Confessions of a Hoosier Democrat

Blogging Indiana Politics and the 2008 Presidential Race.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Friday Line: Hillary, McCain in a Class of Their Own

The Friday Line: Hillary, McCain in a Class of Their Own

The last time we dedicated the Friday Line to the raw horse race politics of Campaign 2008 was way back in December. Much has changed since, most notably the solidifying of Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) as the clear frontrunner for the Republican nomination.

As the Post's Dan Balz noted a recent story, McCain -- along with chief political adviser John Weaver -- has worked tirelessly behind-the-scenes to recruit key operatives who supported President George W. Bush to his increasingly likely 2008 bid.

On the Democratic side of the ledger, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (N.Y.) fundraising machine continues to churn ($17 million in the bank at the end of 2005) -- further cementing her as the favorite for her party's nomination.

Today's Friday Line separates Clinton and McCain from the rest of the Republican and Democratic fields, placing them in a "frontrunner" category of their own because they are far ahead of the other potential candidates at the moment. "The Field" category represents candidates who can make a legitimate case for dethroning McCain and Clinton come 2008 but just aren't there yet.

Reminder: The Fix's rankings of the 2008 race are just a snapshot in time. As always, your thoughts are welcome in the comments section below. Let's get started:

DEMOCRATS

The Frontrunner: Hillary Rodham Clinton

What more can we say about Clinton? Republicans have proven decidedly inept at fielding a solid candidate against her this November, ensuring that her Senate reelection race can serve as an uninterrupted pre-cursor to a national bid. And don't forget that whatever cash Clinton retains in her Senate campaign account after this year can be transferred to a presidential account. We've heard whispers from other Democratic camps that Clinton will decide not to run for the White House. But that seems like wishful thinking. She starts with a double-digit lead in every early state and could well have double the dollars of her nearest challenger. How does a politician turn down a race with that sort of firepower?

The Field

Evan Bayh: Bayh is the tortoise of the Democratic presidential field. He has adopted a "slow-and-steady" approach to the process of fundraising and campaigning that is likely to keep him from emerging as the buzz candidate anytime in the near future. But that approach also should keep him in the conversations of Democratic insiders for months to come. Bayh will never match Edwards in charisma, but he has gotten markedly better -- more animated -- over the past year. It's still hard to see where Bayh goes for votes if Warner continues to be seen as the chosen candidate of those who prize electability in their nominee. But it's also impossible to predict the operating dynamic of a race where the first votes won't be cast until January 2008.

John Edwards: Edwards is taking an entirely different tack at winning the nomination in 2008 than he did in 2004. In his first national race, Edwards lavished state parties and local candidates with money from his leadership political action committee in hopes of currying favor. He has done considerably less of that as he looks ahead to 2008. Edwards has used his advocacy on the poverty issue to emerge as a spokesman for workers' rights -- witness his work on behalf of a number of minimum wage ballot initiatives that will be on the ballot in several states this fall. While Edwards's fundraising has not impressed so far this cycle (he ended 2005 with just $23,000 on hand in his One America PAC), he is clearly the most charismatic candidate on the Democratic side. No longer tied to the Senate could also help Edwards, since no sitting senator since John F. Kennedy in 1960 has been elected president.

Al Gore: Yes, that Al Gore. As I outlined in a recent Fix post, Gore can make a legitimate case for the nomination. He is the only candidate who has shown that he can raise the $50 million (or more) necessary to compete against Clinton for the nomination, and he's the only one who has been unequivocally against the Iraq war from the start. From what we hear, Gore is not interested in participating in the nitty-gritty politics necessary to run and win the 2008 nomination, preferring instead to be drafted -- who wouldn't! Still, until Gore formally says no, he belongs on the Line.

John Kerry: The positions of Kerry and GOP Sen. Bill Frist are remarkably similar at the moment. Both are largely dismissed by the chattering class inside the Beltway but continue to demonstrate an ability to raise vast quantities of money. Kerry's remarkable Internet fundraising operation, which has raised $1 million for Democratic candidates over the past six months, keeps him as a viable 2008 candidate. Democrats, both rank and file and the party elites, tend to be skeptical of a retread candidacy for president (see "Gore, Al"), and Kerry may eventually decide that he'd rather be one of the key powerbrokers in 2008 than the candidate himself. Until then, The Fix is inclined to leave him on the Line.

Mark Warner: Warner's "It Boy" status seems to be wearing off somewhat -- the first dip of the inevitable roller coaster ride of insider opinion that he must endure between now and 2008. Much of that slowing momentum appears to be the result of his low-profile in the last month or so as he focuses heavily on courting the big-dollar donors he will need to challenge Clinton for the nomination. Still, Warner remains the smart money bet to emerge as the anti-Hillary candidate. His second-place showing in a Charleston (South Carolina) County Democratic straw poll late last month seems to back up that perception.

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