The shape of the 2008 presidential sweepstakes is gradually becoming clearer through the fog of war. There is a surprising and artful symmetry in how each party’s contest is shaping up.
Both parties have clear front-runners — Hillary Clinton and John McCain — around whom the race will be formed. In each party there is a looming presence whose entry into the race could change it completely. And there is an assortment of ideologically more extreme contenders who are trying to break through and challenge the front-runner.
In the Republican primaries, McCain runs far ahead of all other contenders. But the specter of Rudy Giuliani hangs over the nominating process. If Rudy runs, his challenge will most directly affect McCain, who then would have to battle for the moderate side of the party. But if Rudy stays out, the contest will polarize around the Arizona senator.
But since McCain is on the left of the GOP — despite his efforts to court the right — he will inevitably face a runoff in the primaries against the great right hope, a title for which Virginia Sen. George Allen, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist are competing. Gov. George Pataki of New York and Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska are considering runs for the nomination, but both would have to battle McCain for the center-left and neither will be able to get much traction in the face of McCain’s appeal.