Washington Who will be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004? "Who cares so soon?" you may wonder. Read on.
Vice President Al Gore is the least likely of the existing top-rung possibilities. He is widely viewed by top party officials and by rank-and-file Democrats as having botched the campaign, especially the debates. Most Democrats were confident that Gore's mastery of the issues and the workings of government would have made him almost impossible for George W. Bush to defeat in a debate, yet Bush is viewed as having won at least one of the debates and as having survived the other two. Sad to say for Gore, he will probably go the way of poor former Vice President Dan Quayle.
Next comes Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., the current minority leader of the Senate. He must be rated as the current odds-on favorite. He is bright, accomplished, efficient, hardworking and congenial. The last of these is significant, because most folks agree that the stiff Gore was never going to win a Mr. Congeniality contest.
But there is another dark horse candidate standing in the Democratic shadows.
He is not exactly a pro-choice candidate, but neither is he exactly a pro-life candidate.
He has a track record of working with senators from both sides of the aisle, even co-sponsoring legislation with them.
He favors a patients' bill of rights.
He supports women's rights.
He supports minority rights.
He served with distinction in Vietnam, and he favors a strong national defense.
He rejects the isolationist tendencies of America first-ers in both parties.
He opposes pork-barrel spending.
He favors paying down the debt instead of providing tax relief for the wealthy.
He confronts his foes, saying, "Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right."
He is a prime mover in the campaign-finance movement, a foe of special interests.
Who is he? A Republican: Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
Is it likely he would switch parties? No.
It is difficult to take the nomination away from a sitting president, so his chances of running as a Republican in 2004 are slim. And even if he could, McCain may yet discover that he really isn't a Republican after all. Ronald Reagan once said that he didn't leave the Democratic Party; it left him. McCain may find himself saying the same thing about the Republican Party. And if he does, many, probably most, Democrats will be waiting to greet him with open arms.