Friday, April 27, 2007

2008 Democratic Presidential candidates

Republican Politics, American Style
Published April 19th 2007
By Charles Laffiteau

What are the various strengths and weaknesses among the three main candidates and the other possible contenders for the Democratic Presidential nomination? Since the Iraq war is likely to be the defining issue of the 2008 election I will begin by summarizing the candidates’ positions on the war in Iraq and how they propose to resolve the situation there.
All of the Democratic candidates were opposed to increasing troop strength in Iraq and all of them favour some type of phased redeployment and or withdrawal of troops beginning this year. Given popular sentiment against the war and increasing the number of American soldiers there, this is a safe position to take with both Democratic Primary voters and national voters. However there is little to no chance that the Bush Administration will begin to withdraw troops before the November 2008 general election. Thus if one of these Democrats is elected President, they will have to begin mapping out a withdrawal or redeployment plan after they take office rather than continuing to implement such a strategy.
Opposition to the Iraq war looms as one of (if not the greatest) major strengths of the Democratic candidates for Congress and the presidency in 2008. It is much easier to propose solutions for President Bush to implement that you know he won’t, than it is to implement alternative solutions that you will later be held accountable for. How Democrats handle the withdrawal of American troops and what happens in Iraq after those troops are gone could become either a strength or a weakness in future elections however. A messy pullout which results in a bloodbath of Iraqi sectarian violence would not help them win re-election in 2012.
If there is a difference among the major candidates regarding their opposition to the Iraq war, it is in terms of when you first opposed the war. Barack Obama is one of only 3 Democratic candidates who opposed the war from the outset. Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel also opposed the war from the very beginning, but they have no hope of winning the presidential nomination. On the other hand, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a potential dark-horse candidate who bears watching, never had to take a stand for or against the war and says he would have opposed it “knowing what he knows now.” All of the other candidates, including the other 2 front runners, Senators Clinton and Edwards, voted to authorize the war and now admit they would not have done so knowing that the Bush administration had used faulty and discredited intelligence to justify the need to invade Iraq.
Senator Obama however, took a politically unpopular stand against the war in October of 2002 just before he began his 2004 Senate campaign when he told the Illinois State Legislature; “I know that invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East and encourage the worst rather than best impulses in the Arab world and strengthen the recruitment arm of al Qaeda.” His longstanding opposition to the war is looming as a major strength for him with both Democratic voters and independent national voters.
On the other hand, votes to authorize the war have hurt both Senator Clinton and John Edwards with a number of Democratic Primary voters. Senator Clinton is so concerned that she has attempted to blur the distinction between her and other candidates’ more recent opposition to the war and Senator Obama’s position opposing it all along. In February she went so far as to say that; “If I had been President in October of 2002, I would have never asked for authority to divert our attention from Afghanistan to Iraq, and I certainly would never have started this war.” But the fact remains that she did vote to authorize the war in 2002 and some Democrats will not vote for her and will vote for Senator Obama because of this single issue.
Unlike their Republican counterparts, there are also not any major differences among the Democratic candidates on other issues like immigration reform (where they may actually be able to work out a compromise with Bush before he leaves office), reducing the budget deficit, the need for universal healthcare and legislation to address global warming. Democratic unity on these and broader social issues like abortion, civil rights and social welfare represents an additional strength for Democratic Congressional and Presidential candidates in 2008. The war and the environment are also issues which help mobilize the Democratic “base” of liberal social activists during the primaries, which is likely to pay additional dividends during the November general election.
Another somewhat surprising strength for Democrats has been the fundraising prowess of the 3 Democratic Presidential front-runners. Senators Clinton, Obama and Edwards have raised a combined 65 million dollars so far versus only 47 million for the top 3 Republican candidates. Democratic dark-horse Richardson finished a strong fourth among Democrats by raising an additional 6 million dollars which was just under half the 12.5 million raised by former Republican front runner John McCain.
This is another worrisome trend for the Republican Party which has historically been able to raise much more money to finance their political campaigns than their Democratic counterparts. This is one of the reasons why Republicans have always opposed attempts to reform political campaign financing laws and regulations. If Democrats continue to raise money at the current rate (78 million combined versus 51 million for all the republican candidates), then dark days lie ahead for the Republican candidates for Congress and the presidency in November 2008.
Senator Clinton continues to lead the Democratic polls by a margin of as much as 15-20 points over her nearest rival Senator Obama with John Edwards remaining as a close third choice among Democrats. But Senator Clinton has been unable to boost her approval ratings among Democrats above 40% which means that roughly 2/3rds of Democrats would rather see someone else as their Presidential candidate in 2008.
Even more worrisome for Senator Clinton was the fact that she was only able to raise 1 million dollars more for her presidential campaign than Senator Obama in the first quarter of 2007 ($26 million versus $25 million). Senator Edwards’s campaign has also hit some bumps with his third place finish in fundraising of 14 million dollars and the news that his wife’s cancer has returned. Some pundits question whether he will be able to run as effectively without the constant support and advice of his wife, who is also his number one campaign advisor.
It is still too early to count out Governor Richardson and Al Gore as possible contenders for the Democratic nomination should one or more of the current front runners falter. But regardless of the nominee, the Democratic standard bearer and other Democrats running for congress appear to be well positioned to take control of the Presidency and increase their total number of seats in Congress come November of next year. Over the past six years Republicans have remained unified in support of the President but recent polls suggest a distinct loss of enthusiasm among Republican voters. Unless this trend is reversed, 2008 could be a disastrous election year for Republicans.

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