Handicapping the Field
Topic: 2008 election
I'll admit - I haven't been following the 2008 that closely yet. It's always hard for me to get interested in late 2008 in early 2007, when we still don't know who are the serious candidates and what are the most important issues. Also, I find the polls that come out this time of year close to useless - the candidate with the most recognition always does the best, probably because voters don't know anything about anybody and just pick the name that they recognize so that they don't sound stupid. Around this time in 2003 Joe Lieberman was doing really well. So we don't know much yet and won't for several more months.
Still, I think this is going to be the most interesting primary season in a long time. It's the first time that there hasn't been an incumbant or a sitting Vice President running since 1952 (Eisenhower v. Adlai Stevenson). The top Republican candidates are all unusual for one reason or another, and there are several Democrats that would be the first something to ever occupy the White House. Each party also lacks a clear front-runner, and there are several fringe candidates that could act as spoilers. With that, here is my take on the feild, along with my premature, poorly thought out, uninformed hadicapping of the candidates' odds of winning their party's nomination.
Two things of note:
1) Had I done this in 2003, the results would have been decidedly mixed. I was spot-on about George W. Bush getting the Republican nomination, so there's a feather in my cap. The Democrats, however, would have been a different story. I would have correctly predicted that Kerry would win the nomination, but I was both completely right and completely wrong at the same time about Howard Dean. After doing a bit of reading on him and seeing him a couple of times on TV early in his candidacy - most notably a Meet the Press appearance where he set the anti-death penalty movement back about five years with his inability to explain his position - I concluded that he was a bland dipshit who would not appeal to anybody. Over the next several months, I was proved very wrong, as Dean surged ahead in the polls. However, once people actually began to look at Howard Dean, it turned out that he was a crazy dipshit who did not appeal to anybody. So I was also kind of right. I also thought Lieberman would do better and thought Wesley Clark would do way better; I still can't believe what a poor candidate Clark turned out to be.
2) I am trying to leave my politics out of these evaluations and look at this from an objective point of view. Everyone who knows me knows where I stand politically; I'm a moderate Democrat. And, obviously, my politics will color my perceptions of each candidate. But I'm trying to do the handicapping part purely with an eye towards whom I think will win, not whom I want to win.
Okay, Democrats first:
Mike Gravel - Joke candidate. Odds: 0/1. That's right, there does not exist in this universe - or in any theoretical parallel universe - any permutation of events that would lead to this man getting the nomination. Next.
Dennis Kucinich - Elf (OH). Odds: 1/10,000,000,000^40. Those odds are the odds that a gamma ray burst destroys everyone on earth except for Dennis Kucinich. Not only was he stupid, stereotypical, and annoying the first time around, he was one of the joke candidates who complained loudly about being ignored by the media while he was polling at 1 percent. Can there be any doubt that many people on the far left are blatant self-aggrandizers?
Chris Dodd - Senator from Connecticut. Odds: 1/200. Nice guy, good Senator, way too round - physically - to be President. Has had a long but not particularly distinguished career, and it's hard for me to picture him taking an angle that gains him a large constituency. Also doesn't have the interesting bio that so many of this year's Democratic candidates have.
Joe Biden - Senator from Delaware. Odds: 1:50. Joe Biden is, in my opinion, far and away the best foreign policy mind in Congress. He's been on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee forever, and he has a deep knowledge base on every region in the world. He is thoughtful, forward-looking, and balanced. He also, believe it or not, has a decent sense of humor. But he will not win for this reason: his big fucking mouth. The only time his mouth is not catching flies is when his foot is lodged inside. He torpedoed his slim chance at the nomination on the very day he declared his candidacy when he tried to pay Barak Obama a compliment and ended up making it sound as if he was shocked that Obama had positive traits while being black at the same time. He also shot himself in the foot when he ran for President in 1988 when he plagarized a speech from a British Member of Parliament. He's the dumbest genius on the planet, and I probably won't vote for him simply because he has no chance of winning.
Bill Richardson - Governor of New Mexico. Odds: 1/10. It's a shame that he gets introduced simply as "Governor of New Mexico," because he is also an excellent foreign policy mind and has held several important foreign policy-related positions. He's Hispanic, but it's a big handicap that he has to say that he's Hispanic before people know. He also used to have a large mole on his face that it appears he has had removed - this is the type of thing that Tim Russert is too much of a pansy to ask about. I like to think about what the electoral map would look like if the Democrats nominate a Hispanic guy from the Southwest. Do the Democrats win Texas and Arizona in that case? Do the Democrats lose any strongholds because he's Hispanic (I say "no" to this second question)? You could make a case that Richardson gives the Democrats the best chance to win.
John Edwards - former VP candidate. Odds: 1/5. Do not underestimate this guy: he is a very good candidate. He has a very earnest, open, salt-of-the-Earth personality that is very appealing to people. He is a lot like Bill Clinton in that sense. During the primaries, he will talk about his ability to win in the South, but I don't buy it - the Republicans have a stranglehold on the South. He, like several of the Democratic candidates, will be hobbled in the primaries by his support of the war.
Hillary Clinton - Senator from New York. Odds: 1/3. Don't be fooled by people calling her the "frontrunner" - frontrunner status means nothing at this point. I like Hillary more as a legislator that I do as a candidate - she has been, in my opinion, a very thoughtful and responsible Senator. As a candidate, however, she seems to fall very easily into people's perception of the Clintons as manipulative, selfish, career politicians. I'll leave it to you to judge the fairness of that perception. I think her personality will turn people off as the campaign goes along. The problem won't be that she's too masculine, or too strident, or too wonkish; the problem will be that she's too phony. Republicans are excellent at creating a personality characture for candidates - Al Gore was a nerd, John Kerry was a flip-flopper (interesting, Peggy Noonan has already decided that "faggot" is the label John Edwards will wear should he win the nomination). Hillary will get the "phony" label thrown at her pretty hard, and I think it will start in the primaries. Also, remembering just how intensely most Republicans hate Hillary, I happen to think that she will not win the Presidency under almost any circumstances.
Barak Obama - Senator from Illinois. Odds: 8/25 (to make the odds add up to 100). I was living in Illinois when he got elected to the Senate (and yes, I voted for him, in both the general election and the primary). Here's the thing: the more people see this guy, the more they like him. He is very, very likable. That, I think people will see, is beyond question. What's not beyond question is where he stands on every single issue. This isn't his fault; he just hadn't been in office at the national level long enough to compile a long record. For this reason, his boast of never having supported the war are a little disingenuious - it's easy to oppose a big foreign policy move when you're not responsible for the consequences. But, on the other hand, Americans love blank slates. George W. Bush was a blank slate, as was Clinton. I think that the lack of a record that can be distored, combined with the desire to believe that a candidate agrees with you on everything, is why governors tend to do so well in Presidental elections. My prediction at this point is that Obama will win the nomination.
Now the Republicans:
Let's just get the joke candidates out of the way: Fred Thompson, Tommy Thompson, Ron Paul, Duncan Hunter - who the fuck are these people? Seriously, Fred Thompson - who the fuck are you? Didn't you used to play for the White Sox? I follow this shit and I don't know.*
Tom Tancredo - Representative from Colorado. Odds 1/200. You remember him: he's the guy who hates immigrants. Not the guy who favors a restrictive immigration policy, which I can respect, but just the guy who hates immigrants. He will be a walking, fire-breathing freak show for the entire primary process. Fortunately, in America, back-bench MOCs don't win Presidential nominations.
George Pataki - former Governor of New York. 1/60. Nice timing, asshole: you decide to run the exact same year as the more popular guy who shares your one claim to the nomination.
Chuck Hagel - Senator from Nebraska. Odds: 1/50. See Christopher Dodd. He's this cycle's Orin Hatch.
Sam Brownback - Senator from Kansas. Odds: 1/50. Actually, maybe Sam Brownback is this cycle's Orin Hatch, in that his last name sounds vaguely inappropriate. Though I strongly disagree with Brownback on many things (most things, actually), he should get credit for being a strong proponent of action in Darfur - though he won't.
Jim Gilmore - former Governor of Virginia. Odds: 1/40. Using my "blank slate" theory that I outlined while describing Obama, I'm ranking him above the two veteran Senators. Also, as a Virginian, I'd like to point out that he was an extremely shitty governor. His entire platform was eliminating the "car tax." While anyone with a brain would at least follow up by asking "Then how will you make the budget fit?", not enough people did, and he won in a landslide (that's not a slam on red states - people in California did the exact same thing when they elected Arnold). Of course, serious budget problems began soon after he took office. While I think there are a number of candidates who would do more damage to the country (namely Gingrich), his theoretical election has the highest probability of driving me completely insane, as I simply can't stand four more years of people who don't understand that taxes and spending must correlate.
Newt Gingrich - former Speaker of the House. Odds: 1/25. Does anyone look back at the mid '90s and miss ska? Wasn't it a bad idea that never should have taken root in the first place, and people now widely recognize that to be true? Well, I'm hoping that same sort of realization will keep Republicans from falling back in love with Gingrich. I think that even most Republicans nowdays consider Gingrich's tenure disastrous, but I don't think we can completely ignore just how charming this evil little troll can be. Republicans - just as much as Democrats - love someone who can speak in grand terms, and he certainly does that very well.
Mitt Romney - former Governor of Massachusetts. Odds: 1/6. Based on what he presently claims to believe, he has the best ideological claim to the Republican nomination. It would also be very interesting to see how the electoral map might change if he were nominated. But I just don't think that enough Republican voters will be able to get over the fact that he's Mormon. Just as a solid third of Democratic primary voters are pot-addled ex-hippies whose beliefs are a dogmatically-accepted antithesis of their parents' beliefs, one-third of Republican primary voters are tiny, hateful, fearful bible-thumping nut-jobs who will not - can not - vote for anything that doesn't walk, talk, look, and smell like a white Christian. Romney also will not be granted a reprieve on the "Mormons are Christian" technicality. I think that that problem, plus the flip-flopper issue that is sure to arise, will keep him from winning.
Rudy Guliani - former Governor of New York. Odds: 1/5. I would feel a lot more comfortable with his candidacy if someone would please answer this question: just what exactly did he do in response to 9/11 that makes him such a hero? Yes, he was a symbol of the city's strength. And yes, when asked how many lives we had lost, he answered "More than we can bear," which summed up what we were all feeling. But - honestly - a symbol and a sound bite? That's it? That's what counts for leadership nowdays? I think that his early surge in the polls is purely due to his association with 9/11, and Republicans will be turned off when they find out about his divorces, his previous positions, and his New York accent. Plus, 10 percent of Republican primary voters won't vote for him because he's Jewish (though he's not). If he does win the nomination, the electoral map would be thrown up in the air. Guliani vs. Richardson would be a really interesting situation.
John McCain - Senator from Arizona. Odds: 1/4. This, in my opinion, is the most interesting candidate in the field. I think McCain is, without a doubt, the Republican candidate most likely to win the general election. I happen to think that he probably would win. And part of me thinks that President McCain with a Democratic Congress is the ideal situation. But, as the saying goes, you can't steal first base. I think that the Republican hatred of McCain - a lot of Republicans view him as a traitor - is just intense enough to deny him the nomination.
Here's something else to think about. A lot of Democrats - like myself - like John McCain. We see him as moderate and thoughtful. My message to Democrats is this: get ready to dislike John McCain. Elections always bring out the worst in people, and the primaries will move McCain significantly to the right. He's already began to fudge his position on abortion. Also, though he is generally a man of character, remember that when he was struggling in South Carolina in 2000 he changed his position on the Confederate flag in a moment that he now readily admits was a betrayal of his actual beliefs (if you've ever seen the video of him reading that statement, it's heartbreaking - you can actually see his soul leaving his body). Combine that knowledge with the realization that he has to prove to Republicans that he truly is one of them, and I think we'll see him move significantly to the right during the primaries.
One more thing about McCain: though the war is incredibly unpopular right now, he is honest about his continued support for it. I really respect that kind of honesty.
Mike Huckabee - Governor of Arkansas. Odds: 13/50. Yes, I am predicting that Mike Huckabee will win the Republican nomination. Now, I recognize that this is sort of the equivalent of picking Niagra to go to the Final Four in that I'm mostly doing it just in the odd possibility that I might be able to point to it later and prove that I'm a genius. But I really think he'll do well. He's got a good bio: Governor of a small, southern state, ordained minister, interesting personal struggle with his weight (now there's something Americans can relate to). He's a likable guy - seriously, watch him in an intervew; he's very personable. He's a Republican but doesn't appear to be too far right, and he's got that blank slate quality that I keep mentioning. And then there's this: Guliani an McCain will split the moderate vote. Conservatives won't be able to come to terms with Romney being from Massachusetts and being Mormon. So I think that medium to far-right conservatives will go to Huckabee. It could happen.
So, that's my prediction: Obama vs. Huckabee. Fortunately, nobody read this, so I won't have defend this prediction when it's proved comically wrong.
*Looking at this blog a year later, it’s funny that I didn't know who Fred Thompson was. Of course, I don't watch Law and Order. And if you don't know that Fred Thompson was on Law and Order, then there's really no reason to think he should be President. Of course, if I had seen him on Law and Order, I'm sure that him being President would make perfect sense.
Posted by jeffmaurer1980
at 1:36 PM EDT