As one who has been involved in presidential campaigns -- both intimately and as an occasional adviser -- I would venture to say that two fairly recent events have turned the 2008 election from an almost assuredly Democratic victory to a better-than-even chance that Republicans hold the White House for at least four more years.
What happened? First, Mark Warner, the former successful Democratic governor of a red, southern state (Virginia) inexplicably took himself out of a race he was already running and, by some accounts, winning. Second, and unfortunately for the Democrats, they made the mistake of actually reclaiming majorities in the House and the Senate. Whoops. Now they have to go on record, govern, accept responsibility and in the process annoy and anger voters. Voters who may take it out on their standard-bearer for president.
As for Mr. Warner, most Republicans I have spoken with behind the scenes were petrified of him. They, like me, felt that the nation was suffering from "party-in-power fatigue." That even if you liked George W. Bush, eight years of any party in the White House was about enough. Time to give the other team a chance. When the failures of the Iraq war and the media piling on were added to the mix, it was all but impossible for non-delusional Republicans to see how centrist, articulate, funny, self-made millionaire Mr. Warner would not be the next president of the United States.
Well, not anymore. Governor "Electable" is out and Republicans are practically turning cartwheels, while many Democrats are crestfallen. As one high-level Democratic fund-raiser recently told me, "With Warner out, our party is now looking very beatable in 2008."
What about Hillary Clinton? Clearly, she has set her sights on the White House. That said, her candidacy still makes no sense to me for a host of reasons, such as Whitewater, commodity deals, Monica-gate, HillaryCare, Lincoln bedroom coffees and the fear of a never-ending Bush-Clinton residency within the Oval Office. Beyond those, there is still the decidedly politically incorrect reason that -- as with a black candidate -- I don't think the United States of today is quite ready to elect a woman president.
On my side of the fence, and to further buck conventional wisdom, I don't think Sen. John McCain will win the Republican nomination. Leaving policy out of the equation, I don't think he will get the nomination for two critically important reasons that also impacted my old boss -- Bob Dole -- in the general election against Bill Clinton. Those reasons being age and health concerns.
Mr. McCain will be 72 in 2008 and he has already dealt with some major health issues. Behind closed doors, a number of Republicans worry about those issues. On top of that, if you add the fact that many conservatives are truly angry with Mr. McCain for his pro-immigration "amnesty" policy, then it becomes somewhat easier to see why he may not break the tape at the Republican finish line.
If not him, who? I think when it's all said and done, the last two men standing will be former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York. The "Mormon" and the "pro-choice" Republican. What was unlikely a year ago is becoming somewhat more plausible with each passing day.
Mr. Romney is the mirror opposite of Mr. Warner in as much as he is a very successful multimillionaire governor in an ultra-blue, northern state. Even with that, how does he knock down the "Mormon" issue?
First, I don't think it will be that big a deal. Second, and ironically, Mr. Romney has Mr. McCain and/or Republican operatives to thank for it being harder to hurt him on this issue. Back in 2000, Mr. McCain was savaged by disgusting "push-polling" done just before the South Carolina primary. In 2008, those repugnant tactics will be even more frowned upon.
Third, time has moved on. If someone does try to pull a "South Carolina" on Mr. Romney, we now have the all-seeing Internet and armies of bloggers just waiting to assign fingerprints to those playing dirty. Last, Mr. Romney simply needs to address the issue as John F. Kennedy did in 1960 with regard to his Catholicism.
As for Mr. Giuliani, he is an American icon cast in iron on September 11. Fact or fiction, the myth only grows. More importantly, the former mayor knows what many presumptive candidates have forgotten -- that terrorism will most likely be the No. 1 issue come November of 2008. As the world grows more dangerous, and as the threats against us multiply, Mr. Giuliani's firm hand of 2001 may well trump any "shortcomings" he may have with primary voters.
So, has Mr. Warner dropping out and the Democrats winning a majority in Congress doomed the Democrats to four more years of Republican White House rule?
Much can happen, but it seems, at least for the moment, that the pendulum has swung back to the Republicans. Let the finger pointing, name calling and lack of meaningful leadership begin.