(U-WIRE) MADISON, Wis. – It's never too early to start thinking about 2008. Just ask political pundits who have already started speculating about the DFL presidential nominees. On multiple news stations and in plenty of newspapers, Americans can find talking heads who are eager to share their analysis of every political movement Democrats make, followed by an explanation of how each plays into their supposed future campaign. Whether criticizing the handling of Iraq, commenting on a Supreme Court nominee or discussing the detention protocol, high-profile Democrats are painted as posturing for the nomination.
This may be a result of the apparent breakdown of the current administration. Little has gone right for the president, his staff or his party since the start of his second term, and the strain of persisting failures is reflected in Mr. Bush's record-low polling numbers. Political commentators who recognize Mr. Bush's weakness, and are always happy to highlight the adversarial tone of Washington politics, are thus focusing their attention on Democrats they believe will seek the Oval Office in '08.
At the present time, they are directing their attention at some old favorites. Familiar names like John Kerry, Wesley Clark, Al Gore and even George McGovern pepper speculative political analysis. Although these politicians have not officially declared their candidacy, pundits seem to be honing in on an increasingly defined pool of presidential candidates. And given the current political climate, this could be cause for Democratic concern.
The country has signaled it is ready for a change. Democrats especially are hungry for new leadership and a strong candidate who can excite their base and the wider electorate. After hair-splitting defeats in 2000 and 2004, members of the Democratic Party want a victory, but they would prefer a landslide — and that is the problem with the old favorites.
Though Messrs. Edwards, Kerry, Gore and McGovern have proven viable in the past, it is unlikely they will prove victors in the future. These men are admirable public servants and experienced politicians, but they already failed to convince a sufficient number of voters that they are presidential material. And for desperate Democrats, there is no time for second chances. History has shown time and again that even when political conditions for the opposition party appear favorable, a strong and outstanding candidate must campaign hard to secure any public office.
Take the example of Walter Mondale in Minnesota's race for U.S. Senate in 2002. Following the tragic death of Paul Wellstone in a plane accident, Democrats were anxious, or more accurately desperate, to rally around his replacement. When Mondale agreed to run, the relief in the Democratic Party was palpable. Dems believed that Mondale, despite a crushing defeat in his presidential bid, had the name recognition and the lingering popularity to defeat now-Sen. Norm Coleman.
However, as the election results would show, Mondale failed to stir the necessary voters to secure the senatorial seat. Despite his familiarity and popularity, he could not fill the void left by the passionate Wellstone.
Then, because Election Day was so imminent, Democrats had few candidates to turn to. Now, with the media pushing an ever-earlier commencement of the campaign season, the Democratic Party has time for careful selection. Old mistakes and former campaigns must not be repeated.
Instead, Democrats should seek a fresh start by supporting a new face among their presidential hopefuls. Their past two presidential campaigns lacked the personality and passion that stirred Americans to vote for Bill Clinton, who remains popular despite the trauma of his second term. Old favorites come with comfortable campaign messages and nostalgic memories, but they lack the fervor Clinton inspired in voters. As the march toward 2008 continues, Democrats would be smart to push some of their boldest members to the frontlines of presidential contenders.
Govs. Mark Warner of Virginia and Bill Richardson of New Mexico are both rumored to be considering presidential campaigns. Here in Wisconsin, Sen. Russ Feingold is a particularly tempting option for a party in need of a new and courageous candidate.
The past five years have been difficult for Democrats and many in this country. Now is the time for Democrats to throw their support boldly, but wisely, behind a candidate who offers a true alternative to our current president and whatever successor emerges from his party. The political limelight — and the hopeful voters — are waiting.