Wednesday, March 14, 2007

did anybody hear the starting gun?

Right now, months before the first ballot is cast, we already know who will be the next President of the United States. At least, we think we do, because now it takes hundreds of millions of dollars to run for the office (and win) and we think we know the people who are capable of doing that right now. For the Blue team, HRC is the media-nominated front-runner, with the most cash and personnel, as well as the best surrogate in America. As most people who look to the cash first and foremost think, its her race to lose. And certainly her candidacy in the general election would give new inspiration to the flagging conservatives.

But then there is Obama, who has a powerful generational and multi-ethnic draw. He has an inspiring quality that, frankly, none of the other candidates on either side possess: 500 volunteers showed up for a rally he had recently in Oakland, California. John Edwards would be lucky if that many people came to see him speak at a rally and while Hill may be able to give some middle-class professional women the chance to cheer, Obama has a Kennedyesque charisma which provides a greater draw across the progressive base. And last on the top tier is John Edwards, who talks the best game and is the vanilla choice if Hillary is not liberal enough and Obama seems unelectable to those wobbly centrists in control.

A similar scenario is playing out right now in France, where they are holding their presidential election this year, as Jacques Chirac is retiring. The putative front-runner was Segolene Royal of the rather mainstream Socialist Party. But a string of media gaffes and missteps has imploded her candidacy. Although her main rival, Chirac's successor the right-leaning populist nicolas Sarkozy benefits from Royal's meltdown, the real winner has been Francois Bayrou, a centrist parliamentarian who recently threw his hat into the ring. Even if the situations aren't totally analogous, Edwards must be hoping to pull a Bayrou now and get ahead by stealing the floor. Obama really is the anti-Bush though and his election would represent a historic turnaround in the American polity to go from Bush to Obama, which is why I remain skeptical but optimistic. Has America put to bed racism and sexism enough for this to be a good bet? We'll see...

Meanwhile, on the Red team we have a field of front-runners which must keep Pat Robertson up at night, crusty war hero Senator John McCain, who if elected would be the oldest president in American history; former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani whose platform makes it seem like he's running for President of 9/11; and former Massachusetts governor Williard 'Mitt' Romney, of whom we could say alot about his governance, but let's just say that he spent more time runnign for president in the past year (and failing to get his protege to follow him thus depriving the state GOP of their one remaining power base) than actually doing something for the citizens of the Commonwealth.

But of course before we start painting any heroic portraits for the National Gallery, we should recognize the multitude of hidden variables which could wreak havoc on this tidy pre-packaged narrative. Like if Hillary wins and she faces a nader challenge which draws juuuuust enough votes for Romney to win. Picture a McCain-Obama match of the generations or a Giuliani-Obama match (which i'll bet would give Al Sharpton serious indigestion). Second-tier candidates could have an unexpectedly good showing on either side. An independent candidate could get a boost dependent on who each party selects. Even the choice of a strong vice-presidential candidate by either side could be a vote mover. Polls don't tell us much at this point: even though a generic Democratic presidential candidate would beat a generic Republican candidate by 20 points, John McCain and Giuliani look like they could take Clinton in a head-to-head and maybe Obama too.

Right-wing media types are already salivating over the prospect of either getting one of their favorite targets, the former First Lady who made many of them rich by inspiring their best-selling Whitewater series by Regency OR a guy who has never had a difficult major race before having glided into a Senate seat with pitiable opposition and has the last name of Hussein OR a former trial lawyer who according to Ann Coulter is, like, 2QT2BSTR8.

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