Less than a year before the first primary races, and yet far too early in most people’s minds, the election race for the Presidency is accelerating to full speed, and we are beginning to get a clear picture of the field. There may be a horse or two which are still at the gate, but unless they start very soon they may be too far behind to have a chance at the nomination.
The race appears to be surprisingly predictable, given the unusual conditions. The sitting President ran for re-election in 2004, 1996, 1992, 1984, 1980, 1976 (Ford running for his first election), 1972, 1964 (LBJ running for his first election), and 1956. The sitting Vice-President ran for his party’s nomination in 2000, 1988, 1968, and 1960. Not since 1952 have we seen a race where the President was not running, nor was the Vice-President.
There is, therefore, a question of which model will be the winning one. Most modern Presidents ran successfully as a Southern Governor. That gives hope to Bill Richardson among the Democrats, and Jeb Bush among the Republicans, although Richardson is largely unknown and Jeb says he does not plan to run. This time, anyway.
The Vice-President is not running, so while that is a historically good choice, it won’t happen here. Obama is pinning his hopes on the Charismatic-if-Clueless-Senator-From-the-North-Wowing-Folks-So-Much-That-They-Don’t-Ask-Any-Hard-Questions plan, which worked so well for JFK. Of course, Obama never served so he can’t play up his service the way Kennedy did, and he won’t be running against Nixon.
For some reason, the Shrill-Scream-of-Outrage still sells well among Democrats, and Tom Tancredo seems to think such a plan could advance his own ambitions. Forgive my bluntness please, but God Forbid. Seriously.
As I mentioned the odd little Dance In Three Acts which is the Presidential campaign continues along generally predictable lines in both camps. The Third Party possibilities are even less impressive than in the last few years, which clears the field from having to deal with the annoying drone of a Perot or a Nader. The current leader among the Democrats is Hillary, although Obama is closing fast. An interesting contrast, the crafty veteran and student of Macchiavelli, and the man who would be JFK II. And the Donk base seem conflicted on who would be better. I do not believe they will join on the same ticket. Wanna-be's like John Kerry and Joe Biden have already faded to the point that they seem completely irrelevent to the race, so the Democrat contention appears to come down to Clinton, Obama, or a late entry with serious financial backing and a wedge issue. John Edwards is right out.
Among the Republicans, Rudy Giuliani leads the pack just now, and the GOP field appears quite crowded, but again in actual fact the number of serious contenders is already dwindling. After Giuliani, the race for the Republican nod comes down to McCain, Romney, and Fred Thompson. Tommy Thompson and Newt Gingrich are simply not going to grab the kind of support to contend. As with the Democrats, of course, the possibility of a late entry must be considered, but again that will require serious money and something to flash-start the campaign. And John McCain, while he is considered a 'front-runner' in the media, is losing more and more momentum. Unless he repudiates his former anti-freedom of speech stands, by next spring he will be less exciting than topsoil.
So for now, we are limited to a small group, basically Hillary and Obama on the Democrat side, and Rudy, Romney, and Fred for the Republicans. Given historical lessons (Bill Clinton, for instance, jumped in late in the 1992 race and came from behind to nab the party nod), we must consider the late possible entry of a dark horse, but at the moment it's difficult to imagine who would find the resources for the sprint needed to win; modern primaries are front-loaded, so that early victories canm become insurmountable, and candidates are judged more heavily on the mythical quotient of "electability" - the fictional depiction of appearing to be like Reagan or FDR to the party faithful. That filter will undoubtedly have its impact. For instance, Obama is closing fast on Hillary at the moment, but he - perversely - is likely to be held back by Democrats because of his race. Why? It has already been suggested that Obama is primarily successful with blacks, which could earn him the "black vote", another myth which presumes that an entire race can be swayed to vote for someone on primarily on the basis of skin color. The reason this would be held against Obama in garnering the party nomination, is the impression that blacks represent a much larger portion of the Dmeocratic Party machine, than of voters in the country overall. Therefore, goes the thought, if a candidate appears to be tremendously strong with blacks, that support must somehow be diluted when calculating the national vote. And therefore, unless Obama starts winning stronger support in places like Seattle or Miami or Norman, he will be presumed by party leaders to be suspect in his strength, so that even popularity will not be enough. Some of this talk is undoubtedly whisper campaigning by Hillary's network, but it is also aligned with past behavior of national political parties. As a result, Obama is likely to influence the statements and promises made by Hillary, but she is in a better strategic position for the Democrat's nod than the media suggests.
As for the Republicans, I have said many times that the biggest mistake made by the GOP in the last couple years, is the wholesale defection of party egos from support of the President. It's not just that I think President Bush is generally correct in his stance, especially on the most important issues, it's also the image projected to the nation, the difference between consensus and chaos, between a team and a bar fight. In the end, the race for the GOP nomination will not matter unless a candidate emerges who can re-unify the party. Fortunately, any of the group from Giuliani, Romney, or Fred Thompson is capable of the task, but I wonder whether they will get the chance.
In closing for here, both parties have a large task ahead of them in claiming the General Election. The national mood seems to lean towards the Democracts, but the fact remains that they are only going to win the White House if they can claim states which Bush won the last two go-rounds. And both parties should be well aware that there are a number of electorally important states which could go either way, depending on a number of factors.