I think I have a love-hate relationship with politics. On one hand, I undoubtedly hate the bad side of politics. But on the other hand, I do enjoy watching the execution of clever campaign strategies, consolidation of power, mud-slinging, betrayal, and promises of a better tomorrow play out before my very eyes in the media. In truth, national politics is my favorite bloodsport.
This time around, the race for president is historic in the sense that it's the first time in 80 years that neither an incumbent president nor vice president is seeking the office. So in that sense, the race is wide open.
However, for the purposes of this post, I'm going to focus on the Democratic Party. (I might analyze the Republican field later in the year.)
For the Dems, the field really only has two serious candidates at the moment: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
For Hillary, her biggest positive is that she's got the best political machine in place. In fact, one of her key strategies is to give the sense of "inevitability" that she will win the nomination. Her fundraising so far has been stellar, and no Democrat will come close to raising as much money as she will this year. When you have the most powerful contacts and are raising the most money and lead in the national polls, people tend to start falling in line. For a politician, that's a good place to be.
However, money isn't quite everything in politics. People, to some degree, care about where you stand on the issues. For Hillary, many Democrats aren't happy that she voted for the Iraq War Resolution in 2002. In reality, that vote is one of the biggest obstacles she has to winning the Democratic nomination.
Enter Barack Obama. He's youthful, smart, and charismatic. For people who want a fresh start, he's "the next big thing." He's drawing crowds, raising money, and gaining momentum. In contrast to Hillary, he will argue that his view on Iraq has never waivered. Furthermore, being from Illinos, he will challenge Hillary on turf that she had hoped to claim as her own.
But Obama has a big hill to climb. His resume is thin, and he's up against an establishment political machine that will eat him for lunch if it has to. I think his best chance is to keep the race close through December and January and hope things break his way when people actually start casting votes in the primaries.
I do think Obama would have an edge in the debates with Hillary, but that point could be moot. Hillary will at least do one debate before Iowa, but it's hard to say if there will be any others. If she gets through that debate okay and maintains a safe lead, then why debate further? (Remember, Jimmy Carter strongly considered not debating Ronald Reagan at all. In the end, Carter agreed to one debate--and it resulted in Reagan leap-frogging him in the polls and into the White House.)
Some of you reading this might be wondering how much longer I can type on this subject without mentioning "The Bill Factor." Well, wonder no further. Honestly, I think Bill Clinton was a Catch-22 for Al Gore in 2000, but he will be a positive for Hillary in 2008 if he wants to be. My theory here is one that you probably haven't heard bef0re--I call it "The Grandpa Clinton Theory." In short, I think enough time has passed that people's view of Bill has changed to where he's not quite as polarizing. He's older, had major heart surgery, and reminds many Democrats of a simpler time. If he chooses to campaign hard for Hillary, he'll be an asset in the primaries.
As for John Edwards, I've always viewed him as a long shot in this race. His only hope was (and still is) to win Iowa and catch fire from there.
And then there's Al Gore. Will he or won't he run? Well, in some ways, I think that he's already running. He's gotten great publicity for winning an Oscar earlier this year, and he has a new book about his current political views coming out in May. My guess is that his people are constantly doing internal polling and if Gore thinks there's any chance of him competing for the nomination, he'll jump in the ring.
So what if Gore officially runs? What then? Well, I think Hillary's path to the nomination would become a tougher row to hoe. After all, if Gore's internal polling shows that he would make it easier for her to win by him jumping in the race, then he's not going to do it. (Remember, back in 1993 Hillary took Al's White House office for her own. There's a lot of bad blood between those two.)
My gut tells me that Hillary will effectively minimize the political damage of her 2002 Iraq vote and hang on to win the nomination by emphasizing past achievements of which she's proud and the ideas she has for the future. For her V.P. choice, she won't pick anyone who challenged her in the primaries, so you can forget Obama and Edwards. I'd bet on New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson--he's a trusted Clinton person who would balance out the ticket geographically and demographically quite well.