A one-term wonder
by Seth Gitell
Along with Kerry, Representative Richard Gephardt of Missouri is a strong
candidate. He becomes an even stronger one if the Democratic Party rebels
against the centrist Democratic Leadership Council (which gave us Clinton,
Gore, and Lieberman) and tilts back to the left, where Gephardt comfortably
resides. Even if the Democrats retake the House, Gephardt could pass the
Speakership off to Representative Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island and make a
play for the presidency.
And in one sense, if Bush wins in 2000, no politician will be better positioned
for 2004 than Lieberman. Everyone in the country now knows his name. He made a
great speech at the convention and handled himself impressively during the
vice-presidential debate. His biggest hurdle -- besides Clinton, Kerry, and
Gephardt -- will be restoring his credibility should voters remember that he
softened his positions on affirmative action, vouchers, and Israel in order to
run with Gore.
Although some in the party are recycling many of the same names for president
in 2004 that were rejected for vice-president in 2000, don't believe them.
Senators Evan Bayh of Indiana and John Edwards of North Carolina proved
themselves not-ready-for-prime-time players. A more solid possibility is
Governor Gray Davis of California. But he's said to be lacking in pizzazz.
"He's the opposite of somebody who is going to set the world on fire," says
Joel Kotkin, a senior fellow at the Davenport Institute at Pepperdine
University in Southern California.
Oh, and before we forget -- if the election is especially close, as it now
seems it will be, a defeated Gore could come back. So far we've seen at least
two versions of Gore: the combative populist who dueled with the Reverend Jesse
Jackson, and the 2000 alpha male. Could there be a third? Stranger things have
been known to happen. No one ever thought Richard Nixon -- who served as
President Dwight Eisenhower's VP for two terms -- had a future in politics
after he lost to Kennedy in 1960.
In all likelihood, Bush will win and we'll be concentrating on Democratic
candidates come 2004. Although current polls suggest that the race is in a
statistical dead heat, there is a sense on the Gore team that the campaign is
slipping through their fingers. But if they come up with a last-minute winning
recipe, the Republicans will be left wondering where they went wrong. In which
case Gore, in 2004, may very well end up facing someone many Americans
preferred to either presidential nominee in 2000 -- Senator John McCain. McCain
obviously was the one presidential candidate this year who most electrified
voters across the political spectrum.
That said, McCain will be 68 in 2004. He's previously acknowledged that after
years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, he's old for his age -- and he's just
had another bout with skin cancer. Even if McCain is in good health four years
from now, he still will have to deal with the Republican establishment. What
makes anyone think that the Republican money men who anointed Bush will take
kindly to McCain's campaign-finance-reform crusade?
If not McCain, then how about someone from the state level? The Republicans
boast an impressive array of governors. (Sorry, not you, Argeo.) Those who look
strong include Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, John Engler of Michigan, and Frank
Keating of Oklahoma. Each is from an important swing state. Thompson has taken
an innovative approach to domestic issues, such as school vouchers and welfare
reform. Engler has won the support of the important union vote in his home
state. Keating launched himself into the national limelight after the Oklahoma
City bombing. Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania is pro-choice and, like Kerry,
a Vietnam veteran -- which makes for an intriguing GOP combination. Then
there's Governor Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, also pro-choice and once
a rising star -- she could come back. Governor Jeb Bush of Florida looks good
too, but if his brother loses in 2000, he can kiss his political ambitions
goodbye, and GOP activists can give up their dreams of a "smarter Bush
In the Senate, either Chuck Hagel of Nebraska or Fred Thompson of Tennessee
could run as the heirs to McCain's legacy. Like McCain, Hagel is a veteran.
Thompson, a former movie actor, has charisma. In the House, Representative John
Kasich, who helped himself by pulling out of the presidential race early and
backing Bush, could capture the national eye. Kasich won a national reputation
in the various budget fights of the 1990s -- fighting pork along with spending
-- and may resurface after getting out of Washington this November.
The speculation game is interesting, but there's one word to describe these
Democratic and Republican prospects: boring. (Even Hillary Rodham Clinton,
while fascinating because of her connection to Bill, is nothing more than a
fairly conventional Democrat.) If America really begins to careen out of
control, the prospects for a serious third-party candidate grow exponentially.
In which case, we should look no further than Governor Jesse Ventura of
Minnesota. Ventura is that rare politician with national name recognition. Four
more years in office will give him some much-needed seasoning. If the Green
Party costs the Democrats the election this year -- which is how things look as
of this writing -- the Greens, perhaps with Ventura on their ticket, could come
back in 2004 with an even more serious presidential effort.
It's been said that the times make the leaders. In recent years, good times
have meant we haven't needed strong leaders. But if things get worse, we can
hope that at least the politicians will improve. If they don't, we'll all be in
Seth Gitell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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