Aren't you sick of it already?
Even as this year's new Democratic majority was just being sworn in to office, the 2008 race for the presidency already seemed to be in full swing. Hell, on Nov. 9 — only two days after the election — Tom Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, had already announced his candidacy for the office, becoming the first major party candidate to take the plunge and doing so almost a full two years before the actual election.
And the presidential race is shaping up abnormally in more ways than one. Not only is the 2008 class of candidates abiding by an exceptionally anticipatory timeline, but the sheer size of said class can only be characterized as freakish. Vilsack, Biden, Dodd, Edwards, Gravel, Kucinich, Obama, Clinton, Richardson, Brownback, Cox, Giuliani, Hunter, Romney, Smith, Gilmore, Huckabee, McCain, Paul, Tancredo, Thompson. It almost seems that any person who — in their kindergarten declaration of an ideal career — expressed a desire to be president, has now thrown his hat into the ring.
Obviously, however, not every candidate has an equally viable chance at winning his or her party's nomination and front-runners have already established themselves. But, strangely, each party's current leaders in the race seem to be as unconventional as the race itself.
Take, for instance, the three candidates widely considered to be topping the Democratic primary field: Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama.
Sen. Clinton definitely has the most name recognition, money, and wields the most influence with Democratic Party operatives; yet her obstacles are particularly daunting. Clinton may be able to muscle her way through the primary, but if such were the case — because of her political baggage, Americans' galvanized opinions toward her and her status as the first female candidate to run as a major party nominee — she'd all but certainly face a steep uphill battle.
Wearing jeans and work boots, John Edwards announced his candidacy from a hurricane-ravaged neighborhood in New Orleans. Edwards is a man of high ideals and recognized as such within his party, but one wonders whether his attempts to woo traditionally Republican-leaning, rural-type voters (he apparently plans to use that wretched Mellencamp song from the Chevy commercials — "This Is Our Country" — as his campaign tune) will actually convince voters that he has somehow separated himself from a 2004 Kerry candidacy they felt unable to connect with.
Barack Obama is the Democratic wild card and, I believe, the party's best chance at success. A charismatic speaker, seemingly genuine and high-principled, the candidate has inspired a Kennedy-esque wave of enthusiasm. Still, Obama faces several challenges, among them his political inexperience, lack of detailed goals and, most obviously, his would-be status as the first black major party nominee.
Oddly, while the Democrats face a potential problem of having as their nominee a party-favorite with lack of mainstream appeal, the Republicans have the opposite conundrum. Each of their three leading primary candidates — John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney — might likely be well received by the general public, but faces difficulty in appeasing party loyalists.
In a party dominated by conservative Christians, John McCain, once well out of Evangelists' favor (think: South Carolina in the Senator's 2000 primary battle with George W. Bush), has spent an entire year pandering to the religious right and trying to shed his famed Maverick title. And while he has historically been a favorite of moderate America, McCain — of the three aforementioned, potential Republican nominees — might actually have the most trouble in the general election should he win the primary. The reason for this is the senator's unwavering support of President Bush's Iraq policy at a time when most Americans harbor serious reservations about the war.
"America's Mayor," Rudy Giuliani, may enjoy widespread support because of an image built on his post-9/11 steely resolve, but getting out of the primary might be impossible for the former manager of New York City. Giuliani is pro-choice, espouses less-than-adamant opposition to gay marriage, and was said to have lived with a gay couple during one of his divorces. Suffice it to say that Giuliani probably won't be winning the support of Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell anytime soon.
Lastly, Mitt Romney has the potential to be a likeable, mainstream candidate, but faces difficulties similar to those faced by McCain and Giuliani in escaping the GOP primary. Romney built his reputation as a moderate Republican willing to work with conservatives and crossed the aisle on issues such as universal health care — reasons for his popularity with moderates. However, Romney once made claims of support for both legalized abortion and gay marriage — both issues that will haunt him in the primary. Oh, and I forgot to mention Romney (a Mormon) was the governor of — gasp — Massachusetts (not exactly the heart of the Evangelical movement).
So, the way I see it, the Republicans' three leading candidates would likely bode well in a general election but party members seem unwilling to concede their nomination to any but the staunchest of conservatives. Meanwhile, the Democrats can't seem to decide between three leading candidates who would all be welcome nominees, but each of who might face a more difficult general election.
This is going to be interesting.
Rob Rossmeissl ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism and political science.