- The Washington Times - Monday, December 4, 2006

The 2008 Democratic presidential race was off and running as soon as last month’s midterm elections concluded, with front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton facing more opposition than she may have expected at this point in the two-year campaign cycle.

The New York senator and former first lady, who easily won a second term on Nov. 7, is the leading choice of her party in all the polls. But more than half a dozen other candidates are likely to challenge her expected bid for the nomination, including Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the party’s 2004 nominee; Mr. Kerry’s running mate, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina; and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, the Democrats’ hottest political figure, who has rocketed into contention like a rock star.

But the Democrats’ growing pack of presidential hopefuls is fraught with problems. Mrs. Clinton remains one of the most polarizing political leaders in the country, with nearly half of the voters polled earlier this year saying they did not like her. Mr. Kerry, who hurt himself in the final weeks of the midterm elections when he told a joke that suggested only uneducated soldiers ended up fighting the war in Iraq, has fallen in the polls since then.

And both Mr. Edwards and Mr. Obama have thin experience on their resumes. Mr. Edwards of North Carolina served only one term in the Senate, while Mr. Obama, who was elected in 2004 has been in the Senate for just two years, and has little or no legislative accomplishments of which to speak.

“I don’t think anyone is going to doubt Hillary’s credentials. She certainly was an activist first lady. On the other hand, there will be issues raised about her [lack of] foreign-policy experience and gender,” said pollster John Zogby. “She does have problems.”

“Right now, Barack Obama and John Edwards are both blank slates, empty slates,” Mr. Zogby said.

A national poll of 530 registered Democratic voters conducted last month by Opinion Research for CNN showed Mrs. Clinton favored by 33 percent. Mr. Obama was in second place with 15 percent and Mr. Edwards and former Vice President Al Gore were tied for third with 14 percent. Mr. Kerry, in the wake of what he called his “botched joke,” dropped from 12 percent in late October to 7 percent.

“Worse news for Kerry: a majority of registered Democrats say they do not want to see Kerry win the party’s nomination in 2008,” CNN said.

The rest of the pack of potential candidates were all in the low single digits, including retired Gen. Wesley Clark, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who on Thursday became the first Democrat to formally announce his presidential candidacy.

As first lady in the Clinton White House, Mrs. Clinton had a reputation as the most liberal figure in her husband’s inner circle. But during the past six years in the Senate she has reinvented her political persona as more of centrist. She voted for the Iraq war resolution and rebuked Democratic calls for a complete U.S. troop withdrawal.

The centrist Democratic Leadership Council, which helped Bill Clinton put together the agenda that helped him win the presidency, has been in her corner, too, defining her as one of them and giving her prominent speaking roles at their political conventions.

“There has been an attempt at an image makeover in which she is attempting to portray herself as a centrist Democrat,” Mr. Zogby said.

But in the past few months, and particularly since the midterm elections, most of the political buzz in the party has been about Mr. Obama and his announcement that he is considering a run for the presidency.

Mr. Obama reportedly has been talking to top Democratic campaign strategists, including John Norris, the Des Moines Democrat who was the architect of Mr. Kerry’s come-from-behind win in the state’s 2004 delegate-selection caucuses.

Mr. Norris said Mr. Obama “truly wanted to know what he had to do and when he had to do it,” to wage a competitive campaign in Iowa, political reporter Thomas Beaumont wrote last week in the Des Moines Register.

Story Continues →