Hillary Clinton has been the Democratic front runner for quite a while, but her position at the top has been getting more and more precarious by the month. The biggest reason for that is that Hillary is caught in the “Iraq trap.” On the one hand, the Democratic base is virulently anti-war, but on the other hand, Hillary is afraid that being perceived as soft on the war on terror could make it impossible for her to win the general election. So, she’s refusing to call for a cut and run strategy while brutally criticizing the war and hoping to split the difference. Unfortunately, it may be a “worst of both worlds” situation for her because the liberal activists are angry at her for refusing to turn on the war while simultaneously, she isn’t coming across as hawkish enough to satisfy people who are serious about national security. Add to that her inexperience (A mere 8 years as a senator isn’t necessarily a hefty enough resume for a President), the considerable baggage she carries from her husband’s time in the White House, her high negative ratings, the fact that she foolishly squandered her enormous cash-on-hand advantage by wasting vast sums of money in a non-competitive senate race, and the fact that she lacks her husband’s “gift of gab,” and Hillary is far from a lock to win the Presidency or even the nomination.
Next, there’s Barack Obama, who is currently riding a wave of hype because he’s charismatic and has a “moderate tone” that people tend to like. However, Obama is very liberal and will have had less than one full term in the senate by the time that 2008 rolls around. Could an inexperienced, northern liberal with charisma capture the Democratic nomination? Sure. He’s a real threat to Hillary if only because he can probably reel in a large chunk of the black vote while still pulling in significant numbers of non-black liberal and moderate Democrats.
But, could Obama win the Presidency? That seems highly unlikely, especially since research has shown that, “In House races, white Democrats are 38 percentage points less likely to vote Democratic if their candidate is black.” The number of racist Democrats crossing the line might drop a bit because of the importance of the presidency, but Obama’s race would cost him a lot of votes. So, Obama could be the Democratic Katherine Harris in 2008 — strong enough to win the primary, but unelectable in the general elections because he’s a liberal lightweight who’d be victimized by Democratic racism.
On the other hand, you’ve got to wonder if Al Gore has the heart to take another run at the presidency. After all, he would have been sure to be the nominee in 2004 and he chose not to make a run at it. So, is he going to be willing to take another crack at it in 2008, when he’d have to win a real dogfight just to get elected? That seems to be an open question. That being said, if Gore does run, he can be expected to be an impact player. After all, we’re talking a southerner, a former Vietnam vet, an anti-war candidate, and a man who has served in the House, Senate, and spent two terms in the White House as VP. Whatever you may think of Gore, he has much more gravitas than any of the other top tier candidates.
On the other hand, when Gore lost in 2000, Bill Clinton was very popular, Al Gore was a sitting VP, and the economy was thought to be strong. Yet, Gore was still defeated by George W. Bush. Of course, afterwards, people suggested that Gore’s defeat was a result of brilliant strategy by the Bush team. But, given the politically inept performance of the Bush Administration over the last couple of years, you’ve got to wonder if Bush was that good or if Al Gore was just that bad. Personally, I lean towards the latter interpretation. Gore lost every southern state, including his home state of Tennessee and came across as a dull, wonky technocrat. Today? He’s older, chubbier, and he comes across as a flakier, more fanatical version of the candidate who was once considered a centrist. The “Inconvenient Truth” is that the Al Gore of 2008 probably would be a significantly weaker candidate than the Al Gore who lost a nail biter in 2000.
Last but not least, John Edwards seems to be getting a surprising amount of traction. Sure, he’s from the south, is good looking with a great head of hair, is anti-war, and has some charisma. But, he’s a lightweight with a single term in the Senate to his credit and he added nothing to the ticket in 2004 when he was the VP.
Could Edwards win the nomination? Maybe. Could he win the general election? Well, the Kerry/Edwards ticket didn’t manage to win a single seat in the south last time around, which sort of defeats the purpose of selecting a southern candidate. Moreover, Edwards is such a “pre-9/11″ candidate. He’s so inexperienced and insubstantial that you could almost imagine him curled up under his desk in the fetal position if there were another big terrorist attack. He’s just not the sort of guy who inspires confidence that he could handle a crisis.
Now, there are of course other candidates who’ll be running — John Kerry, who seems to leave most Democrats cold, Evan Bayh, Tom Vilsack, and Bill Richardson, none of whom could ever win because Democrats tend to like liberals pretending to be moderates, not actual moderates, and Wesley Clark, a man who appeals to Democrats because he can use his status as a general to distract voters from the fact that he basically shares Cindy Sheehan’s views on the war in Iraq. Then there’s Joe Biden, Christopher Dodd, Dennis Kucinich and the rest of the cavalcade of also-rans who can feel free to plan vacations in November of 2008 without having the slightest worry that they’ll have to spend that time redecorating the West Wing of the White House. But, at least for the moment, the four Democrats to watch are Clinton, Obama, Edwards, and Gore.