As the 2008 U.S. presidential race shifts into higher gear this week, are Americans' preferences any clearer?
In a column several months ago, I asked readers to identify "dream teams" among the existing Republican and Democratic candidates or to create their own. Nearly 500 people have responded by e-mail, telephone and regular mail. Obviously, the results are not scientific, but they certainly reflect tremendous diversity of thinking and imagination.
I, personally, have not moved any closer to making a decision about a presidential candidate than I had in the spring. I do, however, stick by my preliminary dream-team recommendations: U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona/U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine on the Republican side, and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore/U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois for the Democrats.
Readers, of course, had other ideas. Although many liked the Gore-Obama combination, there was just as much enthusiasm about McCain with former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell; U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York with U.S. Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware; and various teams with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani as the presidential nominee. Most, though, simply expressed support for individual candidates.
Among Democrats, Gore and Obama tied for top place as ideal presidential nominees, with about 21 percent each. Many believed that Gore, who really had no need to enter the campaign early, will declare his candidacy at some point during this month or in October. Clinton followed with approximately 17 percent.
Among Republicans, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Giuliani tied for first, with nearly 10 percent each, as ideal presidential nominees. Several others, such as McCain, Powell, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, each garnered around 5 percent.
On the wishful side, recommendations included singer Bono and entertainer Oprah Winfrey.
Andrew Kistulentz of State College, Pa., was most excited about Gore and most worried about Romney. "I think the Democrats could win with Gore, but not with Obama or Clinton as vice-presidential candidates. Write off the South automatically with either of them on the ticket. Electability should be the main concern of the Democrats. Romney is the GOP candidate the Democrats should fear the most. He is certainly the most handsome and glib candidate they have. He looks and sounds like former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, and he knows his lines well," he said.
A resident of Winter Park, Fla., Russell Troutman, offered another view. "Clinton and Obama would be a winning combination. My comfort level choice, if given the power to appoint, would be Gore and John Edwards, (former U.S. senator from North Carolina)," he said.
Benjamin Novogroski of Stowe, Vt., proposed having candidates of different parties in the presidential and vice-presidential slots, as was the case in the early years of the nation. "Obama would be my choice for president, as he is a fresh face, an outsider and a person with innovative ideas. McCain would be my choice for vice president, as he has the experience that critics say Obama lacks," he said.
Some especially inventive ideas came from Amanda Swanson of New Port Richey, Fla. She supported two comedians, Al Franken and Stephen Colbert, as a semi-serious dream team. Her more serious suggestion was Obama for president and former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board Alan Greenspan as the No. 2. And she reached into the past for a third idea: former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, paired up with economist and philosopher Adam Smith.
Jack Mendelsohn of Washington introduced several questions: "I don't know if Gore can overcome the wonky impression that he continues to convey. If McCain's only response to Iraq is more of the same, how can he lead us into the future? What about Clinton/Obama? Or is that too much to expect after a bitter campaign for the nomination?"
Interestingly, a few readers suggested something considerably more improbable, that the Democratic ticket be Obama/Clinton.
Finally, David A. Johnson of Milton, Mass., supported Gore as the Democrats' presidential nominee, based on his experience, and Biden for vice president because of his international background. "The United States needs someone with strong foreign-policy credentials," he said.
I fully agree.