaign.
While Al Gore went into hiding following his heartbreaking (and controversial) loss to George W. Bush in 2000, John Kerry has acted like his presidential quest never ceased. Likewise, John Edwards has also been retooling his message throughout 2005. Edwards likely has the best shot among this tandem as he remains sunny, fresh-faced, (importantly) Southern, and has really drummed home his unique vision of Two Americas and the need to pull poverty-stricken members of society out of that plight.
As Clinton continues to try and stake out the center-left coalition that was Bill’s stock-in-trade, a challenge from the moderate wing of the Democratic Party becomes less likely.
At this early stage, it would appear that Hillary Clinton has the best shot to win a major party nomination. While McCain looks like a very strong contender in a national election, the likelihood is strong that the religious right could well sabotage his candidacy, which is what happened after a strong early showing in 2000. The key may be the backing of the Republican Establishment, which anointed George W. Bush as far back as 1999 and launched him to victory.
If Hillary Clinton can get an early lock on the Democratic nomination while the GOP devolves into bloody in-fighting, it might portend Democratic success. Another way that she could bolster her odds is by picking a Clinton-friendly, intelligent Southerner with leadership experience and military credentials.
As in: Hillary Clinton-Wes Clark ‘08
Many, including some on the left, are fearful of a Clinton presidency because of fears of a return to the circus-tent media frenzy of the 90s. To that, I say: look around. The media frenzy is here to stay, no matter if a robot faces off against a bar stool in the next presidential election. Hillary Clinton will inspire a lot of controversy, and some hatred. But her detractors would likely never vote for a Democrat anyway.
The mere fact of a woman running for President on a major party ticket will cause an explosion of enthusiasm among women and minority voters, many of whom remember good old Bill with fondness and even reverence (a fondness and reverence chilly John Kerry was never able to garner). Hillary Clinton has a chance to make history, and that might even give John McCain a run for his money.
I’m looking forward to 2008. Fire up the DVR. Make ready the waffles for primaries night, a new tradition in my household. Let’s go!