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Feingold Out of the 2008 Race

In something of a surprise, Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold has decided against pursuing a run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.

"Although I have given it a lot of thought, I cannot muster the same enthusiasm for a race for president while I am trying simultaneously to advance our agenda in the Senate," Feingold said in a statement released Sunday.

Feingold added that his decision had nothing to do with the other potential candidates in the field. But it's hard not to see his choice through the prism of Sen. Barack Obama's (Ill.) growing interest in a presidential bid. Obama, like Feingold, has been an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq since its inception. But Obama is a considerably better know personality nationwide and would dwarf Feingold if both men decided to run.

"The hunger for progressive change we feel is obviously not about me but about the desire for a genuinely different Democratic Party that is ready to begin to reverse the 25 years of growing extremism we have endured," wrote Feingold.

Feingold is the second serious Democratic candidate to take himself out of presidential consideration in recent months, joining ex-Virginia Gov. Mark Warner on the sidelines. Meanwhile, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) has jumped into the race and Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) is planning to form an exploratory committee -- the first major step in a national bid. And it's only Nov. 13!

The Fix sat down with Feingold last year to discuss a potential presidential run. Click here to read the story and here to watch the interview.

You can also check out our interviews with McCain and Vilsack.

By Chris Cillizza  |  November 13, 2006; 1:15 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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Comments

Watch for Al Gore to run. While all the other candidates get beaten up because of their votes for the war, their tacking to the center, their fear of Hillary, and their lack of experience, it just opens the door more and more for Gore. He has the experience, he was against the war before it was popular to do so, he can raise a ton of money, and he may be a refreshingly honest candidate in that he's not so "polished" like Edwards or the other guys. I really think people are now looking for someone who tells it like it is, even if it's not what they want to hear.

Seems to me like Hillary, Edwards, Richardson, Obama, and Bayh are the only major candidates left that have a realistic chance at winning the nomination. (Sorry, Kerry and Biden.) Look for Obama to drop out next because of "family concerns."

Posted by: Zzonkmiles | November 14, 2006 2:49 AM | Report abuse

Iowan, I am a Clark supporter and, yes, I have met him. I was very impressed with him and thought he was remarkable. While you might have had a less-than stellar meeting with him, I, on the other hand, definitely did not.

Posted by: nydem | November 13, 2006 6:47 PM | Report abuse

I will direct this to all Obama supporters. His rise to "fame" can mainley be credited to a book he wrote and I think is #1 on the current best sellers list. I cannot read his mind but if he is half as good and smart as some folks think, there is no way he will attempt a run for POTUS in 08. He knows or should know he has no chance of winning and can only hurt the nominee of the party no matter who he/she is.

Posted by: lylepink | November 13, 2006 6:19 PM | Report abuse

NBC4 has just announced that Guiliani has for a presidential exploratory committee.

Posted by: star11 | November 13, 2006 6:16 PM | Report abuse

I guess my disappointment then, BlueDog, is that I don't see a name on the left that can introduce new ideas with such success. Maybe every election isn't about a Clinton or, on the other side, a Reagan, but it seems like this coming one needs to be about that, if only because the status quo no longer seems sufficient, in any way.

More practically, especially if McCain runs, and decides to run in most places as a moderate Republican, where does that place a candidate like Clinton who has spent her years in the Senate trying to be whatever she thinks will poll the best. A bit harsh of course, but how can a moderate Democrat distinguish themselves against the formidable backdrop of McCain's own arguably centrist politics?

I know there are significant arguments for why his own party won't nominate McCain, but hypothetically, I think all the Democrats who are so gung-ho on moderate candidates need to play the 2008 election as though McCain were the person to beat, (or out-moderate, as it were).

The worry with McCain is increased if Obama runs and drives Clinton to the right, which I think is where she'd have to go to survive. I must say I'm not a fan of Clinton and for some reason Obama worries me. It could be I shy away from starpower, but I've never found him to be all that impressive beyond the hype and beyond the seduction of his personal story. But hopefully Obama and Clinton won't both run (and I'd choose Obama over Clinton anyday I think) because I think they both detract from each others' already somewhat questionable candidacy and would force each other into difficult political territory.

Any idea of how widereaching the Clark grassroots support is? And where is this mostly? Anyone have any quantitative information about Clark's following these days?

And I'd be curious to learn about Clark as a strategist. Is this just assumed from his military record or were his earlier bids run impressively? I was way out of the country in the season leading up to 2004 and thus, more distanced from the strategic side of things.

Posted by: JAA3 | November 13, 2006 3:59 PM | Report abuse

JAA3,

I absolutely believe a politician can introduce new ideas during and election, and have it sway the voters. Clinton was a master at that. C'mon, who the heck ever heard of Bill Clinton from Arkansas before his first election? He took a chance and constantly announced his "3-step plan" for this or his "5-step plan" for that. And they were legitimate plans, just not likely to get passed without a popular mandate. He really did bring up national health care, plans for the economy, etc., and the voters did listen and were affected. But he was fighting an uphill battle on Capitol Hill and mismanaged his first 2 years (see Hillary's convoluted Healthcare plan as an a example). Reagan did the same thing, albeit on a diffent level. His "issue" take was "values" driven, non-specific approaches to specific issues.

Unfortunately, any issue can be sold by marketing. Both sides have done that successfully and unsuccessfully.

Posted by: BlueDog | November 13, 2006 3:33 PM | Report abuse

I also think Clarke needs to be introduced to the public in more one-on-one situations that might reflect a warmth that could not otherwise be expressed through mass media outlets.

Something about him always plays more as "an expert correspondent" when I see him on news programs as opposed to "a potential presidential candidate".

He would do well to diversify image, because obviously his degree of expertise on certain issues is desirable, but not if it overshadows the other qualities required of a presidential candidate. He needs to be careful to avoid a pigeonholing of his image.

Posted by: JAA3 | November 13, 2006 3:25 PM | Report abuse

I ask this out of ignorance, but what does it mean for an issue to appeal to the majority of voters?

I guess what I'm wondering is if in any election cycles whether politicians have been able to successfully introduce new issues to the political playing field.

That is, if I were running in 2008 and say, hypothetically, noone has been talking about healthcare, have there been any precedents for me to make significant parts of my campaign about healthcare and portray it as a critical issue that no one else has been thinking about to the detriment of the American people?

More succinctly, do the American people just believe what they believe, or can politicians actively influence the political agenda during the course of an election cycle?

Posted by: JAA3 | November 13, 2006 3:20 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I have, thus my concerns about his ability to campaign for himself. He either has to "lighten up" or get in touch with his "common man" side. His advisors tend to play that part down by promoting him to groups, and they feel modern campaigns are all about mass media, not one-on-one events. I disagree, since at the grass roots level one-on-one is everything, it's what gets a community excited, and they talk to their friends and family, who talk to others, etc. The mistake most campaigns make is concentrating too much on one particular strategy (strategery?) and not recognizing that elections are won through a wide front war embracing all tactics. I'm hoping Clark, a true strategist, recognizes this and works on his weakest areas, personalization and salesmanship.

Posted by: BlueDog | November 13, 2006 3:18 PM | Report abuse

So, what you're really talking about is having a candidate who really does take a stand on issues, but is able to package and sell them according to the immediate audience? Say for instance, all for "securing the border" but not for "building a wall"? Tough thing to do without being accused of "waffling" or "flip-flopping". I agree that the populace looks favorably on the candidate who makes clear his position, in the sense that they respect his willingness to hold a firm position. The inherent weakness of that strategy is when those firm positions do not appeal to the majority of the voters. However, that is often based on the "mood" of the public. Given the current political climate, I would say that centrist would win, progressive speak would appeal to the largest group. Unfortunately, I don't believe that group also dominates either party. That may change within the next 2 years, but I doubt it. Call me a pessimist.

Posted by: BlueDog | November 13, 2006 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Doesn't translate to a primary or caucus win.

Posted by: iowan (continued) | November 13, 2006 3:11 PM | Report abuse

I want to know if you Clark folks have met the man. He is a cold fish. Good on paper, horrible one-on-one.

Posted by: iowan | November 13, 2006 3:10 PM | Report abuse

BlueDog,

I think I agree with you. As for the either/or sentiment in my own posts, I think that was more related to 2008 being a presidential election year where each party will only ending up nominating one candidate who needs to appeal to the whole nation (which of course is a heterogenous, syncretic jumble of opinions and politics).

To respond more aptly to your post: I guess what I'm lobbying for is a candidate who is intelligent enough to speak about his values as needed to every person in this country. That means a rhetorically gifted candidate who can ammend speeches, talking points, etc... depending on where he is and make his arguments equally effective regardless.

What is NOT desirable is the lowest-common-denominator sort of candidate who is nominated because he/she is so politically tepid that he/she is incapable of winning in the general election. My fear is that I see the Democratic leaders moving towards an insipid political program (Clinton's most notably) that is only concerned with what will get 51% of the vote instead of a program that could really offer a new definition of liberalism.

Because after all this (2006) election stuff is said and done, Democrats are still fractured in a significant and worrisome way.

Posted by: JAA3 | November 13, 2006 3:01 PM | Report abuse

JAA3,

Why not do both? Some parts of the country will certainly embrace liberal ideas wrapped with centrist themes, others won't. Some will demand centrist and reject liberalism outright. I don't think it's an "either-or". Progressive speak will work well in the Western states, not so well in some parts of the Northeast.

Posted by: BlueDog | November 13, 2006 2:50 PM | Report abuse

Yes, the midwestern/mountain state centrists that you (Political Junkie) describe won. See capeman's comment immediately below yours to explain this fact. But the sort of centrism you describe is cynical politics. Sure, you find the right Democrat who has a record somewhere near the middle, and he/she will get the right number of undecided votes to win for the party.

I'm not arguing that. I'm merely wondering whether a Democrat should be content to win, or WIN - that is, in the sense of putting forward a platform that moves America ahead and is sustainable as a political program for multiple election cycles. The Democratic field right now I worry only has the ability to make a few small gains before these are ultimately rescinded by a wave of newly ascendat conservativism and vice versa until the end of time.

In that scenario, the net gain politically from now until THE END OF TIME, is 0: that is, the status quo with slight abberations, forever.

Instead, why not put forth a progressive agenda that might move the country forward to a point where conservatives have to become less conservative in order to win seats in our government? Why not make the net gain in 2008, a few points to the left, so then, even if conservatives gain control again, the status quo will be more left than it was before.

The way to do this is to run progressive candidates who SPEAK to centrist voters. They speak about the middle class and about the working class as suffering, they speak about reclaiming the American dream, about America's failing infrastructure and the need to compete with newly-ascendant China and India, etc... (a way to increase patriotism without going to war), and about universal health care as a way to help American businesses. There are so many ways to frame liberal values in conservative or centrist arguments.

And its question of whether or not we (now I'm speaking as though I'm addressing Democrats) take the risk and support someone who can manuever politically like this, or whether we take the conservative (ha) approach and run the candidate who can pick up those few extra votes here and there and win by 51%.

Posted by: JAA3 | November 13, 2006 2:39 PM | Report abuse

And I'm not overly concerned about Clark's break with military "traditionlist" (other brass). Shows he's not a rigid military thinker (didn't drink the Kool-Aid), knows how to use the services wisely and will be able to bring PLENTY of other Brass out to support him. I'm much more concerned about his ability to campaign for himself, which is very different than campaigning for others.

Posted by: BlueDog | November 13, 2006 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Jackson,

Clark is continuing to gain by the dropouts for 08. "Other Than Hillary" supporters will search for an electable candidate and some will latch on to Clark. I don't see as many jumping to other unelectables, once you've lost your ideal candidate some practicality tends to set in. However, the next thing Clark needs is some MSM exposure. Grass roots and netroots are great, but the general public still doesn't get their news that way, only about 25% of us do. Once the MSM mentions Clark a few times he'll move up or ahead of the pack, just behind HRC. After Iowa and NH, we'll see if he can break out. If, and I say that with some trepidation, HRC should win the nomincation, she could neutralize some of the critics by bringing Clark on as VP. I suspect he'd accept. Clinton/Clark or Clark/Clinton anyone?

Posted by: BlueDog | November 13, 2006 2:33 PM | Report abuse

I too am sorry that the Senator Feingold will not run. Although, because, he supported the impeachment of our last great President (although he voted not to convict on all counts in the Senate Trial), he elicited support, as seen in the comments above, from the party's left wing. It would have been interesting to see how wide and deep that support ran.

Posted by: A Hardwick | November 13, 2006 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Jackson--I like Wes Clark a lot, but I don't think he can overcome the opposition to his candidacy that the senior brass put out in '04. It just undercuts his biggest advantage as a Democrat, which is his military service. I do hope he returns to public service in the next administration, NSA seems like a good role. I'd say Sec State, but I like Zinni for that slot.

Posted by: Joshua Rodd | November 13, 2006 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Why does it seems that everyone forgets how close the last 2 general elections were? Democrats don't have to "break those red states", they just need a few more votes in one state, Florida or Ohio. And with a fair count in Ohio next time, who knows...

Posted by: capeman | November 13, 2006 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Centrism is the way to win the general election. Look at the Democratic governors in the Midwest and Moutain West (KS, MT, WY, NM, AZ, CO, IA)states that have one this year and the past two years. Centrists. Put up a liberal, and he/she won't win in those states.

Posted by: Political Junkie | November 13, 2006 2:16 PM | Report abuse

I am saddened Russ isnt going to run, not that I thought he had a chance (not seen as moderate enough, twice divorced, and the religion thing....) but he would have added a populist and yet intellectual dimension to the race.

Quick quiz...who was the first Dem who came up with the formulation that our troops in Irak were destabilizing than stabilizing? and got skewered for it.

Posted by: WOW | November 13, 2006 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Centrism isn't about a fixed set of political beliefs that people can point to and say "those are the tenets of centrism".

Its time to move beyond a view of politics as a taxonomized, immobile field of values. All centrism means is that political candidates have to talk about their values in a certain way. It doesn't indicate what their values need to be.

And there is nothing disingenuous about this either: if I describe myself as someone on the ultra-left I should still be able to have a functional conversation about politics with someone on the ultra-right, and potentially even talk about my beliefs in a way that reconfigures their own.

Those candidates who actually move to the center politically, will be the weak candidates. Those candidates clever enough to talk about their beliefs, wherever they might exist on a spectrum, in a way that makes the whole country listen, will be the sort of centrist candidate that any party needs to win.

Posted by: JAA3 | November 13, 2006 2:05 PM | Report abuse

as a former Wisconsin resident who voted for Russ, I'm thrilled for Wisconsin that he'll remain in the Senate, but very much saddened that the rest of the US won't get a chance to know him.

Posted by: Mass Ave. | November 13, 2006 1:59 PM | Report abuse

I am glad Feingold is out. He wouldn't have won the general anyway. We need a centrist to win the general election. Somebody who could break some of those red states.

Posted by: Political Junkie | November 13, 2006 1:55 PM | Report abuse

The Democrats will be better off with Feingold concentrating on events in the Senate and with a less crowded primary field.

Posted by: Cali49 | November 13, 2006 1:54 PM | Report abuse

The Democrats will be better off with Feingold concentrating on events in the Senate and with a less crowded primary field.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 13, 2006 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Deeply dissapointed about Feingold's decision not to run myself, though seen through the lens of Obama's own potential run as CC mentions, it does make something resmebling sense.

That being said, with Feingold out, I have concerns about how "moderate" is interpreted, especially considering the results of last week's election. I personally believe that a focus on moderation from either side of government is a mistake, but only because this increasingly stands for a tepid approach to politics which largely preserves the status quo. It also gives little agency to our political leaders and portrays politics as a fixed, unilateral process in which "the people" have a set and unchanging set of values that must be aligned with to avoid political peril.

Instead, I think last week's election indicates that the status quo has already been mapped politically. Issues like Iraq, etc... are relevant and still have cache, but they are essentially tired if we consider the ability of politicians to begin mapping new political terrain.

And this is exactly the sort of populism someone like Russ Feingold would've offered and that any Democrat running in 2008 should offer. 2008 should not be about moving to the middle, but about inventing entirely new ways of talking about politics, inventing entirely new foreign policy objectives. It should be about reimagining America in and for the future.

And the candidate who can best offer a coherent vision of America for the future will win. The losing candidates will be those who remained so closely bound to the squabbling and overplayed issues of today that they fail to instill the American people with a romantic longing for change.

This all sounds quite idealistic, but Feingold's unique brand of progressivism would have allowed him the distance from the status quo to talk about liberalism in a bipartisan way, to talk about it as a way forward for the entire country, and to talk about it in a way that co-opted and thus neutralized conservative arguments that might undermine it. Perhaps I give too much credit to Feingold, but I do hope that whoever runs in 2008 begins to think of it as the time in contemporary political history to offer America a way forwards and a vision of what they might become.

So far I'm skeptical of anyone's ability to garner attention in a truly exciting way. I think the Obama fascination will fade quickly as he becomes increasingly subject to the vitriol and virulence of the campaign trail.

Posted by: JAA3 | November 13, 2006 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Obama's celebrity, principally among the political media and the party sources they base about 90% of their writing on, is the only respect in which he "dwarfs" Feingold, and most of that celebrity is due to the novelty of a potential black Presidential candidate not reliant on black votes. Someday, when he has accomplished something in public life, Obama may be more than a fad, but a fad is what he is now.

As for Feingold, his enthusiasm for a Presidential run cannot have been increased by the turmoil in his personal life. I make no judgments here, but he has seen two marriages break up and could not have looked forward to the public examination of his private affairs that a Presidential candidacy would make inevitable.

Posted by: Zathras | November 13, 2006 1:42 PM | Report abuse

With Feingold out it may be time to take another look at Wesley Clark. The 3 candidates whom the netroots were most excited about for 2008 (basing this off of polls on site like the Daily Kos) were Mark Warner, Russ Feingold and Wesley Clark. Suddenly, Clark is the only one of those 3 who is still expressing an interest in running.

He's a charismatic Southerner with no pesky votes from the House or Senate to come back to haunt him. Since he does not currently hold office he can spend a lot more time on the campaign trail than anyone except John Edwards. He has spent a lot of time stumping since his last run and should be a more polished candidate at this point.

What do y'all think? Has the '08 field evolved enough to allow Wesley Clark to emerge as a serious contender?

Posted by: Jackson Landers | November 13, 2006 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Too bad about Feingold... straight arrow.

Posted by: drindl | November 13, 2006 1:30 PM | Report abuse

I was hoping Feingold would run so we could have someone who actually talked about solutions to real problems. His name will come up in VP or attorney general talks, but he is one heck of a senator and its good for the senate that he will stick around. I do think that this is another signal that Obama is running.

Posted by: Andy R | November 13, 2006 1:30 PM | Report abuse

I heard that Biden announced, but can't find any confirmation. Has he?

Posted by: David | November 13, 2006 1:24 PM | Report abuse

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