The Friday Line: Handicapping the White House Hopefuls
It's been a month since The Fix last ranked the five Democrats and five Republicans most likely to wind up as the presidential nominees in 2008. The original post generated a slew of comments and suggestions that have been factored into this version of the presidential line.
As with the last presidential post, the candidates are ranked alphabetically, not by their chances of becoming their party's standard bearer. And again, please post in the comments section or e-mail me with your own lists.
* George Allen: Allen continues to cement his status as one of the nominal frontrunners for the nomination by simply not making any major mistakes. Seeking to bolster his foreign policy credentials, Virginia's junior senator spent a week last month in Asia where he met with Pakistan's president as well as the Indian prime minister. Sources allied with Allen rivals sought to spin Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore's (R) gubernatorial loss last month as a blow for the senator, but that seems like pretty thin gruel. Barring an unforeseen pitfall, Allen will enter 2006 as the conventional wisdom pick for the nomination, especially among the party's conservative base.
* Bill Frist: Frist's scheduled trip to New Hampshire next week shows that despite struggling through a politically disastrous 2005, he continues to move full steam ahead toward a presidential bid. As leader of Senate Republicans, Frist is almost certain to play a prominent role in the Supreme Court nomination fight of Samuel A. Alito early next year, which could help endear him to the party's conservative wing. Frist continues to raise money for his Volunteer PAC and can be expected to lard state parties in key early primary states with dollars. The Tennessee senator, who is leaving Congress at the end of next year, has seen his star tarnished over the past 12 months; he must use the next year to reclaim his image as a political up and comer.
* Rudy Giuliani: There is little question that Giuliani will remain at the top of polls testing Republican presidential primary candidates for the foreseeable future. What is less clear is how voters who idolize the former New York mayor for his leadership in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will react when Hizzoner's detractors start talking about his support for gay and abortions rights. Is Giuliani such an untouchable figure that these attacks won't destroy his chances of winning the nomination? That seems extremely unlikely, but we are willing to be persuaded. And while Bayh might be able to pick off some Red States for the Democrats, Giuliani's star status and moderate politics would almost certainly put plenty of Blue States in play.
* John McCain: If you needed any more convincing that McCain is planning a second run for the White House, take a look at his schedule over the past few weeks. McCain traveled to Alabama to campaign and fundraise for George Wallace Jr. (R), who is running for lieutenant governor; he appeared with President Bush and Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl (R) at a fundraiser on Monday to benefit Kyl's reelection race; and today McCain will be in Pennsylvania to raise cash for Sen. Rick Santorum (R). All three events seem to be the leading edge of an effort to make McCain more palatable to conservative Republican primary voters who have grown increasingly disenchanted with the Arizona senator's willingness to buck the party leadership. The success of that courtship is key to McCain's chances.
* Mitt Romney: Romney will make a final decision on whether to seek a second term as Massachusetts's governor later this month. Until then, his presidential candidacy will be in a holding pattern. Judging by Romney's travel outside of the state, it seems a long shot that he will sign up for a second term, choosing instead to leave office in 2006 and devote is full attention to a presidential run. Insert here the obligatory question about whether his Mormonism would hinder a national campaign.
* Wildcard -- Newt Gingrich: The rehabilitation of Gingrich's image is worth a column in and of itself. Seven years ago when he resigned from the House, he was a figure of significant scorn among the very Republicans who had ridden his "Contract with America" to the House majority just four years earlier. In the intervening years, Gingrich has emerged as one of the leading ideas men among Republicans. Plus, national polling shows him with a small-but-solid following among likely GOP primary voters. Gingrich is a long shot to win the nomination, but he has proven his doubters wrong before.
* Evan Bayh: The Indiana senator has (quietly) done more fundraising in 2005 than any other Democrat with the exception of Hillary Rodham Clinton. He is hosting a birthday party fundraiser for himself tonight in Indiana that will bring in $600,000, and he is spending much of the latest congressional recess traveling the country to meet with donors. He will surprise people with the depth and breadth of his fundraising operation when the campaign fully engages after the 2006 midterms. Bayh has proven Red State appeal, which could mean a lot in a close election.
* Hillary Rodham Clinton: The last month has not been the best for Sen. Clinton's presidential -- oops! -- I mean Senate campaign. Liberal activists are expressing their discontent with her unwillingness to renounce her vote in support of the Iraq war or to advocate a specific timetable for withdrawing troops from the country. On the other hand, her New York reelection race is growing less and less competitive by the day, allowing her to stockpile tens of millions of dollars that could be transferred directly to a presidential account. Clinton is still the clear frontrunner for the nomination, although she looks (slightly) more beatable than in recent months.
* John Edwards: Edwards won kudos among the party's liberal wing for his piece last month in The Washington Post in which he said he regretted voting for the 2002 use of force resolution against Iraq. He continues to travel the country delivering speeches on poverty and in the process generating glowing press clips from local newspapers. (Take a look at this story from the Nov. 30 San Antonio Express-News as an example.) Much of Edwards's appeal in 2004 was that he was a fresh face in a party searching for a new savior. Will that appeal still hold four years later?
* John Kerry: The 2004 Democratic nominee has effectively positioned himself as one of the leading Democratic critics of Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq, a role unwittingly reinforced by the president when he mentioned Kerry by name during a speech on the conflict last month. While Kerry seems to have found his footing on Iraq, it may be too little too late in the eyes of primary voters. But with an e-mail list numbering 3 million and the experience garnered from running a national campaign, Kerry merits a spot in the top 5.
* Mark Warner: The next 11 months are crucial for Warner's national hopes. Once he formally leaves the Virginia governor's mansion next month, Warner will be free to focus all his time on courting activists in key states and raising dollars -- luxuries that most of his Democratic competitors will not enjoy until November 2006. Warner formally kicks off that national effort next Tuesday with a fundraiser to benefit his Forward Together PAC in northern Virginia. His decision this week to grant clemency to a death row inmate (and the subsequent chatter about its 2008 implications) is just the start of a heightened level of media attention and scrutiny on Warner that we'll see over the next year. How he holds up to that maelstrom could make or break his candidacy.
* Wildcard -- Wesley Clark: Clark replaces Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold as the wildcard in the field, thanks to the fervor and energy for him among some in the party's liberal base, particularly Internet activists. While unscientific, the online presidential poll conducted by DailyKos (a must-read blog for the party's ideological left) regularly shows the retired Army general far out in front of every other possible Democratic nominee, including Clinton. While Clark stumbled out of the gate in 2004 (especially when it came to his opposition to the Iraq war), the ardor for him among some in the party has not lessened. On paper, Clark's resume is unmatched if defense and foreign policy issues are still dominating the national landscape in three years time.
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