Government & Politics | June 16, 2005
Posting in "GordonTalk"
from Left Field"
next President of the United States may now be the dogcatcher in
some small town in Texas, the next candidate of the Democratic
Party is probably serving in some other capacity even as we
speak. Let's start with a blank canvas and paint the portrait of
who would be most likely to win the general election, given the recent history of elections and
the Red State/Blue State state of our nation, and then take a
look at who best fits that description. You may not agree with
this analysis or its outcome; but it's based
upon just two, very reasonable assertions.
#1: Executives, not legislators, are elected Chief Executive.
there have been five governors elected President (FDR, Carter,
Reagan, Clinton, and Geo. W. Bush), two Vice Presidents elected
President (Nixon and Geo. H.W. Bush), three Vice Presidents who
became President by succession (Truman, Johnson, and Ford) two
of whom were subsequently elected President, and one general
elected President (Eisenhower) -- all becoming President after
having last served in executive branch
positions (and this doesn't even include the Presidents who won
re-election) -- but since FDR, there has been only one senator
elected President (the exceptionally charismatic JFK) and no congressmen or
-women (at least without executive experience): That's ten
executives to one legislator, over the last seventy-plus years
(and seven to nothing over the last forty).
are often mentioned as leading
Democratic contenders for 2008, Senators Clinton, Kerry,
Edwards, and Bayh need not apply -- at least by this analysis
(more will follow in a moment): It's a ten-to-one longshot to
just get past the "Senator" thing. Why? Well, one
answer often and correctly advanced is that legislators
have long and complex legislative histories; and as we saw in
Kerry's campaign, providing carefully nuanced explanations for why
you voted for or against each of the countless bills that came
before you, especially if it carried
unrelated riders, just won't fit on a bumper sticker or in a
thirty-second commercial. A less
tactful answer is that executives act; legislators talk...and
talk...and talk... And the people want action, not just talk.
the why's or wherefore's, executive branch candidates have
history on their side; and unless we intend on running former
Vice President Mondale or Gore (the latter actually has been
more comfortably outspoken after his campaign, but few of us
want to re-live that history) or a
former Cabinet officer (the last one of those to win was
Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover) or a current or former
military commander (Gen. Wesley Clark is a "good
soldier" for the Party; but stressing military credentials plays to the Republicans'
strength, not our own, which is on domestic issues),
then we had best turn to our dwindling list of current or former
Democratic state governors -- which brings us to my second assertion...
#2: The least difficult -- that is, the most likely -- way to win the general election is to hold onto
each of the Blue States and then to win just enough of the Red
States, particularly those we just barely lost, to gain the 18+
electoral college votes we need.
the 2004 election returns (and putting aside for the moment the
entire issue of possible fraud), we see that there are only three Red States
that have Democratic governors and that Kerry lost to Bush by less than ten percentage points: Our list
of potential candidates thus narrows down to three,
oft-mentioned Presidential contenders -- Gov.
Bill Richardson, of New Mexico (with 5 electoral votes, which Kerry lost by just 1%); Gov. Tom
Vilsack, of Iowa
(with 7 electoral votes, which Kerry lost by just 1%);
and Gov. Mark Warner, of Virginia (with 13 electoral votes,
which Kerry lost by 8%).
math -- keeping all the Blue States blue and swinging at least
18 electoral votes from Red to Blue -- and considering that our
Presidential nominee will probably do more to swing the vote our
way in his home state than a Vice Presidential nominee can
probably do, we would need to nominate Mark Warner for President
and either Tom Vilsack or (with no room for error) Bill
Richardson as Vice President.
governor from a state Redder than Virginia would make swinging
his or her home state Blue even harder in the general election;
nominating a governor from any state already Blue would do
nothing, at least directly, to change our losing electoral
By the way,
let's pause to reconsider those senators on most observers'
short lists. Two of them are from states that will almost
certainly be Blue regardless of who runs -- Clinton, of New York
(which Kerry won by 19%), and Kerry, of Massachusetts (which he
won by 25%) -- and the other two are from states that will
almost certainly remain Red -- Edwards, of North Carolina (which
Bush won by 12%, even with a favorite son as the Democratic
nominee for V.P.), and Bayh, of Indiana (which Bush won by 21%).
In politics anything can happen, of course; but none of these
potential nominees would probably change the electoral college
vote in their home state. And coupled with the ten-to-one odds
against a legislator, compared to an executive, winning, well,
with all due respect, the senators just don't seem like a good
bet to me.
"the Democrats most likely to succeed" are Gov.
Mark Warner, of Virginia, for President, a "moderate
populist conservative", and either Gov.
Tom Vilsack, of Iowa, another "moderate
populist conservative", or (more iffy) Gov.
Bill Richardson, of New Mexico, a "moderate
liberal populist", for Vice President.
To get a
better sense of the technocratic Gov. Warner -- who, by the way,
is limited to one term by law in Virginia and thus will be out
by the end of this year (although there is serious talk of his
running for the senate, which if he won would probably allow him
to gain some foreign policy experience, without diminishing his
credentials as an executive) -- I heartily recommend following the
links cited above, particularly to the piece "Mark
Warner, Democratic Contender" by Howard Fineman, which
recently appeared in Newsweek, as well as reading the
text of the speech Gov. Warner gave two years ago entitled "Why
I am a Democrat."
Love 'em or
hate 'em -- I would prefer a "progressive" but would
back a "moderate" to change the disastrously
immoderate course we now chart -- these
are the Democrats who, by the best assertions I can devise, are
"most likely to succeed" in getting us back into
the "bully pulpit" of the White House, from which we
may then again shape the all-important national debate.
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