Now, a few predictions. This is a dangerous game, of course, but the start of a new year provides the opportunity for some fun, so here goes:
-- The best guess here is that Howard Dean will manage to hold on to enough early primary and caucus states to avoid a surge by Wesley Clark or Richard Gephardt, and thereby win the Democratic nomination. His nomination will create pressure to put the moderate military veteran Clark on the party's ticket as the vice-presidential nominee. But I'm guessing Democratic kingmakers will understand that a ticket without Washington experience could spell disaster. My surprise prediction for the No. 2 spot is Missouri's Richard Gephardt. He would provide a certain personal warmth, not to mention federal government experience and at least one Midwestern state for the Democrats' electoral vote ledger.
-- The general election: The possibility of unforeseeable, cataclysmic international happenings make this hard to handicap. Big events could even change minds that are now made up. But you'd be wrong if you believe President Bush would be politically damaged by -- God forbid -- another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. That aside, expect Howard Dean to wage a stronger campaign than anticipated. Among the most populous states, look for Californians to ignore the Arnold Schwarzenegger factor and go Democrat, as will New York state. Texas will go Bush, of course, as will Georgia and, yes, Florida, too. That will be enough to keep him in the White House.
-- Economically, I think unrealistic expectations will cause some disappointment early in the year among Wall Street's fickle investors. But overall, companies will continue to rebound, and a reasonable growth rate for the calendar year can be expected. Look for the second half of the year to be more robust for the stock market and for the Federal Reserve to lay low in an election year. The big economic issue will be jobs, if for no other reason than the media will make it so.
-- On the social front, the guesses may be a bit more wild. Michael Jackson will be found guilty, and Kobe Bryant not guilty (the evidence in the latter case is just too flimsy). And for good measure, here's predicting that Scott Peterson will find his way to the slammer.
For 2004, this much seems certain: It should be a year that provides plenty to write and survey about.