Would-Be Democratic Candidates: Wannabees, Also-Rans and Freaks

The would-be Democratic candidates for president break down into three categories, wannabees, also-rans (also known as has-beens) and freaks. The trick is figuring out which is which, and that might not be as easy as it might appear.

Everyone believes three things about Hillary Clinton: she is going to compete for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2016; if she runs, she will win the nomination with a walk-off home run; and, once nominated, she will win in a walk against anyone other than Jeb Bush. Against Jeb Bush, the election is a toss-up that will most likely be decided in Florida (again) where favorite son Jeb Bush, the former two-time Republican governor of the state, has a Republican incumbent, Rick Scott, to back his play, not to mention a father and a brother with experience to share.

If Hillary decides not to run, not only will she be depriving the pundits of another Clinton – Bush match up to wax poetic about, but she will also be opening the starting gate to a wide range of potential candidates for the Democratic nomination. Unfortunately for the Democratic Party, most of those candidates fall into one of  the three categories.

Hillary is probably going to run and, if she does, she will have the enthusiastic support of Democrats everywhere, who are very well aware of the fact that they have no real alternative, but it may be instructive to examine the field the Democrats would have to choose from in the event that Mrs. Clinton decides that she has had enough of public life.

Believe it or not, there actually 28 aspirants for the Democratic nomination, some of whom are so surreal that they dazzle the imagination with the puns that could be built around them. Here’s the breakdown:

The Wannabees

The wannabees are actual politicians – meaning someone who has been elected to a political office – and therefore has at least a local following. These aspirants fall into two sub-categories: those who have at least a chance at the nomination, and those who have none.

The Six Starters:

front runners 2

The Six Starters are those potential candidates who have expressed an interest in running and, in two cases, have already formed exploratory committees, while the rest have not done that yet, either because of the restrictions it imposes on their fundraising efforts or because they really aren’t running after all.

clintonSo much has been written and said about Hillary Rodham Clinton that it seems almost pointless to point out her virtues and weaknesses because, if she wants the nomination, it is hers for the asking….and all the other candidates know it, so there will be no serious competition for the nomination once her hat is in the ring. The serious candidates will keep their powder dry waiting for the next opportunity. At 67, she is both well seasoned enough to do the job, and young enough to survive the rigors of the office for at least one term.  She will, however, be 69 by the time she takes office if she runs and wins,  and 73 by the time her next election comes around….and that may be too old for a second bite of the apple. The one thing the party professionals don’t want is a one-term president. There is, however, such a thing as being too coy in politics, and Clinton may be skirting the skinny edge of that brink, with both pundits and voters beginning to grow tired of her coyness, so this might be a good time for the Democrats to check out their other options.

webb

Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb hails from the intellectual fringe of the Democratic party, and that alone might disqualify him as a presidential candidate. A former Emmy Award winning journalist, Webb has published ten books, a mixture of memoirs, novels, and the obligatory “Blueprint for America” that all would-be presidential candidates feel compelled to write. A much-decorated Vietnam era Marine, Webb is an authentic American hero, the real deal…but that may not be as valuable an asset today as it was when Teddy Roosevelt rode his San Juan Hill fame into the vice presidency and thence into the White House after William McKinley was assassinated. One never knows how these things will play out during a campaign. If Hillary decides not to run, Webb could suddenly find himself the front-runner in this race. If successful, he would be the first service academy graduate to serve as president since Dwight David Eisenhower, who was an Army Republican as opposed to Webb’s Democratic Marine. Like Martin O’Malley, he has set up an exploratory committee.

O'MalleyMartin O’Malley, who just completed a successful eight year stint as Governor of Maryland, is well-liked in Maryland, and virtually unknown beyond the mid-Atlantic region. Known as a technocrat and a numbers cruncher, he could be vice presidential material, if he came from anywhere other than Maryland because Maryland is considered part of the DC Beltway and, with probable presidential candidate Hillary Clinton dividing her time between Washington, DC and New York, an O’Malley vice presidential candidacy would not bring the ticket either the electoral or the popular votes that Clinton would need to best a probable Bush candidacy.  Don’t count him all the way out, though.  He may yet turn up again in 2020. He has already set up his exploratory committee.

Biden

Vice President Joe Biden has been President Barack Obama’s loyal sidekick for the past six years, but he has spent those years being a wall flower in the Obama administration, performing the background tasks that vice presidents are often called upon to do. Unfortunately, those gigs did not give the former long-time senator from Delaware much public visibility during his six years on the job. More unfortunately, he has not acquitted himself very well in the job, often becoming the target of political humorists. Coming from one of the smallest and least populous state in the nation, he doesn’t have much favorite son power going for him. At 72, he’s not too old yet to run for the Oval Office but, since he will be 74 by the time he takes office and, should he win re-election, 82 by the time his second term ends, he may be too old to keep the job past his first term. There is something Hubert Humphrey-ish about Joe Biden, something that tugs at your heartstrings if you’re old enough to remember the Happy Warrior of the Democratic party, but party pros are not prone to nostalgia.

Sanders

Bernie Sanders would be a really different candidate. The outspoken liberal independent who caucuses with the Democratic party would have his work cut out for him with respect to getting the support of the all-important party professionals and contributions would not flow into his coffers they way they would for a Clinton candidacy. On the other hand, the 72 year-old Senator from Vermont has tremendous appeal among younger voters that might stand him in good stead in the general election. The two big obstacles in Sanders’ way are that he comes from tiny, sparsely populated Vermont with its three electoral votes, and his Jewish heritage. It is an indisputable fact that the Jewishness of Al Gore’s vice presidential running mate in 2000, former Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, together with Ralph Nadar’s ill-advised independent campaign, sealed Gore’s fate at the polls with an injudicious assist from the Supreme Court. Antisemitism is still alive and well in America, and there is very little likelihood that the Democratic Convention would give the nod to Sanders on that basis alone. The closest the Jewish people have ever gotten to the Oval Office, except when visiting the incumbent, was when Lyndon Baines Johnson, who reportedly had Jewish great-grandparents, worked there, but that fact was never made public during Johnson’s lifetime, and isn’t universally accepted as fact in some places.

strauss 23Judging from his performance at the polls, Washington, DC “Shadow Senator” Paul Strauss is very popular in the District and virtually unknown everywhere else. He has been testing the waters in Iowa, but his relative obscurity, lack of substantive political experience (Shadow Senators may join the Senate during its deliberations, but they cannot vote), and his Jewish background gives him only a distant outside chance at the nomination, and virtually no chance of success against Jeb Bush in the general election. Like many of the other Democrats being discussed, his would be a vanity candidacy, important only in terms of his subsequent marketability as a speaker and a party elder. He would have to be a superb public speaker to make any headway in either the primaries or the final contest, but the word is that he does not have that skill.

The Back Field in Motion

Nineteen – count ‘em – other Democrats have been seriously proposed, or have seriously proposed themselves, as potential candidates ILOH (In Lieu of Hillary). Most of them don’t relish the idea of running against the former First Lady, Senator from New York and Secretary of State, and most don’t have the credentials to make a credible run for the top spot. Here’s the quick rundown:

The Second Tier

second tier

The second tier consists mostly of former first tier combatants who, either through past failures, or aging out of the market segment, are no longer viable candidates except, sometimes, in their own minds.

GoreAl Gore, the scion of Tennessee’s leading political family, former vice president, and erstwhile presidential candidate (and the actual if thwarted winner of that contest) in 2000, Gore has since become fabulously wealthy and, like many fabulously wealthy people, seems to lack the fire in the belly that running for president requires. At 67, he’s eligible for Social Security, even if he doesn’t need it, but he has not been making the statements, or the moves, than an active candidate has to make right about now. He’s had plenty of on the job training, but the one job he would never take is the one he was trained for: the vice presidency. One of the things you need to bring with you when you run for the presidential nomination is the flexibility to take the second spot if and when the party asks you to. Gore won’t. He’s been there and done that already, twice.

KerryJohn Kerry: Former presidential candidates don’t do well on reruns, with Richard Nixon being the exception that proved that rule. The current Secretary of State, who also ran for the top spot in 2004, has the foreign policy background that a president needs, but lacks the administrative experience that governors can claim. Kerry, at 71, is another candidate who is not too old to run, but may be too old to serve out a full eight years…and the back room managers who control the party don’t want to field a candidate who might only be good for one term. He would be 73 before he would begin his term and more than 80 at the end of an eight year run. He has the military, diplomatic, and political credentials for the job, but he’s not one of the best liked members of the Washington élite.

deanHoward Dean: Poor Howie has never lived down the spectacle he made of himself during his 2004 run for the Oval Office, the details of which we need not rehash here. Suffice it to say that he left himself with the stigma of being rather too easily excited. An insider’s insider, Dean was the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2005 to 2009, and must share the blame for the loss of the House to the Republican Party in 2010. The former Governor of Vermont comes from a small state that rarely impacts an election with its electoral votes, and never makes a showing in the raw vote count.  There are more cows than people in Vermont, and cows don’t vote.

AnCuomodrew Cuomo, the current governor of New York, and the son of former three-term New York governor Mario Cuomo, is a lawyer. The former Attorney General of New York, and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton administration, Cuomo is a technocrat, not a campaigner. He has a strong machine in New York, but that strength won’t help him out on the stump in hostile territory where they hate all New Yorkers on the general principle that all New Yorkers are stuck up. Closely identified with the Clinton family, he won’t run against Hillary, but he doesn’t have the national recognition he would need to make a run for the presidency in her absence. Because is also hails from New York, as Mrs. Clinton does these days, he would never be chosen to run with her because of the superstition that running mates cannot come from the same state.  That’s unfortunate, because he could be the perfect running mate for a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

FrankenAl Franken: We already have a comedian in the White House (no, seriously; Barack Obama has a wicked sense of humor when he lets it out) so there is a precedent for electing a for-real comedian to the presidency, but Franken would be an incredible long-shot for three reasons: (1) He’s Jewish and this country will not elect a Jewish president no matter how good he is; (2) He has not distinguished himself to any great extent during his tenure in the Senate, preferring to work in the background rather than in the limelight (unusual for a comedian) and (3) he’s just not that funny anymore. Once he became a senator, Franken knuckled down, put his sense of humor in check, and blended in with the rest of the Senate. Even if his Jewishness did not disqualify him, his status as a comedian on hiatus would. We don’t need another clown in the White House. There have been too many already. Franken’s career change has left him without a fall back position because, since he’s been up on Capital Hill, Lewis Black is getting all the bookings that Franken used to get. Running for president might look easy next to breaking back into the guest host lineup on Saturday Night Live.

It would take a whole other article to summarize the rest of the field. Stay tuned.  The freak show will amaze you.

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