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Gazing into the 2008 crystal ball

University of Virginia Center for Politics Director and frequent talking head Larry Sabato puts his two cents in on the Dems jockeying for 2008 position, and it makes for entertaining reading. He clearly sees success with moderate candidates — but that’s no surprise. Sabato’s focus is solely on conventional wisdom and perceived electability. (There is actually a Sabato spoof site, btw).

Anyway, there is a lot to chew on here, particularly given the news that marriage amendment-supporting Virginia Governor Tim Kaine has been tapped to give the Dem response after the SOTU, indicating where Dem leadership wants to take the party. From Sabato’s Crystal Ball:

* The nomination of Hillary Clinton would be an enormous gamble by Democrats. Instead of a laser-like focus on the inadequacies of the Bush administration, the campaign might well turn out, at least in good part, to be rehash of the mistakes and scandals of the Clinton years. The GOP nominee might get a pass, positioned as an unsullied alternative, while Americans sought to turn the page on both the Clinton and Bush eras after 16 consecutive years of two-family rule.

* John Kerry had his chance in 2004, and few are anxious to repeat that experience.

* John Edwards has shrewdly picked the underclass as his issue (even before Hurricane Katrina), but his thin public office resume and weak base of support in North Carolina are serious obstacles; he also had his first, best chance in 2004.

* Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin is a fine fellow, an honest, principled public official, but he is well to the left, has no real appeal in most Red States (especially in the South), and would test the limits of Americans’ tolerance in a couple of ways (he is twice divorced and Jewish). His relatively early call for withdrawal from Iraq has made him a liberal favorite among bloggers and activists, a la Howard Dean in ’04, so he cannot be dismissed in the Democrats’ nominating process. Still, Feingold, under most circumstances, would be an easy mark for the Republicans in the fall.

* Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware will have had 35 years of Senate experience by 2008, and few know foreign policy as well. Yet his tiny base in Delaware, limited fund-raising potential, and off-putting speaking style make him quite a long-shot. Biden’s performance in the Alito confirmation hearings did nothing to help him, either, and few graduates of Princeton University will be signing up for his campaign, we suspect.

* Some liberal Democrats keep talking about Al Gore and Howard Dean, but neither one will, or should, run.

* Governor Mark Warner has just finished a successful stint in Virginia’s top job, having well managed a difficult fiscal situation and also having elected a more liberal successor, Tim Kaine, in a conservative Red State. Warner built an attractive record in a wide variety of areas, from education to mental health to the environment, and he truly made the most of the one four-year term to which Virginia’s Constitution still limits its governors, consecutively. Although a certified suburban yuppie, Warner made deep inroads in rural areas by lavishing attention upon rural people and their problems. He adopted NASCAR, country music, and an antipathy to gun control. With roots in Indiana and Connecticut, not just Virginia, Warner has the wealth and the appeal to run an impressive national campaign.

* Evan Bayh of Indiana is yet another respectable, mediagenic, family-oriented moderate with presidential ambitions. In the deeply Red Hoosier state, Bayh has won two landslide elections as governor and two as senator. These eleven Midwestern electoral votes, possibly combined with the twenty from neighboring Ohio, might be deducted from the GOP and added to the Democratic column by Bayh–making a Republican presidential victory difficult mathematically. A Warner-Bayh or Bayh-Warner ticket could be well nigh unbeatable, with Warner adding Virginia’s thirteen electoral votes and probably West Virginia’s five. The total of forty-nine electoral votes from these four Red states (OH, IN, VA, WV) would be nearly impossible for the GOP to make up, should this come to pass. Republicans need not worry: The Virginia-Indiana pairing makes so much political sense that the Democrats will never actually do it. This is not to say that Bayh has no disadvantages. The good senator is, well, boring and cautious to a fault. Even well funded, as he is likely to be, it is difficult to imagine how he gets traction in a large field.

Sabato also mentions Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, and Sen. Barack Obama briefly, but he discounts them for 2008.


This should run on every blog the moment McCain announces.

Sabato also speculates on the Republican field, which has some pretty sad pickings for 2008 as well. He spends a lot of time on Bush-humping McCain, but I won’t bore you with that. This section was quite hilarious.

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is magnetic, articulate, intriguing, and close to New Hampshire, so he could surprise us. But how does a Mormon from Massachusetts–the enemy state for Republicans–overcome all the obvious obstacles in his path, such as only one term as governor, some moderate positions in his 2002 campaign, and his lack of foreign policy experience? New York Governor George Pataki is also underwhelming. He is surprisingly obscure for a three-termer, is leaving office unpopular in his home state, would be unlikely to carry New York in November, and has positions on social issues so liberal that he cannot hope to secure the votes of most GOP conservatives.

Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee lost over 100 pounds, which is admirable, but it doesn’t make for much of a presidential platform. And can Republicans contemplate choosing a presidential nominee from Bill Clinton’s state so soon after the Clinton administration? Little known Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas has a geographic advantage, perhaps, in the Iowa caucuses, but he is perceived as a Sammy-one-note on abortion. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is a hard-driving, exceedingly bright man who has secured the worst reviews for his budding candidacy in the entire field. Maybe once he leaves the presidential candidacy hellhole called the Senate in early 2007 he will be able to regenerate his White House bid. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is eternally engaging and creative, but no one yet takes his potential candidacy seriously. Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska might be a substitute for John McCain if McCain chooses not to run, yet he has most of McCain’s problems and few of his advantages. Oh yes, Nebraska is also close to Iowa.

OK, folks, it’s your turn, what do you think of Sabato’s observations?

Hat tip Holly.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding