Hil who? Look for Russ as Dems' 2008 pick

Kathryn Lopez

8/14/2006 12:01:00 PM - Kathryn Lopez

Move over, Hillary: Russ Feingold is going to be the Democratic nominee for president in 2008.

For far too long the assumption has been that the former first lady would be the Dems' obvious pick. The storyline had dynastic flair, plus the sexy-milestone first-woman-president aspect. It had the wronged-woman-coming-out-on-top Style-section and glossy-headline opportunities. The idea launched many a Clinton-hater (hey, nothing wrong with that, I'm a card-carrier) book. It was scary while it lasted. But the moment's gone.

Enter Sen. Russell Feingold, three-term Democrat from Wisconsin.

He's positioned himself as the antiwar alternative. He's got the advantage of being able to say to anyone disillusioned about Iraq that he was (in his mind) right all along -- unlike Johnny-come-latelies like former Democratic vice president nominee John Edwards, who recently apologized for his 2002 Senate vote for the Iraq invasion. And with the recent defeat of Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primary, it's Feingold's hour. It's his party and he can run if he wants to. The red carpet is out.

And it's really no surprise. I was talking about the Democratic 2008 options with a smart Republican Beltwayer, pre-Connecticut, and he saw the 2006 Democratic party for what it is: "The Democrat base is dominated by the Cossacks, Cindy Sheehan disciples, and Big Labor special interests who are increasingly devoted to a cause-oriented political jihad against what they view as a Democrat Establishment. Their disagreement with the Establishment is born out of their belief that: moderation is akin to treason towards the liberal doctrine; support for the war in Iraq is the political equivalent of having '666' marked on your skull. You're either with them or against them."

It's a depressing reality, especially if you support our effort in Iraq -- that one of our two leading parties might well ostracize anyone who continues to support that effort. But that's exactly what Lieberman's loss -- and national left-wing celebration of it -- suggests. It's a free country and you can oppose the war if you want to, of course. But a party with no disagreement is the kinda party where the guests you want sticking around are going to leave early, or not show at all.

Of course, if you're a Democrat reading this who doesn't like that, it is only August 2006 and there is time. Perhaps the Lieberman loss was just the cup of Joe the party needed -- an opportunity for the mainstream adults to take the party back from the fringe. But if you're a Democrat, you are in denial if you think Connecticut was an exception rather than the rule. On primary night, Ned Lamont, the challenger, stood at his victory podium, screeching right next to his party leaders, who were right up there with him: Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, abortion-lobby chief Kim Gandy, and Rep. Maxine Waters ("Mad Max").

And let's not forget the lefty bloggers. It took no time at all for the Daily Kos Web site to issue demands to Democrats, once Lieberman announced he would be running for re-election as an independent. The Kos Kids are the Democratic constituency. Again, if you're a Democrat and you want your party back, you might pay attention.

The alternative, if you don't, is 2008 presidential nominee Russell Feingold. Don't get me wrong: If she wanted to be herself, Hillary Clinton could out-left Feingold. It would be a truer version of Hillary -- a left activist at heart -- than she feels free to display these days. But her supposedly smart triangulation moves -- trying to sound reasonable about abortion (despite her radically pro-legal record), trying to nuance her war position -- are hurting her with the Kos crowd. And Al, Jesse and Kim couldn't have approved of her collegial support for Lieberman in his primary. She could do penance at the far-left altar yet; there's time. But right now, it's Russ time.

The Lamont primary-win talk has focused on his Web support. The cyberbuzz brings back memories of Howard Dean, who was supposed to take American politics by storm through the netroots. Somewhere along the way, Dean got unplugged from the hype; his offline reality was a loser. Feingold (who the morning after Lamont's victory threw money his way) could be something different -- learning from Dean's screaming mistakes and getting out in front of a party that is right where he is.

Says my previously cited Hill guy, of Feingold: "He is Dean 2004 without the delicate psyche ... Feingold, like Dean, was 'antiwar before it was cool to be antiwar,' as Dean once declared about himself. He's got the anti-corporate credentials, the enviro-radicals, the pseudo-reformers, the Labor Luddites just sitting out there ripe for Feingold and the grassroots lasso he's sure to throw."

He continues: "The first sub-primary of the Democratic field will be the contest for title of 'outsider' or 'maverick' who will take on the Establishment. Feingold will be that guy. Dean self-destructed in 48 hours because he never built the bricks and mortar required in Iowa and New Hampshire, instead relying on buzz. If Feingold marshals the kooky Left the way I think he will, he will take the field by surprise."

Don't be surprised. You heard it here. Dems, save yourselves -- and America.