Did I miss a year or two? Did I black out? My calendar says it is 2006 but the political talk suggests it is 2008.
I just got back from a swank celebration on Capitol Hill to mark the 10th anniversary of National Review Online, the Web magazine I edit. One of the stars of the night was Mitt Romney, Republican governor of Massachusetts, of whom I've long been fond and whom I have been semi-shamelessly boosting for the White House. More impartial reporters suggest that my 500-strong-conservative-packed party was a hit for Romney. As D.C.'s must-read daily newsletter The Hotline wrote the morning after: "The buzz" about the governor at the party "was almost audible: McCain alternative."
John McCain is a media favorite frequently described as a "maverick," but he's not a favorite of many conservatives (perhaps a mutual feeling, depending on what you're reading). That McCain has never once been on Rush Limbaugh's popular radio program -- and has even been accused of attacking the conservative icon at an off-the-record event earlier this year -- couldn't possibly help him with conservative primary voters. When the Arizona Republican tried impressing another right wing talk-show host, Laura Ingraham (it was a first appearance on her show for McCain, in contrast to Romney's many), the host very obviously not impressed, in good humor fixated on McCain's going on about the Eagles when her introductory music for him was actually from the Steve Miller Band.
Even as Romney and McCain were courting conservatives, Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia announced that he would not run for the Democratic nomination for president. Warner was talked about as a possible challenger from the right to Hillary Clinton.
At the same time, back on the right side of the political spectrum, my blog colleague John Podhoretz and I relentlessly make the case for our favorite presidential candidates. In his recent book, "Can She Be Stopped ?" (Crown Forum, 2006) -- she being Hillary Clinton -- Podhoretz insists Rudy Giuliani is the only one who can beat Hillary. I'm not so sure. Fact is, unlike political dorks, most normal Americans don't even know the alternatives to the celebs whose names are so often floated for the White House. There's time, in other words, for them to get to know Mitt.
For what it's worth, I wouldn't even put money on Rudy running. I'm a Manhattan gal and I'll admit there was an undeniable change when he was mayor: On some important urban issues his record is clear and a success story. Rudy, though, before he was "America's mayor," showing real leadership in the wake of 9/11, was not an obvious candidate for a national Republican ticket. As a Washington Post reporter has put it, "Those who think that the 9/11 hero would be a formidable candidate are forgetting about the 9/10 Rudy. Meaning, this is a guy who is pro-choice on abortion, pro-gay rights and moved in with a gay couple after a messy breakup with his wife that came as he was dating another woman."
In time, all will become clear. Rudy won't play in Peoria -- and he knows it. McCain, who is already sniping at Romney, will vie with the governor for the nomination. And a wild card like Newt Gingrich may try to spoil the otherwise two-man contest.
There are just over a dozen months now until the Iowa Caucus. But as the example of George Allen demonstrates, a lot can happen in far less time than that. The Republican senator from Virginia was long presumed among the 2008 favorites. Essentially, he and Romney would be dueling to challenge McCain for frontrunner status going into the Republican primaries. But when what was supposed to be a relatively easy reelection contest for him this year went awry thanks to a mix of Allen bungling and old stories about racism as a college kid, his presidential prospects were murdered both by his own hand and by a relentlessly hostile media. Few would have predicted that just last spring.
Still, as the social lives and chosen company of hopefuls makes clear, if your work is getting one of these guys elected, the election might as well be tomorrow.