- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2005

It would be the perfect media match, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton versus First Lady Laura Bush for president in 2008.

Not possible, you say? Mrs. Clinton, after all, is almost certain to be running for her party’s nomination. After her recent hilarious and deft comic performance at the recent White House correspondents’ dinner in the nation’s capital, Mrs. Bush, already far more popular than her husband, is now clearly the most well-liked woman in America.

Of course, I am only half serious about half of this ticket. Mrs. Bush has not ever indicated her interest in running for public office. Until the 2004 campaign, she remained carefully in the background.

A Hillary-Laura race would be the quintessential cast of political surrogates. It would be Hillary’s speechwriter up against Laura’s. It would be former President Bill versus incumbent President George W. advising their wives. It would be James Carville matching wits with Karl Rove. It might not quite be Hollywood, but it would be Tin Pan Alley. Think of the campaign songs. Think of the fashion statements.

My real point is that, while the media might be fascinated by the possibility, and words might be spent on the prospect, it would have almost nothing to do with political reality.

Three years out, lists and fields of candidates are already circulating. Of course, polls are being taken with names of those who are not really serious candidates, but whose name everyone knows. Each election cycle has its own character. Rarely do early favorites actually get nominated, as Bob Dole was in 1996. Almost always, there is an incumbent president or vice president in the field.

The year 2008 is special case. There is not only no incumbent or recent incumbent running, but the early lists of hopefuls in both parties are relatively thin. After two two-term presidents, each of whom displayed considerable political skill, there seems to be a vacuum.

Mrs. Clinton dominates a lot of speculation because of her partisans and her opponents.

Conventional wisdom, always a trap at this early stage, is now so rampant that I would suggest that someone reading current polls and discussions about 2008 presidential candidates in 2009 might wonder what the pundits were smoking.

Then we have the sorry spectacle of 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry traipsing the country attempting to finesse the 2008 nomination by presumption. He seems like a deflated balloon from an old Macy’s Thanksgiving parade trying to walk around at Christmas. Mrs. Clinton, having initially signalled a bold move towards the political center, now goes around the country trying to rouse the faithful with the old and empty anti-Bush cliches that demonstrably failed in the late 2004 presidential campaign.

Former Sen. John Edwards, having impressed so many so early in that same campaign, has apparently no knack for reviving interest in a future candidacy. Is it because he has nothing to say?

Sen. Joseph Biden, the Lazarus of the Democratic Party, who revived himself with years of excellent performance on the Senate Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees, has been trapped in the logjam over the “nuclear option” and judicial appointments. One of the most qualified Democrats, and a sitting governor to boot, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, is barely mentioned, as is another sitting governor, Mark Warner of Virginia. A former governor, and now senator, Tom Carper of Delaware, is not mentioned at all.

Not that the Republican field looks or sounds any better. Retiring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, proceeding toward a “nuclear” showdown in the Senate over judicial appointments, remains mostly unknown to the country, as colorless perhaps as his Democratic counterpoint, Sen. Harry Reid, who, thankfully, no one is promoting for president.

Most media and polling attention on the GOP side goes to two charismatic figures, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, who are nonetheless probably unnominatable by the Republican Party, not to mention their age and health issues. Suggesting Dick Cheney is rhetorical self-indulgence, and is mostly as expression of dissatisfaction with GOP prospects after George W. Bush.

Conventional wisdom rules out former governor of Pennsylvania Tom Ridge, even though he is a household word and a canny politician. Despite the endless carping about his performance as the nation’s first secretary of homeland security, “he kept us safe” during his watch, something voters might remember more than color codes and pot shots by second-guessers who had no responsibilities.

GOP governors Bill Owens, Mitt Romney, and Tim Pawlenty get little mention (although the 2008 nominee is likely to be a present or former governor) and don’t show up on polls.

It’s a free country, and pundits have the right to speculate about 2008 all they want, but my suggestion about predictions made now is that readers, spotting any such prognostication, should change channels quickly or move to the sports page. Meanwhile, Hillary vs. Laura can fulfill any needs for political fantasy. Bring it on!

Barry Casselman writes about national politics for the Preludium News Service.

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