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December 17, 2007

Down the Stretch We Go: Can Any of These People Be President?

The presidential primary season, which feels like it's been going on for about two years, is finally beginning to wind down. The general election may be 11 months away, but the end of the primary season is only weeks away. We may conceivably know in eight weeks who both presidential nominees will be. But right now, we have no idea.

You could call the 2008 election which has thus far taken up all of 2007 and much of '06 a crazy one. But calling the present contest a "crazy election" is sort of like calling any Sunday NFL slate "a crazy Sunday of football." It's pretty much equally true every time. Every election is crazy.

What are the reasons this time? For the first time since 1952, there is no incumbent president or vice president in the race. And on top of that, neither side has a clearly defined "establishment candidate." Therefore, with Iowa weeks away, there are three Democrats and at least five Republicans who could conceivably find themselves president of the United States.

But the flipside of that might be the craziest thing of all: Literally every single candidate running in both parties has at least one thing that should disqualify them as a viable candidate. Most people following the election have probably internalized them all by now, but just to rehash:

For the Republicans, John McCain has fumbled throughout the campaign, has started to look too old for the first time in his career, and is hated by much of the base, to boot. Fred Thompson peaked before he even announced. Rudy Giuliani has a liberal record on social issues, is on wife number three and has as two of his closest associates an accused pedophile priest and a former police commissioner scheduled to stand trial right in the middle of the campaign.

Mitt Romney has the best resume of any candidate in the race of either party, but has the disadvantage of being the phoniest major party candidate in recent political history. As for Mike Huckabee, he represents a true threat to a Republican elite that believes in playing lip service to conservative Christians while giving big business everything it wants (Huckabee, horrors, prefers to do the opposite). But compared to Ron Paul, Huckabee is Mr. Establishment. And the less said about Tom Tancredo, Alan Keyes and Duncan Hunter, the better.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is hamstrung by the fact that about half the country absolutely loathes her. Barack Obama, for all his virtues, is a less-than-one-term senator with no foreign policy credentials to speak of. John Edwards at least made a full term, but he's 0-for-2 so far in runs for national office, a streak he looks about to extend.

Bill Richardson has sullied his mostly sterling reputation with a lackluster campaign, and while Joseph Biden and Chris Dodd are both distinguished U.S. senators, neither has done a thing to distinguish himself in this race (I'd be happy with any of the three as veep, though). Meanwhile, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel have the disadvantage of both being completely insane, though it should be noted that near-lunacy certainly hasn't hurt Huckabee in his run.

Refreshing as the Oprah-aided rise of Obama in December has been, Huckabee's has been even more unlikely. Sure, he's helped expose just how fraudulent the candidacies of Giuliani and Romney are until the media and public get a good look at him and realize he has no idea what he would do as president. Huckabee could be the Howard Dean of '08 on the GOP side the insurgent who never expected to be the frontrunner. Only since he's peaking so late, Huckabee could conceivably save his meltdown for after the nomination, as opposed to before. Democrats should be down on their knees praying for that to happen.

I don't agree with right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt often, and he's so clearly pimping for Romney that his judgment is clouded, but when he predicted a Huckabee nomination would lead to a "44-state loss" for the GOP, it was hard to disagree.

But what I'm personally dreading is an Obama-Giuliani race. If that happened, I could see Rudy running just as he did against David Dinkins for mayor in 1989 and 1993, using every coded racial appeal known to man, and trying to win almost solely by exploiting fear of the gays, the Muslims and the Mexicans. It would make the Swift Boat campaign look like nothing and it's also probably the only scenario I can think of in which a Republican is elected president.

If I had to predict and my record in this manner is checkered I'd guess Hillary and Romney win their respective nominations. But regardless, after a year of debates and endless analysis, I'm about ready for the voting to start.


2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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