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Category: Campaign 2008.1
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
A few weeks ago, I attended a discussion of the coming 2008 presidential race offered by Thomas Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

As I said then,
I like Patterson. I heard him speak a few years ago at another convention. He is thoughtful and fair-minded. He has a great line: "the forecasting models indicate (insert prediction here) but I wouldn't bet my house on it." It is an important caveat. He sees this as a Democratic Party year, and I agree with him, but there is a reason we show up for the game even when the odds are prohibitive. On any given Sunday....

With a recent spate of polls and news analysis pieces reinforcing his points, I thought it would be appropriate to re-emphasize the wisdom of Professor Patterson:

Why are the Democrats ahead? Patterson noted that 1952 and 1968 were historical parallels. Stuck in unpopular wars, the parties of Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson suffered the consequences of presidential unpopularity. Looking at the job approval ratings of the President, the party of Bush groans with dread. The Democrats are currently running an 18-point lead in the generic canvass. There are potential pitfalls for the Dems (looking "anti-American" for one), but right now they have the better hand to play.

Even as there are many strongly persuasive indicators on general elections, the dynamics of the primaries make predictions on party nominations uncertain. Having said that, the nominations are now decided during the "invisible primary." That is, in the era of front-loading, the campaign prior to the first caucus and first primary generally determines the nominee. In a nutshell, this time next year, in all likelihood, we will know our two major party nominees.

Some things to watch for between now and the primaries:

1. Follow the Money. A winning candidate will need to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to win the nomination. George Bush busted the ancien regime, opting out of the matching funds system in 2000. Flush with cash, Bush rebounded after a loss in New Hampshire by swamping the poorly funded opposition on Super Tuesday. Then John Kerry in 2004 reaffirmed that no candidate could afford to stay within the federally funded order. Unable to gain traction, Kerry used his own money to fund his comeback. Limited funds deny candidate flexibility. The more money a candidate possesses, the less lethal any one mistake or setback will be.

2. Follow the Media and the Media Paradox. Media coverage drives popularity. The Media only cover viable candidates. Candidates cannot gain popularity without media coverage. In an era of limited media resources, only candidates with momentum and popular appeal will draw coverage.

The conclusion: It is very difficult for second tier candidates to break into the front-runners. Having said that, it happens: Howard Dean in 2004 for example.

Who will break through this time? Maybe no one in the party of Jackson. Patterson sees the Democratic race fairly fixed. There are three major candidates: a charismatic fresh face with a classically liberal outlook, an experienced DLC centrist triangulator and a populist white guy outlier (Obama, Hillary and Edwards).

The one wild card? Al Gore. He keeps saying he won't run--but Patterson wondered if an Academy Award and a Nobel Prize might create enough momentum to change the course of the primary battle. Sunday night [2-25-07] reinforces Gore's improbable dream. However, based on personal acquaintance with some Gore insiders, and the physical appearance of the former VP, Patterson guesses that Gore stays out.

For the GOP. There are three prominent Republican candidates: Romney, McCain and Giuliani. But they don't strike Patterson as very GOP-like. There may be an opening because the Republicans really need another choice.

UPDATE: Fred Thompson mania may be just the beginning....
Category: Campaign 2008.1
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
My Mantra: Nobody Knows Anything (a review here).

Having said that, again, here goes nothing:

1. Barack Obama and Hillary continue to hammer at one another. Smart people continue to say watch for Edwards. NPR did a friendly piece on Edwards this afternoon (NPR feature here). The gist of the story was that Edwards is doing better in Iowa than his two larger-than-life opponents. Is that true today? Probably. Will it continue? Maybe. Will Iowa determine the eventual nominee this time around? Not so certain. The race among the states to front-load primaries may make Iowa much less significant than in times past.

I don't like Edwards (some previous unfavorable thoughts on him here). He strikes me as a trimmer. On the other hand, as I say, smart people continue to point to Edwards. I agree that he is brilliantly stroking the base. Moreover, I see clearly the possibility of Hillary and Obama dealing one another mortal blows, and a winner emerging from the pack. Notwithstanding, I have a hard time seeing Edwards in that role.

2. I like Barack Obama. A few weeks ago, I came across a cartoon depicting an Easter-Island-like sculpture in the likeness of Obama with the caption: "I don't know what it is, but I am strangely attracted."

3. The best thing that could happen for the Obama campaign is a tiff with Al Sharpton. Is this it? Obama is a viable candidate because white America likes him and trusts him. They don't feel the same way about Reverend Al or Jesse Jackson. Even more than Bill Clinton did in 1992, Barack Obama will, at some point, need and greatly benefit from a "Sister Souljah" moment of his own.
Category: Campaign 2008.1
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Nobody knows anything.

Why? We have never done anything like this before.

For all the historians who point out historic parallels to this presidential election (Michael Kazin here), I say: rubbish!

Yes. Andrew Jackson started positioning himself for the 1828 race as soon as the dust cleared following the Corrupt Bargain election of 1824. Yes. William Jennings Bryan started campaigning for 1900 only weeks after he lost in 1896. Notwithstanding, those examples are of a completely different character.

This campaign is unlike anything we have ever seen. Even more modern comparisons are meaningless. Yes. Jimmy Carter began his 1976 campaign for the presidency in 1974. But Jimmy Carter toiled in obscurity for a full year. Howard Dean: similar story arc.

Never in the history of the American presidency have we had this kind of campaign, with so many candidates, with so much money and media attention on this kind of scale at this point in the cycle. Never. Therefore, there are no historical parallels. There are no good models. Nobody knows anything.

This week's rush to anoint Rudy is premature. We are just getting started. Rudy may win; he may prove a wonderful, resilient and tireless campaigner--but right now he is a two-week wonder. He is a novice at this level of competition. He has not even weathered his first media crisis. He is a great prospect, but only in the same way a triple-A phenom is a great prospect in spring training for a major league club. This is going to be a long season. Sometimes rookies win twenty games. More often they don't. Sometimes they don't even make it out of camp.

This week's storyline is the demise of John McCain. It may prove true. On the other hand, McCain survived eight years in the Hanoi Hilton, and seven years in the on-deck circle waiting for his final at-bat. I would not underestimate his patience or discipline. He strikes me as unlikely to get depressed and go home in the face of this most recent adversity. But we'll see.

Nobody knows anything, and I count myself in that category--but my sense is that Mitt Romney does not have IT. I wouldn't count Newt out--but he is still a long shot. He has a lot to overcome. We'll see.

Nobody knows anything, but George Will is awfully damned smart. Read his latest column here. He makes a lot of sense.
Category: Campaign 2008.1
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Much has been said about Barack Obama's clumsy chronology in crediting the 1965 "March to Freedom" in Selma with producing the interracial courtship of his parents that preceded his birth in 1961. The Obama campaign explained later that the candidate was speaking metaphorically and broadly.

However, I have not heard anyone question Hillary's description of the events of Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965:

Now, my friends, we must never forget the blows they took. Let's never forget the dogs and the horses and the hoses that were turned on them, driving them back, treating them not as human beings (full text here).

The intro to the Newshour on PBS report tonight even went so far as to show archival footage of police dogs attacking protesters and teenagers in the park dodging high-pressure hoses.

Indeed, Bull Connor was the master of the German Shepherd attack dogs, cattle prods and fire hoses. There is only one problem. Bull Connor was the villain of Birmingham. The news footage was of Birmingham--not Selma.

Hillary and the Newshour conflated Bloody Sunday with the images from Birmingham during the spring of 1963. In March of 1965, Sheriff Jim Clark and other local and state law enforcement confronted civil rights protesters on the Edmund Pettis Bridge with tear gas and mounted police. The images of Bloody Sunday are equally gruesome and the stories are just as harrowing--but they are two distinct events.

Perhaps I am being too fastidious? Perhaps Mrs. Clinton, like Senator Obama, was speaking in larger terms, compressing events into one dramatic narrative. But, after she exerted such effort to insert herself into the Selma commemoration, one could hope that the Senator from New York could have at least made a similar effort to get her facts straight.