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Archive for Wednesday, June 21, 2006

08 election a long way off

June 21, 2006

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Hillary can't win. Yes, she can. McCain will run as an independent. Gore is back.

So is Kerry. Romney is the answer for the GOP. But what about Frist? Allen? Edwards is now ready for prime time. Mark Warner could do it. Keep your eye on Obama. Don't rule out Giuliani.

The speculation about who will be nominated and who will win the 2008 presidential election is not yet at "American Idol" levels, but it is unusually intense for this early on the calendar. It also ignores a fundamental rule of presidential politics.

All of this early speculation is fueled by, first, the obvious: With the president ineligible for re-election there's an opening at the head of the ticket in both parties. Moreover, if we're to believe Dick Cheney and Al Gore about their intentions, 2008 will be the first presidential election since 1952 in which an incumbent president or a sitting or recently retired vice president is not a candidate - which opens the field even more.

Next, voters in poll after poll are expressing real concern on a wide range of big issues - terrorism, the war in Iraq, gas prices, the environment, health care and the economy. That level of anxiety and uncertainty becomes a kind of collective cry for help that transcends party, economic and geographical lines.

I've heard it in small gatherings and large, in red states and blue, from old-line Republicans to populist Democrats, from Main Street merchants to fishing guides, from academicians to ranchers. "Who's gonna be our next president?"

My answer is always the same: "I don't know - it's too early too tell."

I quote Karl Rove, who says 30 months to Election Day is a "geologic age," a very long time. My inquisitors are not deterred. The second round of questions almost always begins with Hillary Clinton.

"Can she win the Democratic nomination?" Followed quickly by, "Tell me how she ever gets elected president?" or "Do you think the country is ready for a woman president?"

I demur but remind the questioner the Clintons have a way of overcoming conventional wisdom.

Next question: "Will conservative Republicans go for McCain?" Dunno, but more and more of them are confiding that they think he's their only hope to hang on to the White House.

As a longtime student of American presidential politics, and with my own vested interests as a journalist, I am encouraged by this early interest. I hope it stays high right through the first Tuesday in November 2008.

But for now I am relying on the UFO theory of politics, a fail-safe guide I borrowed long ago from some now-forgotten observer of American campaigns.

UFO - the unforeseen will occur. The realistic possibilities are more than speed bumps on the way to the White House. Another terrorist attack in this country. The war in Iraq gets better or gets worse. Iran develops a nuclear weapon. Pakistan collapses in an Islamic rage. Oil goes above a $100 a barrel. We have another Hurricane Katrina-type disaster. Avian flu flies across our borders. Immigration goes away as an issue or a riot breaks out. The housing bubble bursts or develops a serious leak. China squeezes our currency hard.

One of the candidates gets ill or gets in some kind of trouble.

A third party, with a big-name fusion ticket, catches fire. There is more of that speculation as well, including a well-organized Internet campaign to promote the idea and quiet talk among some business leaders to plumb the prospects.

Or maybe none of this happens, and the world is just peachy in two years. That, too, would have a profound effect on the election.

None of these is an unrealistic scenario. Well, maybe peachy is a stretch.

They are all well within the boundaries of the UFO theory, and they are worth keeping in mind when arguing now about who is best equipped to deal with them in 2009.

Tom Brokaw is the former anchor of "NBC Nightly News" and is a special correspondent for NBC.

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