Let me start by saying the Democratic party is facing the flipside of the Republican party’s problem. It’s going to be a (near) banner year. So what the party’s candidates are facing is not the bedrock voters but the plenitude of ‘fair-weather’ voters. The handle for these is going to be looser definitions of ‘likely voters’. These are the ones that only turn out when there’s an issue of interest to them, or they’re excited about a candidate or they’re really angry (and opposed to) someone or something on the ballot…
And that last is the cause. I still think a lot won’t turn out for the primaries, but it’s going to be larger than JUST “likely voters”. What this means (I think) is that only the top tier candidates matter. Oh, I can see ways in which lower tiers can jump the hurdle, but with the compressed season it takes having all four candidates burn out. So, only looking at the big four (well, five as you’ll see in a moment), here we go.
Most likely to be out: Bill Richardson. Governor Richardson had a lot of potential, and he will carry some voters as long as he runs. But he’s got three big strikes that are going to sink him. First, even as far into the game as we are, he’s relatively unknown. While his “Hi, I’m Bill Richardson” ads were brilliant, he failed to capitalize — for that matter, failed to get them out in front of people. Second, he’s got some serious flaws — flaws that resonate with the image of the stereotypical Republican in the eyes of most Democrats. Finally, he’s severely not liked by a significant number of people who DO know him. In other words, as his name gets better known, the flaws and the people who do know him will hurt him at least in proportion to gain in recognition, and maybe more. He could still wind up as a VP candidate (as could many of the second tier candidates), but at this point he’s very low on the likelihood trail for winning.
The first of the “maybe” candidates is Senator Edwards. He’s got some huge pluses. He’s articulate. He hold several populist positions, some contrary to Washington positions. He’s (so far) done the best of the top three in separating the need to deal with terrorists from the fiasco in Iraq. He’s the most “outside” of the three as he’s no longer serving in congress – been there, but not now, and with only one term he’s not really “tainted”. On the downside… he’s the most disliked by the media. He’s a southerner, and many dem voters are getting tired of southerners as presidents. He lost last time – sure, as a VP candidate, and much can be blamed on Kerry, but he lost nonetheless. Finally, he’s behind the other two in money. Actually, he’s got quite a bit – his chest is sufficient to face any of the GOP challengers. It’s just that Obama and Clinton have done so much better. So the odds of him taking the whole are.. far from certain.
Obama is next. He’s a shining star, articulate, charismatic, with an explosion into the spotlight in 2004 with a speech even the Republicans loved. He’s also been presenting an image of “not quite ready”. Stumbles here and there – not large, but there – which aren’t really that big were his current opponents not so adept at grasping them. His big issue – both pro and con – is his race. We like to hide it but racism will play a part. Not merely white against black, but black in favor of black and white guilt. It’s hard to say how it’ll all play out, but I think he’ll get a definite level merely due to that factor. Oh – the hispanic vote will be non-racial, I think. If they go any direction for race, they’ll be looking at Governor Richardson. And he’s not playing the race card very well at all — and isn’t distinctively enough “hispanic” to have it happen without playing it. So, no overwhelming success for Obama.
Don’t think the race is Clinton’s to lose, however. She’s got a lot of things in her favor – experience, money, and name being the three big ones. On the other hand her name and some of her experience are what are dragging her down. Though it’s stronger among Republicans, there is some sexism in play. There’ll also be some expectation of sexism (as expectation of racism will play against Obama), and more than a handful of voters will vote for someone else just because they think enough sexists (racists) would be driven away for the other side to win — REGARDLESS of how they feel about her positions. And her positions are her weak point in comparison to Edwards and Obama. In other words, being the leader and walking away are two different things.
The wild card is Al Gore. I don’t know if he’ll enter – he’s still being coy, answering neither yes nor no. I’ll continue to give him consideration in my calculations till the end of September, possibly till the Nobel awards are announced in October (depending on the situation), but that’s it. He’s got one huge factor playing in his favor, of course — the belief by many Democrats that he was robbed in 2000. Add to this the fact he’s stayed out of politics as politics and put money and time into a major progressive issue – excepting the politics, something he has in common with Edwards. His experience trumps that of any other candidate. And he’s learned to be far less wooden in his presentations – he’s developed a personality. On the other hand, he’s not in the spotlight, and that will inevitably show flaws. And since he’s not running he doesn’t have a warchest — something that will HURT in the months to come. If he enters, he starts with the popular lead. The question would be whether he could keep it — and my guess is that the answer is “maybe, in some places.”
The compressed season only increases the uncertainty. It reduces the need for plans and resources that take advantage of (or rely upon) long periods of time. On the other hand, it requires candidates to ‘get it right’ early, as they can’t polish their image in response to early votes.
I say compressed season. It’s not, really – neither for D nor R. What the compressed “season” has done is move the campaigning window to an earlier period (hence all the campaigning), but put the feedback closer to a national, simultaneous vote.
I think there’s a very good chance that the actual nomination will be decided at the DNC convention next August. I think that two — maybe three — of the candidates will have “almost enough”. And the final decision will be based on classic backroom deals. In the end I think this will be good for both the Democrats and the nation. Of course, I could be wrong. One of the candidates may barely pull enough of the delegates to ensure victory. Or it could go to nomination, but the dealing and cutting as they fight for nomination could sour the whole D image making the R nominee (who I expect to be decided by the primaries) appear, well, not so bad, and so leavin gthe whole race a lot closer.
But it’s not what I expect. I think the president of the United States will be determined after a political freeforall in Denver, between the 25th and 28th of August.