It's time to deal with it. Could it be possible that the top contenders for president in 2008 are not even running just yet? Will Al Gore jump in and take the Democratic nomination? Is Newt Gingrich really going to run? Will Mike Bloomberg once again prove the greatness of this country: any man with a dream and a billion dollars can reach great heights?
Let's examine the pros and cons -- the political calculations -- to each of these men getting into an already crowded field. First of all Gore. I could argue that the time is ripe for the former vice president to run. He never supported the war in Iraq, thus he has nothing to back away from. He also represents perhaps better than anyone else the essence of multi-lateral foreign policy. Both of these put him right where the base of the Democratic party is on foreign policy. He has over two decades of public service experience -- but can make the claim that he does not have any of the negative experience of the past six or seven years. What a perfect mix: the right stuff at the right time.
Above all, he defines -- pardon the pun -- one of the hottest issue before the U.S. today: global warming. This is a national consensus issue with over 70% of voters agreeing that humans play a major role in carbon emissions. It is also a key foreign policy issue and he was the chief brain behind the Kyoto Protocols. And global warming is a great crossover issue that appeals to disaffected Republicans, including many evangelical Christians.
He has won an Oscar and could win a Nobel Peace Prize this fall. He can wait until then to announce since he has huge name recognition, can raise the money he needs (plus some), and has a bevy of experienced staff waiting in the wings to help out.
But the path is not cleared for a Gore run and he still faces a major obstacle: almost four in five Democratic primary and caucus voters in early states -- as well as nationally -- tell us that they are satisfied with the crop of candidates out there already. And the Big Three -- Clinton, Obama, and Edwards -- are almost each receiving that share. My latest poll in new Hampshire has Richardson at 10 percent. So in order for it to make sense for Gore to to enter the fray, one (or even two) of the top three are going to have to decline in the polls or drop out by September.
Newt Gingrich brings a lot to the table on the Republican side. Only a little more than half of likely Republican primary and caucus voters in early states and nationally tell us that they are satisfied with the field. Of the over 40% who are dissatisfied, most are self-described conservatives who tell us they are waiting for the Great Conservative to emerge. Gingrich can be that man. He is also a winner having taken Republicans from decades of minority status in the House and turning them into a big majority. He is very smart, is a keen historian, and knows how to present issues -- especially issues about the future -- that are outside the box.
But, as is the case with Democrats and Gore, there are limitations to this scenario with Gingrich. For starters, Gingrich is a polarizing figure and this might not be the right time for a divider, not a uniter. Fifty-two percent of our national poll of likely voters in mid-March said they would NEVER would vote for him. Never is a daunting word. Besides, there already are good candidates out there -- I mean, how do you dismiss Giuliani, McCain, and Romney?
However, as we saw throughout the second half of 2003 when Democrats in the early primary and caucus states said they did not think that George W. Bush could be defeated, they wanted Howard Dean to be their standard-bearer because "he stands up for what he believes", rather than "he can beat President Bush." That all changed in early January 2004 in our Iowa tracking polls.
If Republicans are demoralized and ready to go down in a blaze of glory, then there is no one better to state the conservative case and prepare the party for the new realities of the twenty-first century. Mr. Gingrich is a firebrand who can certainly light up a debate.
Enter Mike Bloomberg, who has had a very successful run at being mayor of New York, without Rudy's divisiveness. Bloomberg is popular, effective, and is one of the very few who can run for the presidency without ever needing it on his resume. (Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Eisenhower are really the only ones who fit this bill). He can run on his record, as a global icon, and who can spend a fortune to define himself. No worries here about getting on the ballot in the 50 states.
Now -- if the Democrats nominate any one of their leading possibilities -- Clinton, Obama, Edwards, Richardson, or Gore -- and the Republicans opt for a conservative like Gingrich, Romney, or Fred Thompson, then Bloomberg, running as an independent, could have a chance. He could ride a collective wave from several different streams of support -- among them moderate Republicans, Democrats who admire his social policies and management of New York City, and conservatives who want to keep a Democrat out of the White House. This is the formula he used to win two races for mayor. With $1 billion to spend, it's reasonable to assume he could build a national replica of his successful mayoral model -- especially in a field that could seriously split at least three ways. His chances improve more as new, minor candidates at the extreme right and left ends of the political spectrum take their own small bites away from the major party candidates.
We've known for some time this would be an historic presidential election because of the issues at hand. We are just now getting a peek at how the political machinations will make it even more so.
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