- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2006

Although there are already shadows and rough shapes in the 2008 presidential race ahead, it is necessary to say that any truly useful commentary about that crucial contest cannot probably be made until after the mid-term elections this year.

But op-ed writers, pundits and political analysts are only human, and the temptations are strong to say something about this pivotal election even now. I hope my readers will allow me this indulgence.

On the Democratic side, there are a number of veteran figures, and a few new ones. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton seems to be the nominal frontrunner, but her path to the nomination may be chronically problematic. Other major candidates include Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, who has returned like Lazarus from the flames of his meltdown when he ran for president in 1988; Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who has a spectacular resume that includes his Hispanic heritage; Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa; holdovers Sen. John Kerry and John Edwards from their losing effort in 2004; and Gen. Wesley Clark from his. Sen. Russell Feingold is likely to be the new favorite of the party’s left base.

Fresher faces the include former governor of Virginia, Mark Warner, whispered to be the dark horse of the year, and Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana. Beyond these names are a number of younger figures in the party such as Sen. Barak Obama of Illinois, Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware and the new governor of Virginia, Tim Kaine, who made a positive impression in his recent Democratic response to President Bush’s State of the Union speech. These might need some more seasoning before reaching the national stage.

Standing out on the Republican side as the early frontrunner, and apparently more formidable than he was in 2000, Sen. John McCain would seem to be the man to beat. Older than his rivals, and recovering from illness, he nevertheless seems truly engaged in the race, and is one of the few presidential candidates in either party who enjoys noticeable support from across the political aisle.

He will have to share the stage, however, with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who will, regardless of how many votes he gets in the primaries, dominate the Republican political debate with his ideas. Sen. Bill Frist, the majority leader, was an early favorite, but seems to have receded. Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska is interested, but his maverick status and criticism of the war in Iraq may leave him without a base in his own party. Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas has the backing of many of the party’s conservatives, but may not be able to expand that base.

Sen. George Allan of Virginia is touted as a dark horse (Virginia seems to specialize in them these days), but so far has not made a strong impression in his travels around the country. Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts has shown a certain splash, but his second reversal on the abortion issue does not seem to have made him many friends among political activists on either side of the issue.

Secretary of State Condolezza Rice is often mentioned as a candidate, but like her predecessor, Colin Powell, gives no indication she is interested in the job. Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida would be the frontrunner in 2008 if he had a different last name or didn’t share DNA with his father and his brother. Two New Yorkers, Rudy Giuliani and Gov. George Pataki, are often listed as candidates. Former Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas seem more likely to be considered for vice president this time.

It is not names, however, which merit too much speculation at this point. It is perhaps more useful to describe the changing political landscape and climate which will put one of them in the Oval Office on Jan. 20, 2009. From time to time in the coming months, I hope to discuss what is likely to make 2008 so different from 2000 and 2004.

I will begin by suggesting that the red/blue state dichotomy of the past two presidential elections is likely to change. In those contests, state voting appeared to be static, at least in their electoral-college choices. But demographic and ideological transformations were already underway in 2004. In 2008, with a clean slate of aspirants, the political battlefields may shift dramatically.

In significant states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, Virginia, New Jersey and “Minnewisowa” (the electoral superstate made up of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa), voters could break old voting habits in 2008, and signal this as early as the midterm elections this year.

As I said, this is not a time for prognostications. But it is a time for due diligence.

Barry Casselman writes about national politics for Preludium News Service.

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