The Friday Presidential Line: The Next 5
Every time we put together a list of the five Democrats and five Republican most likely to win the 2008 presidential nomination, a number of commenters and emailers ask why a certain candidate didn't make the cut.
So, since regular Fix readers already know our picks for the top 10 contenders in 2008, we are dedicating this month's Friday presidential Line to the candidates that rank 6-10 in each party -- those people who could in theory make a run at the nomination but have one (or many) things holding them back.
To the Line!
Sam Brownback: At the start of the year we thought the Kansas Senator had real potential to suprise people in Iowa for two reasons: geographic proximity and ideological unity. Having represented Kansas in the House and Senate since 1994, Brownback should be able to make a convincing case that he, more than any other Republican in the field, understands Iowa's interest. And Brownback's staunch cultural conservatism should resonate with those most likely to vote in the caucuses, who tend to be on the ideological right of the party. But, Brownback has done little this year to advance his cause. His Restore America leadership PAC has raised less than $200,000 in 2006 and his personal campaign committee had just $636,000 at the end of June. While neither are terrible numbers, they simply don't compare to the vast fundraising machines being built by other candidates. Brownback has also done next to nothing on the staffing front and lacks any sort of grassroots effort in Iowa or New Hampshire. (For more insight into Brownback, make sure to read Libby Copeland's profile of him in the Post.)
Bill Frist: Once among the favorites for the nomination, he hasn't cracked the top five for several months now. Frist, who is retiring from the Senate, seems to have settled down a bit in his attempt to simultaneously lead Senate Republicans and prep for a 2008 bid; but in reality it is an impossible task (Just ask former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole.) Frist does have a few accomplishments he can tout to conservatives -- most notably his unwavering support for President Bush's judicial nominees -- but his decision to support expanded stem-cell research (after initially opposing it) will hamper any major gains for Frist among the most conservative element of the party. What Frist has always done well is collect cash and dole it out to candidates as well as state and national party committees. In the past three months Frist raised $1.5 million and donated $1.4 million. He also made something of a splash in Iowa by hiring Brian Kennedy, a longtime operative and candidate in the state's 1st district, to head up his effort in the Hawkeye State. Frist is inching toward being a credible candidate again but he remains charisma-challenged, which may be an immovable impediment.
Rudy Giuliani: Giuliani has been on and off our presidential Line over the past months. On the one hand every state or national poll of potential Republican candidates in 2008 shows Rudy in either first or second place. He also has an almost unlimited fundraising capacity given his longtime ties in New York City. On the other hand, Giuliani's socially liberal positions are out of step with the majority of the Republican primary electorate -- many of whom are not likely aware that Hizzoner is pro-abortion rights and pro-gay may marriage. Giuliani's schedule of late makes us think he is running for president, as do the meetings he has hosted with prominent fundraisers from President Bush's successful races. But Giuliani remains largely unorganized in Iowa and New Hampshire (no staff that we know about) and appears to be running a sort of national campaign rather than several well-funded state efforts. In the end it still seems hard to believe that Giuliani will leave his extremely lucrative life in the private sector for a grueling campaign in which every jot and tittle of his personal life will be examined.
Chuck Hagel: The Nebraska Senator has a terrific life story. He is a decorated Vietnam veteran and was a successful businessman before running an outsider campaign for the Senate in 1996. Unfortunately for Hagel, the role of war hero turned maverick politician is already filled in 2008 by Arizona Sen. John McCain. Hagel is cast as a mini-McCain -- less well known by the general public but with a similar appeal. That sells the Hagel somewhat short, however, as he is an able and skilled politician in his own right. But it does reflect the political reality of 2008 for the Nebraska Senator. With McCain running, there appears to be no room for him.
George Pataki: We've written in this space that the outgoing New York Governor has won rave reviews from Iowa activists during his campaign stops in the state. But a few kind words does not a candidacy make. Pataki's biggest problem is that he is leaving office in New York on a low note (most polls show he couldn't win re-election even if he chose to run). It's tough to build a presidential campaign on such a weak foundation. Pataki's record in New York is also more liberal than many early caucus and primary voters are likely willing to accept. The one ace that Pataki holds is his handling of the aftermath of the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks. He is less identified with the attack than Giuliani but still will benefit from a reservoir of good will as a result of his actions.
Joe Biden: Remember that Seinfeld episode where Jerry is dating a "two-face"? -- a woman who looks great one day but terrible the next. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden. At times, Biden seems like he belongs in the top 5. The depth and acuity of his foreign policy knowledge is unmatched among the Democrats considering a 2008 bid and he presents his disagreements with the Bush administration in clear and concise language. Then there are moments, when it seems clear Biden has said too much. Don't forget that in the 1988 presidential campaign Biden was a serious contender for the nomination before the "bad" Biden reared his ugly head and forced him from the race.
Wesley Clark: Clark's campaign in 2004 began among online activists who organized a draft movement that eventually led to the retired general's entrance into the race. At that point he brought on a number of political professionals who oversaw his short-lived effort, which began with great expectations and ended with a classic Washington blame game. In the wake of that race, Clark's support has devolved to grassroots supporters who are agitating for a second bid in 2008. He has an active and loyal web following and is doing interesting things through his WESPAC website; the latest is a podcast interview with Arkansas Attorney General Mike Beebe (D) who is running for governor. Having said all of that, it's hard to see where Clark's financial support comes from with New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the contest. Many of his staffers and supporters were Clinton administration veterans and the expectation is that many if not all of those operatives will be with Sen. Clinton in 2008. Clark has raised just over $250,000 for his leadership PAC this year -- not an impressive sum.
Russ Feingold: We reserve the right to move Feingold into the top five at some time between now and January 2008. In order for Feingold to move, however, he needs former Vice President Al Gore to stay on the sidelines since both men fill a similar niche in the field (vocally anti-war, hero to the liberal left) and Gore is the bigger figure -- figuratively and literally -- on the national stage. Count us impressed by Feingold's commitment to fundraising this year. Through his Progressive Patriots Fund he had raised nearly $1 million so far in 2006 and since he won re-election in 2004 Feingold has collected $2.5 million for his personal Senate campaign committee. He had a solid $1.5 million on hand at the end of June in that account, all of which can be transferred to a presidential committee. Feingold could well surprise in Iowa given the strongly anti-war sentiment of likely caucus voters, but it is an open question whether he could pivot off a strong showing there to be competitive in other early states.
John Kerry: Before we added Gore to the presidential Line last month Kerry had consistently broken into the top five. His fundraising through his leadership PAC, Keeping America's Promise, has continued to be strong and Kerry has emerged as a leading critic of the Iraq war within the party. His travel schedule also makes us think he is running; he is in Iowa today to appear at an event with Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin and bicycling legend Lance Armstrong, who is in the Hawkeye state for the annual RAGBRAI ride across Iowa. Tomorrow Kerry will raise money for a state House and state Senate candidate. Most people within the Beltway dismiss the idea that Kerry has any chance and we are sympathetic to the argument that Democrats have not tended to treat their past presidential losers all that well. Still, should Kerry run, his name identification, experience from the last campaign, and more than $10 million that could immediately transfer to a presidential account would force the other candidates to take him seriously.
Bill Richardson: On paper, Richardson belongs in the top five. No candidate in the field has the resume depth of the New Mexico governor: former member of Congress, U. N. Ambassador, cabinet secretary and now chief executive of a state. Plus he is Hispanic -- the fastest growing population in the country. But we are hesitant about treating Richardson as a top-tier candidate for one reason: discipline (or the lack of it). Richardson is an ebullient personality who seems to love the back and forth of politics. But we are not convinced that he can develop a message and stick to it for months on end. A successful presidential candidate needs to be committed to regular repetition of the basic message each day. Can Richardson stick to that kind of rigid script?
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