A friend of mine asked me the other day why, given all the headaches the job involves these days, anybody in his (or her) right mind would want the presidency. I confessed to being as mystified as he was. But the evidence is right before our eyes.
Over in the Democratic Party, which has to be counted as the favorite because of the unpopularity of the war in Iraq and the natural tendency of the voters to change sides occasionally, candidates are falling all over each other to get the nomination. The front-runner is still probably the Ice Queen, given her universal name recognition, her husband's shrewd quarterbacking, and the huge campaign war chest she has amassed. But the young and attractive black senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, despite his relative lack of political experience, is giving her a spectacular run for her money, in part because nobody knows enough about him to dislike him. And coming up fast is the handsome former senator from North Carolina, John Edwards, who has the not inconsiderable advantage of hailing from the South. Nor must one forget the governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, who (despite his name) is Hispanic, and who has probably amassed more knowledge and expertise in the course of a long career in government than all three of his rivals combined. There are other candidates as well, but these four are currently the ones to watch.
You might suppose that the Republican nomination, given the party's current problems, would be less sought after, but not so. It is clearly regarded as a pearl of great price, and it is probably true that it might well lead on to the White House if the Democrats pick an unappealing candidate. At the moment there are three major Republican possibilities, trailed by a long list of ambitious governors and senators, and even a congressman or two. The Big Three are Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., former mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York, and former governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.
I was astonished, because Romney in November had only just embarked on his low-key pursuit of the nomination, and wasn't nearly as well known as either McCain or Giuliani. To be sure, his foes had not by then given him the working-over for his supposed "flip-flops" (away from relatively liberal positions on abortion, gay rights and gun control) that allegedly undermined his standing with conservatives early this year. But it was still a remarkable showing, given the political sophistication of the audience doing the voting.
But lo and behold, the straw poll at CPAC showed Romney beating both Giuliani and McCain! The shrewd politicians there were trying to tell the Republican Party something, and it had better listen.