One year away from the first presidential primaries of 2008, the selection process is in a unique position: Both parties have open fields, and no consensus candidates are emerging.

With President Bush’s unpopularity and the continuing decline of support for the Iraq war, the presidential election is shaping up to be the Democrats’ to lose. After gaining steam in the mid-term elections and profiting from Bush’s negatives, the Democrats appear to be in their best position to win the White House since the 1976 election of Jimmy Carter.

Currently, celebrity Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., are leading the Democratic pack, each collecting approximately 30 percent of the party support in polls. However, both Clinton and Obama possess fatal flaws that should temper the enthusiasm of any Democrat hoping to win 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. with either senator at the top of the ticket. Sen. Clinton might be the most reviled politician among Republicans, and she would bring out the wrath of the right in unprecedented strength. Conservative-leaning battleground states such as Virginia, Missouri and Florida would be near impossibilities, with odds in other swing states such as Iowa and New Mexico measurably reduced. Furthermore, she would be dogged by Bill Clinton’s skeletons and risk being overshadowed by her larger-than-life ex-president husband.

Sen. Obama also faces daunting and substantive hurdles to becoming president. He is only two years removed from the Illinois Senate, rendering him inexperienced in the complexities of key campaign issues such as foreign policy and military affairs. Moreover, his social liberalism could alienate many socially conservative Democrats in the same key battleground states mentioned above. Unfortunately, the fact that he is African-American may overshadow his competency among many voters, further rendering him an incomplete candidate. While he may be the articulate, handsome and charismatic leader the Democrats have been searching for since Bill Clinton left the White House, Sen. Obama is simply too inexperienced to be the leader of the free world.

While both of these candidates could easily, and may very well, win the Democratic nomination, I remain skeptical of their ability to win the general election. That does not mean the Democrats are hopeless, however; New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson can be the party’s saving grace, but only if the party wakes up in time to embrace him.

Gov. Richardson’s résumé speaks for itself: a two-term governor of New Mexico, a key battleground state; a seven-term congressman; a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under Bill Clinton; a former Secretary of Energy under Bill Clinton; and a former chairman of the Democratic Governors’ Association. He has executive, legislative and international experience, all essential ingredients for a successful president.

Richardson, as the only Hispanic contender, has the greatest chance of instituting immigration reform (he supports comprehensive immigration reform), he can win the Hispanic vote in swing states such as Florida and he can attract Republican moderate crossover voters. He has clout in energy policy, as the former energy secretary and proponent of alternate fuels to help solve America’s oil dependency. He has cut taxes and expanded jobs in New Mexico and enjoys the libertarian Cato Institute’s top ranking of any Democrat for fiscal and economic policy. Also, he would dominate New Mexico in any national election, a state that tilted toward Bush in 2004. Richardson’s regional notoriety could shift Colorado and Arizona, both competitive Bush-leaning states.

He conducts himself with the same suave yet unpolished charm of the other governor-turned-president, Bill Clinton. He is notorious for getting speeding tickets, claiming he is too busy getting things done to follow the posted limits. He is as confident as his résumé is strong, as bold as his approval ratings are high (65 percent in New Mexico). He is the most qualified possible candidate for president in either party.

And so the Democratic Party is faced with a choice: either nominating Barack or Hilary, or victory in 2008. If they choose the latter, all roads to the White House lead through New Mexico, and Bill Richardson speeds wherever he goes.

Will Smith ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in political science and religious studies.