No, not the Senate, the US presidential election.
While Steve Colbert’s presidential run is probably the most entertaining thing that’s happened in those primaries since no-chance Democrat Mike Gravel’s avant-garde advertisement, the marginally more serious candidates are touring their way around the thrilling vistas of Iowa and New Hampshire in an effort to win the first primaries.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is regarded as the clear front-runner, with Barack Obama and John Edwards (in that order) the two other candidates given a serious chance at this stage; there isn’t any sign that Al Gore is going to enter the race. Clinton is ahead in all the polls, has a metric tonne of campaign money to play with and thus isn’t particularly dependent on winning the early states, and by all reports has run a remarkably well-organized primary campaign. And yet…she’s not exactly loved by the Democratic-aligned blogosphere over in the USA. Raising WEG lists a number of points: her fairly craven centrist pandering, her policy misjudgements including Iraq and Hillarycare, her penchant for secrecy and paranoia. And then there’s the fear of awakening the sleeping Republican base:
Finally, although I’m not 100% committed to this argument (because it seems too bean-counter calculating and therefore likely to be wrong), I think nominating Senator Clinton would be the biggest gift the Democratic party gave the Republicans since I don’t even know when.
Right now, the Republican party shows every sign of nominating someone — whomever it might be — who has little-to-no ability to excite the core constituencies of the Republican party. Meanwhile, I think it’s fair to say that the Democrats will keep their primary voting blocs — and be able to count on their strong support next November — no matter who gets nominated.
As noted, in Republican-land things are indeed considerably less clear-cut, and not looking so rosy. According to RealClearPolitics’s poll averages, on a nationwide basis Rudy Guiliani is the leading candidate, but by nowhere near as clear a margin as Hillary. But if you look at the primary polling in the early states, it’s much more confused, with Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney leading, or close to it, in some of the early states. Then you’ve got Fred Thompson, best known to Australians as the cranky old chief DA from Law and Order, and John McCain, whose campaign’s financial woes became the butt of jokes. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee trails by a long way in the polls, but shouldn’t be ruled out, as I’ll discuss below.
But they’ve all got problems. Guiliani’s pro-choice views (and rather complex personal life) go down like a lead balloon with the Christian right, which has led to some fantasizing by left-wing news magazine Salon about a third-party run from a hard-core pro-lifer. Of course, such a run would virtually ensure a Democrat win. The odds of it actually happening are slim, however, a Guiliani run may mean members of the religious right may be even less motivated to go vote. McCain – who, to give him credit, is the only Republican candidate prepared to take a sane policy on climate change to primary voters – is struggling, and aside from anything else will be 72 by Inauguration Day. Romney is, well, a Mormon, which rules him out as a Christian to certain sections of the Republican base. Fred Thompson has incurable cancer – though it may well be many years before it causes him serious health problems. For these reasons, it’s possible Huckabee, a pro-life Baptist conservative from Arkansas in his early 50s, might just have a chance.
In any case, the show really gets started in early January with the early primaries and the Iowa caucuses. It’ll be fascinating to see how it pans out.