Sunday, December 24, 2006

Have Clinton and Obama Really Cleared The 2008 Field?

Though I disagree with his central thesis, Dan Balz has an excellent piece that's well worth reading in today's Washington Post in which he implies that, between Hillary Clinton's (D-NY) money and name recognition and Barack Obama's (D-IL) sheer star power, the 2008 Democratic presidential primary is all but over.

You can go here to read Balz's article, but I have to say that, while Clinton and Obama have clearly been defined by the media as the apparent front-runners, this is not all over by a long shot.

The fact is, nobody knows what's going to happen politically in 2007 and, at this stage of the process leading to the 1992 presidential election, all people thought about a certain Arkansas Governor was that he had given a long, boring speech at the 1988 Democratic convention -- and things seemed to work out just fine for him.

Evan Bayh (D-IN), Russ Feingold (D-WI) and former Virginia Governor Mark Warner have already removed themselves from contention. It truly saddened me when Feingold took his hat out of the ring as I believe he is one of the few national politicians who has shown guts and true leadership during the harrowing Bush years. As for Bayh, I had already penned a column called "Evan Who?" that I decided to kill after he dropped out, but it was predicated on how closely I watch the United States Senate and the fact that Bayh is so far off the legislative radar screen you need extreme Google dexterity to even find him in the Congressional Record.

But it's premature to wholly rule out the likes of John Edwards, Joe Biden (D-DE), John Kerry (D-MA), Governors Tom Vilsack (Iowa) and Bill Richardson (New Mexico), Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) and, yes, even Al Gore.

Let's face it, Edwards has been quietly running for some time and, after years of the dark cloud that is George W. Bush, the former North Carolina Senator has the sunny countenance, intellect and ability to connect with voters that people will be starving for by the time this becomes a serious race.

I believe whether or not Biden will be a factor at all will be seen in the first few months of the year when, as the new Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, the Delaware Senator has already announced six weeks of oversight hearings on the Bush administration's conduct of the Iraq war. If Biden makes news every day with these hearings, uses his new power to turn over every rock used by Team Bush to hide their crimes and even uncovers fresh grounds for impeachment proceedings, he will suddenly become a major player in the Democratic primaries.

Gore has found a much more natural voice since being relieved of the burdens of elected office, has always been right about the environment, was against the Iraq fiasco from the beginning and brings to the table the belief on the part of millions of Americans that he got royally screwed in the 2000 presidential election.

Or, I could be wrong about all of this -- and that's exactly my point. A lot can happen in 2007 -- it's going to be a riveting year politically -- and we'll know far more about this landscape when even the first half of the new year plays out than we know from the comfort of our armchairs in December of 2006.

I think if there's one thing we've discovered about the American people, it's that they cast their presidential votes based far more on a gut-level impression of the candidates than the pure qualifications for the job.

And, hey, based on that, I like the looks of an Edwards-Obama ticket.

Update: Just got a note from Jeffrey Hauser, a former staffer for General Wesley Clark, who correctly took me to task for not including General Clark in this column. Clark has been right about the Iraq war from the very beginning, has broader appeal than he is given credit for and neglecting to even mention him in this piece was a mistake on my part.