I spoke to an old college friend the other night who asked me to go on the record with a prediction for the 2008 Presidential election. I noted that it is MUCH too soon to be formulating such predictions. Think about it: at this point in 1987, Gary Hart was the Democratic front-runner with 60% of the vote and George H.W. Bush was seen as Reagan's Vice-President and not much else. By the end of April 1987, Hart was out of the race, and the Democrats were in a free-for-all that wound up nominating Michael Dukakis for the simple reason that he wasn't Jesse Jackson.
Or fast forward to 2004. Howard "Mr. Scream" Dean was routing all eight of his opponents in the polls. December, however, brought the capture of Saddam Hussein, an immediate liability that led the Democrats to decide the 'most electable liberal' was John Kerry. Kerry, of course, proved his bona fides by going an entire election without saying anything about the issues facing the country and losing to a guy who cannot even pronounce "subliminal." As a result, he's still a Senator.
As I told my friend, it is a simple fact that the Democrats have found ways to lose elections that most folks didn't know were possible. They are the New Orleans Saints of American politics, probably the only time you'll ever hear the word 'saint' and 'Democrats' mentioned in the same context. But I'm getting away from the point.
I think that the Democrats will relive the 1988 campaign and maybe to their ultimate regret. That year it was the covert 'stop Jesse Jackson' campaign. The problem this year is they have two liablities to stop and both happen to be from the same state. Hillary Clinton is the Democratic Party's worst nightmare come true. Why? Because if there is any single Democratic candidate that can unite Republicans with no use for McCain or Giuliani, it is Hillary Clinton. Given their self-appointed claim as the defender of women, this is going to be touchy. Hillary Clinton, in fact, might be the only candidate in America whose status would improve if she were caught having an extramarital affair. But no Republican in his right mind wants to go back to the 1990s except for a few lonely Congressmen who never moved up and need committee chairmanships to feel like real men.
This problem is complicated by the entry of a black (or at least half-black) candidate, Barak Obama. It is hard enough to stop one candidate, especially when that candidate has more money than the others combined. It is even harder to stop two when you don't have a viable alternative standing by. And the announcement yesterday of Elizabeth Edwards' recurrence of breast cancer probably deprives the Democrats of their strongest presence in former Senator John Edwards. Edwards is still running, but what will happen if his wife takes such a turn for the worse that he has to abandon his campaign? Stopping Obama, however, might be even more imperative for the Democrats. Only a dyed-in-the-wool liberal would even dare claim Obama is qualified after only two years in the Senate (in - sorry I said it - a minority role) to run for President. But all things being equal, I will predict Edwards at this point. The candidate whom I think could do rather well, however, is former Vice-President Al Gore. Indeed, I think a Gore-Edwards ticket would be a strong runner on Election Day for the Democrats.
The Republicans, on the other hand, are trying to figure out who they want to send up as a sacrificial lamb. McCain is sucking up to the conservative base that he has never had much use for in an attempt to undercut Giuliani. I cannot imagine the GOP base endorsing Giuliani's gun control, gay rights, or abortion positions. Then again - Giuliani could make an asset of such by arguing that he represented his city despite disagreements and would represent all people the same way. The Republicans have always nominated the early front-runner even if that front-runner was doomed (see Bob Dole, 1996). But there is ONE man who could make the difference. He will not run, but he certainly could still walk in and waltz off with the Presidency. I am referring to the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. If I were at the RNC and wanted to hold onto the White House, I would find out what would make Powell run. You could then get a right-wing bomb thrower like Gingrich as a Veep, and it would be up to Powell to act on Iraq.
But it will be McCain at this point. He is accumulating points with the base and has a record that can't be easily shredded on defense by Democrats who themselves didn't serve. At this point, I will say it is Edwards-McCain.
Then again, what do I know?