William Rusher

Anyone who doubts the vitality of the American political system must be reassured by the number of people seeking the presidency. It's a fair question why anybody would want the job, but there are roughly a dozen hopefuls in each party out there running for it, and now New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has let it be known that, if the conditions look right about seven months from now, he may abandon both parties and spend a billion or two of his $5 billion on an independent bid. What does a handicapper do with a field like that?

Start with the Democrats. Here, Hillary Clinton probably deserves the title of "front-runner." She leads the polls; she has buckets of money; and, in Bill Clinton, she has the shrewdest political adviser in either party, ready to supplement her sometimes tin ear for political subtleties with his own sage counsel. It's hard to see a rival who looks likely to upend her.

John Edwards, Bill Richardson and the long list of other Democratic wannabes have all failed (at least so far) to catch fire, and the steady drumbeat of mayors, congressional leaders and assorted politicians who have endorsed Clinton testifies to their calculation that she is the likely nominee. Barack Obama, who burst onto the national political scene a few months ago with a flood of favorable publicity, has settled into second place in the polls, and seems likely to wind up where many observers have always calculated he belonged: in the vice presidential slot on her ticket.

Only former Vice President Al Gore (who hasn't even said he's running) fails to fit the template. He is nationally known and widely respected, and, after all, he actually got more votes than George W. Bush in 2000, though their distribution among the states prevented him from winning a majority in the Electoral College. But he is inescapably yesterday's news, whereas Hillary has not yet "had her chance." It is true that the American people sense in her an unappealing steeliness, which probably accounts for her high negatives in polls that seek to rate mere likeability. But that calculation is more likely to affect her chances in the general election than in the race for the nomination.

As for the Republicans, they have a zoo of their own, and not even a candidate who can plausibly claim to be the front-runner. Why anybody would want the Republican nomination is a mystery, given the party's gloomy prospects for 2008, but hope springs eternal, and never more so than in the case of politicians who consider themselves presidential material.

William Rusher

William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and author of How to Win Arguments .

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