The 2008 United States Presidential Elections

Strategic Insider – 23 November 2006 – William Rees-Mogg

Dick Morris is one of my favourite commentators in U.S. politics.  He rescued President Clinton after his defeat at the hands of Newt Gingrich in the mid-term elections of 1994 – they seem a long time ago now.   He invented the theory of “triangulation” which I must admit I never properly understood.  He understands the inner workings and outer emotions of the Democratic Party in the United States.

Dick has just published his latest political forecast in NewsMax.  He expects that the race for the nomination in 2008 will be between Hillary Clinton and Al Gore.  “The Democratic primaries for President will feature the “new Democrats” of the Bill Clinton variety – as embodied by Hillary – against the new left as embodied by Howard Dean and, increasingly, by Al Gore.”

This sounds plausible to me, if on somewhat different grounds.  It is very difficult for an outsider, without the backing and funding of a presidential machine, to win the nomination, let alone the Presidency.  Obviously Hillary has the support of the Clinton machine which is probably the most formidable presidential machine that the Democrats have had since the era of the Kennedys.  Al Gore is a dynastic politician.  He still has the contacts he made in eight years as the Vice President, and the fundraising experience of his own presidential run in 2000, when, after all, he won the national vote, if not the White House.

It has become very difficult for someone who does not have a machine to beat a candidate who does.  Senator Obama makes an attractive talking point as a possible candidate, but he would have to beat both these powerful machines.   It is true that Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter won the Presidency from the limited base of a Southern Governor, but Hillary in 2008 will have an infinitely better, bigger and wealthier machine than her husband had in 1992.

Both Hillary and Al Gore have their critics, but Hillary has to overcome the fact that she has real enemies.  Many men, not only Republicans, cannot stand her, and are determined to prevent her reaching the White House.

She also has the disadvantage that she backed the Iraq War at the beginning, and still has not reversed her stand on the War.  In the Democratic primaries, Iraq will be a big issue, as it was in this month’s mid-term elections.  Most active Democrats support early withdrawal.

It is quite possible to argue that Hillary would be more likely than Al Gore to win the Presidential race itself, in November 2008.  She has better polling figures among women and, for some people, a more likeable personality.  Al Gore is blamed for having lost in 2000, and is seen as a dull public figure.  He could be the target of the old, political crack, probably first used against Governor Dewey:  “The trouble with Al Gore” – a woman voter is speaking – “is that he reminds me of my first husband.”

Of course, the Republicans can still lose the election, on disillusionment, on Iraq, on falling house prices.   But the Democrats have not got it made.  They have two strong, well financed candidates, but both are candidates with flaws.

William Rees-Mogg – 23 November 2006

William Rees-Mogg

Leading political editor William Rees-Mogg is former editor-in-chief for The Times and a member of the House of Lords. He has been credited with accurately forecasting glasnost and the fall of the Berlin Wall – as well as the 1987 crash. His political commentary appears in The Times every Monday. His financial insights can only be found in the Fleet Street Letter, the UK's longest-running investment newsletter.

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