tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Monday, August 13, 2007

It's early in the presidential campaign

The Iowa Straw Poll on Saturday opened the lengthy process of selecting nominations for the U.S. Presidential election in 2008. Unlike the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, which are likely to stay in the control of Democrats after the 2008 elections, the White House is up for grabs. Although President Bush’s popularity is low, the Democrats do not have a lock on the election. It could go either way.

The campaign begins early because the primaries are front loaded. The Iowa Caucuses are on January 14, a week after the nation’s first primary, which takes place in the District of Columbia on January 8. On February 5, the first Tuesday of February, 24 states are holding primary elections. During the month of February, 33 states will host primaries, meaning that by the first of March, much of the drama will be over. The front-runners at that point typically get their party nominations.

Despite the media’s fascination with Barack Obama, I think you have to assume that the Democratic nomination is going to go to Hillary Clinton. She’s pragmatic; she is the most organized; she knows this drill better than anyone. And she knows how to raise money. When the Democrats emerge from their national convention in Denver, I expect the ticket to be Hillary Clinton, with Obama as her vice presidential running mate.

The ticket is not so easy to predict on the Republican side. I think it is very likely we could get through the entire primary season without a clear leader emerging. Going into the national convention in St. Paul eight weeks before the election, I doubt it will be clear who the Republican candidate for president is going to be. Romney and Giuliani have positives but they also have negatives which will be difficult to get over. I don’t expect McCain to still be in the race at that point.

So if you are responsible for selecting your party’s candidate for president, do you go with one of the leaders, just because they are the ones in the race? Do you go with one of them just because they have weathered the primaries? Do you go with a nominee who you understand has absolutely no chance of beating a Clinton/Obama ticket? No. You have to go for something else. You go with a long shot, a name from completely out of the blue. My guess is, the Republicans will nominate someone who is not even in the race at this time – and I don’t mean Fred Thompson. I mean someone no one is even talking about at this point.

Last March James Carville suggested Jeb Bush would be the nominee (see my April 19 post). I don’t see that happening, but I do have a guess: Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota’s second-term governor who didn’t raise taxes but still managed to balance a state budget that was billions of dollars in the red. The Republican convention is in his back yard in 2008, and Pawlenty is head of the National Governors Association this year, giving him national visibility.

The unknown in this guess is the impact of the collapsed I-35W bridge. Will the disaster get pegged on him? Will opponents say he refused to spend the money to fix the state’s roads and bridges, resulting in this incident? That wouldn’t be fare but, of course, some people will make that argument. The question is, will it stick? A poll conducted by local television station KSTP found that 75 percent of people approve of the Governor’s handling of the situation. It will be interesting to assess the public’s sentiment a year from now.

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