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2008: The Case Against Barack Obama

A post filed earlier this week made the argument that Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois should seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. Today, The Fix makes the counter argument:

Photo Gallery of Sen. Barack Obama
Given that Barack Obama has the advantage of youth, should the Democrats' rising star take a pass on a 2008 presidential run? (AP Photo)

It's Too Soon, Senator

On Nov. 4. 2008, Obama will be 47 years old. He will have served in the Senate for less than four years and in elected office for little more than a decade.

Even assuming a Democrat wins the White House and is reelected in 2012, Obama will only be in his mid-50s when the 2016 election comes around.

Why rehash all of these facts? Because the most compelling reason for Obama not to run for president is that by jumping too soon he could ruin one of the most promising Democratic political careers in recent memory.

If Obama decides to run in 2008 and doesn't wind up as either the presidential or vice presidential nominee, he would run the risk of being perceived as yesterday's news by voters should he try to run for national office again down the line.

There are several recent examples of this trend. The most fitting is Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, who was seen as a Democratic rising stars when he began to raise money and organize for the 1988 presidential race. But charges of plagiarism forced Biden from the race, and although he remained in the Senate and is planning to run for president again in 2008, he has not yet been able to reclaim his former star status.

Depending on the outcome of the 2008 Democratic contest, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards may join these ignominious ranks. Edwards shocked many in the political establishment by deciding to run for president in 2004 after just a single term in the Senate. He proved his doubters wrong with a strong second-place showing in the Iowa caucuses and wound up on the national ticket. Should Edwards fall short in his all-but-certain 2008 bid, you can be sure there will be any number of critics who argue that he tried for too much, too soon.

There is also a sense in Democratic circles that Obama is simply not ready to assume the role of spokesman for his party. They argue that Obama's considerable rhetorical skills belie a somewhat wet-behind-the-ears politician who is still trying to deal with his rapid rise to political fame.

Obama is slowly growing into his role, but there have been bumps along the way. He has brought in several national operatives to held guide him, including Minyon Moore, who is charged with building Obama's outreach to African Americans, and Anita Dunn, who is running Obama's Hopefund leadership PAC until the end of the year.

GOP operatives are only too happy to remind journalists that Obama has never had to run a general election campaign against a serious GOP candidate. In 2004, former investment banker Jack Ryan won the Republican primary in the Illinois Senate race but was forced to withdraw after allegations surfaced that he had urged his wife to attend sex clubs against her wishes. No credible Republican stepped forward to fill the void left by Ryan, and the party eventually settled for Alan Keyes, who had run for Senate twice unsuccessfully in Maryland (and don't forget the 1996 and 2000 presidential bids). The Keyes candidacy was widely seen as a joke, even by the most loyal Republicans. The outcome was never in doubt: Obama won with a whopping 70 percent of the vote in the general election.

Republicans whisper that a wealth of negative information exists about Obama that has never received any real airing in the national media, though the mere fact that this kind of talk is being spread around may say more about GOP fears of an Obama candidacy than anything the Illinois senator may or may not have done.

Still, it remains to be seen how Obama would react to an opposition research document dump against him. He has generally been wary of confrontation with Republicans since coming to the Senate. Obama briefly clashed with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) earlier this year over an ethics reform proposal, but the two men quickly made nice and downplayed the incident.

The final reason Obama should stay out of the 2008 race can be boiled down to just three words -- Hillary Rodham Clinton. The New York senator is an overwhelming favorite for the nomination in 2008, thanks to a massive fundraising and organizational machine just waiting to be turned on.

If Obama chooses to run, he would need to get around Clinton in the primaries -- a formidable challenge given the preparations she and her campaign team have already made. Putting aside Clinton, there are several other well-known politicians -- Edwards and John Kerry jump to mind -- who have considerable financial and organizational resources that would complicate Obama's effort.

Why not wait four or eight years until he can be the "Hillary" of the presidential field, the odds-on nominee, rather than just one of a handful of candidates given a chance at winning the nomination?

Time is on Obama's side. Another four or eight years will allow him to polish his political skills and build the kind of network that would make him nearly unbeatable in a future primary fight. Should he jump in 2008, he runs the risk of being a has-been by 2012. If he waits, he can work on establishing political juggernaut status.

Read The Fix's past cases FOR and AGAINST:

* Rudy Giuliani: For | Against
* Al Gore: For | Against
* John Kerry: For | Against

By Chris Cillizza  |  July 27, 2006; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Democratic Party , Eye on 2008  
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