Given the incredible compression of the 2008 presidential campaign, punditry is in full swing in Washington. The primary election could be all over by February. New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, Michigan, and Florida hold their primaries after the first of the year. On February 5, sixteen more states do the same, including New York, Texas, Illinois, and California.
Incredibly, but understandably, opinions seem to be firming up on the outcome of an election almost a full year away. That at least was the sense I had listening to a panel discussion involving former Democratic House Leader Richard Gephardt, former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey, and Charlie Cook, pundit extraordinaire and editor of a well-respected newsletter on politics, The Cook Political Report.
The event on November 5, “Countdown to the White House,” at the Willard hotel, was hosted by DLA Piper a Washington law firm. Gephardt, Armey, and Blanchard are all members of the government affairs practice at the law firm. So this was definitely an inside-the-Beltway affair.
The apparent consensus among these panelists amounts to this: Hillary Clinton wins the primary in a walk and has a something like a 60 percent chance of winning the White House.
Senator Obama would have a better shot at running for faculty chair at a university where his sensitivity would be appreciated, argued Dick Armey, a former professor of economics. Sticking the knife in deeper, Armey says Obama would make a great “sociologist in chief.”
Cook says Obama is not a “black” candidate, but “green” — as in inexperienced.
Clearly, Cook is impressed with Senator Clinton. “Wow. A focused, disciplined campaign. A Prussian campaign,” he exclaimed. Like Nixon in 1972. “Sure, spontaneity is a problem, but her campaign will come up with a plan to deal with that, too.”
Hillary Clinton is not becoming more likable, says Cook. But she is becoming “less unacceptable.” No longer are 50 percent of the voters against her. That number is down to 43-46 percent. She is a kind of “discounted stock” — everyone knows the worst about her already. It can only go up from there.
As to the inevitability of Clinton, Jim Pinkerton has drawn an interesting comparison of her fumbling of questions on driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants with Dukakis and his parole program for convicted murderers.
Nevertheless, Dick Gephardt views Hillary Clinton’s “giant trump card” as experience. He believes she comes across has very capable in the debates.
COOK, GEPHARDT, AND ARMEY agree that the GOP primary is really down to Romney and Giuliani. Romney could gain strong momentum if he wins Iowa and New Hampshire, a circumstance that would allow him to capitalize on his strong organizational and financial resources for the long haul. If he stumbles, Giuliani is the man to watch.
Cook even thinks Giuliani could survive losses in both states. (He once said that he, Cook, had a better chance of winning the Tour de France than Rudy did of winning the GOP nomination. He defends himself by noting that he never said when he might win the Tour.)
Dick Armey believes economic conservatives break for Romney, the security voters for Giuliani. The social conservatives, which he pretty much views as being Evangelicals, exclusively, are confused.
Interestingly, Cook, Armey, and Gephardt, when discussing religion and social conservatism, or the political impact of Romney’s Mormonism, do not discuss Catholic voters.
Cook speculates that “secular” Republicans are rallying against “sacred” Republicans who are disillusioned with the Cunninghams, Foleys, and Craigs of this world. The combination of these two phenomena may account for the Mayor’s success in the primary to date.