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The Friday Line: White House Hopefuls

After a month of ranking House, Senate, and governors races in this space on Friday mornings, The Fix decided to tackle the granddaddy of them all -- the 2008 presidential contest. Political junkies know that even though the race is three years off, candidates contemplating bids are already traveling the country, raising money and giving "major" speeches to position themselves.

What follows is a look at some of the most-often mentioned likely candidates from the two parties. Each has an equally strong shot of winning the nomination based on an amalgam of polls, fundraising potential, quality of staff and intangibles like the buzz they are stirring up in the political community. 

Needless to say, it is very early in the process.  This list, which will be updated monthly, will change many times between now and the 2008 primary season.  Take the list as a snapshot of where things stand at the moment.

The candidates are ranked alphabetically, not by their chances of becoming their party's standard bearer. (The Fix is edgy, not stupid.) I picked five for each party, plus a "wildcard." Please post in the comments section or e-mail me with your own lists. Here we go!

Democrats

* Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh: One of a handful of Democrats forever mentioned as a potential national candidate, the telegenic Bayh seems set to take the leap in 2008.  On paper, Bayh's resume is as impressive (if not more so) as any of his potential competitors -- a two-term red state governor and now a second-term senator. But Bayh is still too wooden as a campaigner, and given his moderate profile could struggle to excite the party's more liberal voters -- a key voting bloc in the primaries. Bayh was reelected in 2004, so he won't be distracted by another race before 2008.

* New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton: Well, duh.  HRC is the unquestioned frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. She continues to insist, however, that she is not even thinking about a national bid -- focusing all her attention instead on her 2006 reelection race. (Cue eye rolling by almost everyone but HRC and her staff.)  Clinton is piling up huge amounts of cash (nearly $14 million as of Sept. 30) that she could transfer to a 2008 account if she was so inclined.  Questions linger about whether she can win a general election given how negatively she is viewed by Republicans nationally -- concerns that almost certainly ensure a strong "anti-Hillary" candidate in the primaries.

* Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards: The 2004 VP nominee never seemed to stop campaigning after that loss, which could be read as a good thing or a bad thing.  When Hurricane Katrina delivered powerful images of the poor into living rooms across America, Edwards looked like the smartest guy in the field for his decision to focus on poverty-related issues after leaving the Senate. But is one Senate term enough to convince voters that Edwards has the necessary experience to lead the country?

* Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry: Kerry's forceful speech last month laying out a specific timetable for troop withdrawal in Iraq put him back on the map politically. But it led many people (including The Post's Dana Milbank) to wonder why Kerry didn't give that same speech during his campaign against President George W. Bush. Kerry needs to come up with a convincing rationale for why voters should nominate him again in three years after watching him lose to Bush last November. We haven't heard one yet.

* Virginia Gov. Mark Warner: Warner's stock is on the rise nationally following Gov.-elect Tim Kaine's victory on Tuesday. He has been -- quietly -- moving around the country to meet key donors and activists, a process that will become more public when he formally leaves office in January. Warner has broached the possibility of dipping into his substantial personal fortune if necessary to fund a national campaign -- a move that could help him stay within financial shouting distance of HRC. The downside -- he remains untested on the national stage.

* Wildcard -- Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold: If Democratic primary voters are looking for a candidate with a "pure" record of opposition to the Iraq war, the quirky senator from Wisconsin could be their guy.  Feingold is the only one of the Democratic senators weighing a 2008 race to vote against the original use of force resolution against Iraq. He was also the first senator to call for a timeline for the American military to leave the country. (Click here to read Michael Crowley's New Republic cover story on Feingold.) And for those who wonder where Feingold could find the money to run a viable national campaign, we have two words for you: Howard Dean.

Republicans

* Virginia Sen. George Allen: Allen seems to be the safe choice among Republican insiders at the moment thanks to his conservative credentials and good ol' boy delivery. Allen has surrounded himself with an outstanding staff, landing sought-after operative Dick Wadhams earlier this year. The Virginian's biggest potential problem is that his political demeanor may bear too close a resemblance to the outgoing Republican president.  If Bush's numbers continue to sag through the next two years, GOPers may avoid nominating his political carbon copy. Allen will also be distracted by a reelection bid next year, though the only candidate who could give him a real race -- Gov. Mark Warner -- has said he's not running.

* Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist: At the start of 2005, Frist was seen as one of the frontrunners for the nomination.  He has faded considerably since thanks to a handful of missteps, the latest being an investigation into his sale of stock in a company founded by his father and brother. Even so, the Senate Majority Leader remains a GOP financial titan -- sprinkling donations throughout Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina from his Volunteer PAC.  Frist's fundraising ability keeps him viable for now.  His plan to retire from the Senate in 2006 also gives him a leg up over some of the other candidates who will be burdened by their "day jobs" as the campaign ramps up.

* Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani: At the moment, Hizzonor is viewed as a hero by many Republican loyalists thanks to his actions in the days and weeks following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Any national poll puts him at or near the top of the field, and he enjoys nearly universal name identification.  But -- and it is a big but -- Giuliani's positions on several divisive social issues (pro-abortion rights, pro-gay rights) are sure to be talking points for his GOP primary rivals and may disqualify  him among the party's conservative wing. Remember Pete Wilson?

* Arizona Sen. John McCain: McCain seems likely to be one of the last men standing for the Republican nomination in 2008.  He will have little problem raising the money to be competitive and already has a national following that none of the others on this list (with the possible exception of Giuliani) can match. McCain continues to churn out books, which is almost a prerequisite of any White House hopeful these days.

The problem for McCain is that many of those followers are Independents and Democrats.  He is viewed skeptically by many Republicans.  If McCain follows his 2000 blueprint (skip Iowa, win New Hampshire), his political future will rest on a win in South Carolina, a state dominated by conservative voters who saved President Bush's campaign in 2000.   

* Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney: Romney is a politician out of central casting. Handsome and articulate, he shocked the political world with his 2002 win in one of the most Democratic states in the country. In the intervening three years, Romney has raised his national profile at the expense of his standing in his home state, where polls now show him struggling against potential 2006 Democratic challengers. At this point, a Romney retirement next year would seem the logical course if he wants to make a presidential run.  The biggest problem for Romney, according to GOP strategists, is his Mormon religion.  Mormonism is viewed skeptically by some Republicans, especially those who identify themselves as evangelical Christians.

* Wildcard -- Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee: One year ago, the idea of a Huckabee presidency would have been laughable.  But he has run one of the most unorthodox (and successful) public relations campaign in recent memory -- centered on his newfound commitment to health and nutrition. Huckabee also seems to be enjoying himself on the trail, a trait voters pick up on immediately. Knowing he is something of a longshot, Huckabee is also likely to take risks that some of the more establishment candidates shy away from. Should he run, it will be fun to watch no matter the outcome.

Take Issue With Me

What about Bill Richardson? Or Sam Brownback? Or Joe Biden? Or Jeb Bush?  As I said above, this is a subjective list that will change plenty of times between now and 2008.  Feel free to take issue with me in the comments section below or via e-mail.

UPDATE, 11:15 A.M. ET: The e-mails are flooding in regarding candidates that should be on the list.

For Republicans, Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel is the most popular among e-mailers. Hagel is an attractive candidate with a good story to tell (Vietnam Vet, successful businessman), but his niche in the race -- plain-spoken reformer -- is already filled by McCain. If McCain does not run, Hagel is the one to watch.

The Democrat that e-mailers are mentioning the most is General Wesley Clark. Clark, like Hagel, has a very attractive profile as a candidate, but his 2004 candidacy was short-lived. Clark was seen as the Clintons' preferred candidate last time around, a spot he will not enjoy if he runs again in 2008.

UPDATE, 2:30 P.M. ET: The e-mails from readers just keep coming...

Other 2008 Democrats getting mentions from Fix readers are New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Delaware Sen. Joe Biden.  Richardson is an intriguing potential candidate given his lengthy resume (congressman, Clinton cabinet member, ambassador and now governor) not to mention his Hispanic heritage. Doubts remain about his ability to stay disciplined on the stump -- a key trait for any successful nominee. Biden, too, has the political gravitas to make a real run at the presidency, but does he have the fire in the belly to raise the tens of millions of dollars he will need to compete with the likes of HRC?

Several readers also raised the prospect of an Al Gore return. Gore has said he is unlikely to seek office again but has left himself a bit of wiggle room.  For the definitive look at Al Gore: Uncensored, read David Remnick's brilliant 2004 profile in the New Yorker. It's long but well worth the time.

Republican White House hopefuls suggested by readers include Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  Barbour is intriguing, especially considering his deft handling of the cleanup of Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast.  But will people really vote for a lobbyist (even one who doesn't practice anymore) as their chief executive?

Neither Condi nor Jeb seem inclined to run, although either would be a major player if they changed their minds.

Keep sending the suggestions!

FINAL UPDATE, 5:00 P.M. ET

A few other candidates not yet named who built up reader support throughout the day:

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) -- The current head of the Democratic Leadership Council, Vilsack would make the Iowa caucuses a moot point (ala Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin in 1992) if he decided to run.  But could he raise the money to finance wins elsewhere?

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (D) -- Obama will run for president, just not in 2008.  With a bevy of his new Senate colleagues likely to run, he will take a pass on the next race with an eye toward a national bid in 2012 or 2016. Remember people, he is only 44 years old.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) -- Gingrich seems to be experiencing something of a rebirth among Republicans seven years after he resigned from Congress and disappeared from the national political scene.  Gingrich is brimming with ideas on where to lead the Republican party and is moving around the country like a candidate.  But, will voters take a chance on someone they roundly despised less than a decade ago?

Thanks for all the great back and forth today.

-- Chris Cillizza

By Chris Cillizza  |  November 11, 2005; 5:00 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008 , The Line  
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