The surprise of Bayh's withdrawal was enough to pull me away from vacation to write for a minute. If you haven't already done it, let me put some pieces together for you:
Mark Warner spent a fair amount of money considering the possibility that he might run for president, then decided not to.
Russ Feingold spent what might have been even more to consider running for president, including spending the cash to give staffers to dozens of candidates seeking office in November. Shortly after the election, he also announced his decision not to run.
Now, Evan Bayh, who spent as much or more money than Feingold and appeared to have hired even more staff, also pulls out.
I look at this a lot like a hand of high stakes poker. And any poker player worth his skin will tell you that you don't pull out of a hand when you've already got a ton of money on the table unless you know you can't win. Let's look at the table for a moment and see if we can see what they're seeing:
Tom Vilsack, Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich, Wesley Clark and John Kerry are all weighing runs, but most have either waited too long to get started or have limited credibility. They're all long shots at best.
Within the list of real candidates, then, the lowest ranked is probably Al Gore. He's got some significant ideas and some fired up supporters, but it's unlikely caucusgoers at large will want to give him a second chance.
Next, I'd rank Clinton. She's done very little work here in Iowa, and in fact she's done little to help candidates or make friends anywhere. Plus, before she even enters the race she'll generate unfavorable feelings from nearly half the voter base. She's overrated by pundits at this point and will probably be an early disappointment.
Barack Obama is probably standing in second right now. Two weeks ago I said this about him:
He's the "it" candidate right now, and a popular pick for sure. But when he's exposed in prime time to a nationwide audience, if he doesn't walk on water he'll be seen as a disappointment.I continue to stand behind that.
Then we've got John Edwards. The only polling data I've seen in Iowa puts him way out in front. He's popular, he's got a bit of a rock-star aura and it's believed in many circles that if we had nominated him for President four years ago, he'd live in the White House right now. He's also already more or less locked up the support of people like Ed Fallon, who could potentially bring another large block of voters from the left edge of the undecided pool.
To sum up: While we're still a long way out and anything could happen, right now I see John Edwards as the clear frontrunner, and he's way out in front of second place. It's his race to lose, and it's close to being over.