Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Something very troubling has been going on in the tumultuous Democratic presidential nomination process that will need fixing sometime in the future.

The biggest part of the problem has to do with the party’s fundamental weakness in the kind of candidates the Democrats have available to run. Let’s face it, this has from the beginning been a very weak bunch, which is why polls have shown so many Democrats — nearly half at various points in this political process — were undecided or indicated they could change their mind at any time, any many did in Iowa and New Hampshire.

With the exception of Howard Dean, all the other major candidates are members of Congress. No legislator has been elected president in more than 40 years. John F. Kennedy was the last lawmaker to make it to the White House, and then just barely over Vice President Richard Nixon.

And with good reason. The people in Congress are seen as part of the problem, not part of the solution. They have contributed to the deficits, the debt, the overspending, the pandering to special interests and everything else that afflicts Washington. At least that’s how many people see it.

Thus, voters have looked to governors, outsiders who have run state governments and have executive abilities (George W. Bush of Texas, Bill Clinton of Arkansas or Jimmy Carter of Georgia), or vice presidents or former vice presidents of popular presidents (Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon or George H.W. Bush.

But there were no big governors in the Democratic field in this election cycle. One reason why: The GOP has dominated the gubernatorial arena and has had a much stronger bench to choose from.

Almost all the big states in the past decade were run by Republicans — Texas, New York, Michigan, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania — nearly 30 in all at one point. Democrats have picked up some of them in recent years, but governors do not run until they have at least one or more terms under their belt.

So they remain anemic in the most important farm club in the country — the statehouses and their bench grew even weaker last year, losing a big one in California in an embrassassing recall election.

So the Democrats ended up running a lot of tired, retread candidates from Capitol Hill who were not exactly political powerhouses.

I never thought Rep. Dick Gephardt was going anywhere because he had failed as party leader when he lost control of the House in 1994. He had four chances to win it back but failed each time. Besides, can anyone remember when a House member, who had announced his retirement, won the presidency?

So he ended up a dismal fourth in Iowa and dropped out of the race.

John Kerry has been in the Senate for a long time but has not been one of his party’s legislative leaders, content to remain in the shadow of Ted Kennedy, the senior senator from Massachusetts whose liberal voting record he faithfully emmulated.

Mr. Kerry has attempted to reinvent himself in the past couple of years, as a more mainstream senator. But his political roots as an antiwar protester who condemned America’s role in Vietnam, his championship of the SANE unilateral disarmanent movement in the Cold War, his vote against kicking Saddam Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait, and his liberal voting record will come back to haunt him if he becomes his party’s nominee.

Mr. Dean suffers from all the dangers of a once-little-know governor from a tiny, insulated, liberal state who has a bad habit of shooting from the lip without thinking and hoping he can get away with it — as he did over five terms as Vermont’s governor.

The man who suggested the Iraqis were no better off with Saddam Hussein out of power, or that we were no safer with him in prison, put his foot in his mouth again this week, this time saying the Iraqis’ “living standard is a whole lot worse than it was before.”

Mr. Dean seems to believe he can win the presidency by making the case for keeping Saddam’s terorist regime in power, a position the American people rationally reject. His maniacal rant in Iowa last week shows a man without the temperament to be president.

Part of the Democrats’ tendency to elevate weak candidates has to do with the shallow way the news media report and evaluate their candidates. In too many cases the dominant liberal media culture promote them rather than examine them in any depth.

Next to Messrs. Dean and Kerry, nowhere has candidate pandering been more evident than in the treatment of Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina who is essentially a creation of the news media.

Their fawning features on Mr. Edwards, whom they have promoted since 2001 as the next John F. Kennedy, was based on little else than style and looks and his trial lawyer’s skills to spin his case.

But where’s the reality check? He has run for elective office only once, the Senate term he is serving. He is not seeking re-election because polls showed his constituents would not re-elect him. This qualifies him to run the country?

Is there a big state Democratic governor out there who would like to be president someday? Call home because your party desperately needs you in 2008.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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