2008, Evangelical Right, AntiWar Left, May Be Out
In covering Presidential campaigns, it seems that in a given year someone, or a few people, may be on the right wave length, but the situation changes, and, like as not, they won't be the next time around. So, Theodore H. White was in tune with the trends in 1960, when he wrote about the narrowly successful campaign of John F. Kennedy in his Making The President book. But he wasn't as online with history when he tried to extend his expertise to 20 years of campaigns.
In every year, there's a trend line. The character of the electorate changes. New issues come to the fore, and writers, newspapers, magazines, are often quite tardy in realizing what they are, and what will really shape the election. Sometimes the primaries give a good indication, as they did in 1968, but sometimes not. Most often, we have to wait to see the final choice presented to the voters, gage whether any third party candidates will actually impact the outcome, and then we see which will be the real swing states, as Florida was in the 2000 election (with a timely assist from the U.S. Supreme Court).
Nonetheless, there are strong developing indications this year that this will neither be the year for the evangelical right, or the antiwar left.
If the left could unite on a candidate, read either Sen. Barack Obama or former Sen. John Edwards, then Hillary Clinton would face a real challenge in the primaries. But it is unlikely that this will happen before the Feb. 5 big-state primaries, and, in the meantime, Clinton has locked in the centrist position, using some codewords with effect. In her case, recently, it's been Iran, where she's taken a harder stand than the antiwar candidates, and even Iraq, where her antiwar position has been more moderate.
If the right could unite on a candidate, then the Evangelicals might yet be felt, despite a New York Times magazine article yesterday that contended the Evangelical fervor has diminished this year. Theoretically, that could be former Sen. Fred Thompson, but he does not seem to be catching fire.
It is, to the consternation of the New York Times, and, eventually, the other liberal newspapers, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who seems to hold the lead, for now. Polls show him running first even among Evangelicals in some places, or, at least, holding his own. His three marriages, living with a gay couple, and so forth, have, as yet, not proved crippling to his candidacy, because his role on 9-11 overwhelms all that.
What Clinton and Giuliani have going for them at present, with the primaries beginning in a couple of months, also is name identification. In crowded fields, they have it, and that can be decisive, as we have found with such durable candidacies as Richard Nixon's in 1968, George W. Bush in 2000, or Jerry Brown in the crowded Democratic primary field for governor in California, in 1974. There were other good candidates in each of those races, but they couldn't get a toehold as the important primaries were frontloaded, packed toward the beginning when many voters were not paying that much attention.
Strangely, 2008 could be an issues year (beyond the Iraq war) if former Vice President Al Gore were to emerge as a candidate, but that is growing less and less likely as time passes. At present, Gore would emerge only in a deadlock, and a deadlock in the Democratic nominations fight seems unlikely. His global warming Nobel prize could make this an issues race, if he ran. Without him, only Bush's incompetence is an issue, and the major candidates will probably agree on that, as nearly everyone else does.
It is always possible, too, that Clinton or Giuliani might tack to the left or right in choosing a vice presidential nominee. But I think that is unlikely too. Both of them are well-organized, careful politicians with a game plan, and both most likely will be reaching for the center in presenting a final choice to the electorate.
So, will there be a significant third party challenge? Probably not. I remarked recently that the Republican Right distrusts and dislikes Clinton too much to get in the way of a Giuliani candidacy with a rightwing third party candidate, and, certainly, Giuliani will provoke too many fears on the left for a third party anti-Clinton candidacy.
The security issue may be important next year, depending on what the terrorists do, but even that may be fuzzed up to some extent, as the candidates move toward the center. However, it is possible that immigration may become a major issue in 2008, if Giuliani chooses to make it one.
Surprises? Well, there could always be some, such as the Tet offensive was to Johnson in 1968, knocking him out of the race for reelection. But then surprises wouldn't be surprises, if we could easily see them coming.
Labels: Presidential campaigning