UPDATED TO ADD JOE BIDEN
Ok, I'm back as promised, and looking back on old posts this morning, I discovered there's a relatively wide gap between some things I said about presidential candidates during my last active period and how I feel about them now. So it seemed to make sense for me to re-do my hotlist, with a better knowledge of several candidates and a better reflection of my current feelings. All candidates will be listed with both pros and cons:
John Edwards: I've been calling him the likely nominee for some time now, but it's probably time to back off that. I think he's running a better campaign than he ran in 2004, and he's been the first out of the gate with specific proposals on issues, including a very specific health care plan. The fact that he's no longer a senator leaves the door open for him to campaign all the time without having to worry about missing votes or casting votes that could hurt him.
On the downside, I think the early spotlight is shooting some holes in his image. I ranted a bit last week about news coverage of his haircuts, and I don't think it should be an issue, but the fact remains that he's living big time while talking about how we need to do more for the poor, and he's heating and air conditioning a 28,000 square foot house while encouraging us to reduce our carbon footprints. He's still the candidate I'm most likely to support, but it's more questionable now.
Barack Obama: He draws huge crowds wherever he goes, he's charismatic and he seems to be able to run a campaign on broad themes without anyone asking him why he's not specific on anything. Of all the Democrats, he seems the most likely to win in November. It's quite possible he's the only candidate in the field that doesn't need to run negative ads. His debate performance looked skilled and practiced. He was the only candidate that answered the "elephant in the room" question without tripping over it.
But, I don't think he's prepared to be Chief Executive. I think he lacks the experience. The fact that he's entirely non-specific on issues means I have no idea what I agree with him on. I talk to people everyday who support him but can't name a single reason why. I think eventually there will be a large block of voters out there saying things like, "We're electing a Commander in Chief, not a Head Rock Star." If he doesn't start coming out with specifics soon, it's going to look like he's only doing it to appease those people.
Chris Dodd: He jumped into the upper half of my list by being the first to advocate for public financing of campaigns in the debate. He's gotten decent press coverage over the last week, creating a pretty good first impression on a lot of voters. He has good experience and comes across as intelligent.
With that said, he's way back of most of the field. I'm glad he's running in Iowa, but he feels like more of a "I have something to add to the conversation" candidate than a true contender. He's a northeastern Democrat and a lifelong politician, both of which would get the crap beaten out of him in a one-on-one matchup. He's got a small window of time to convert a lot of people, which won't be easy to do with his preferred kitchen-table sized events.
Bill Richardson: He brings incredible foreign policy experience to the race. He may be the last presidential candidate in my lifetime to bring 4 Nobel Prize nominations to the table. He's the only candidate in the race from farther west than Illinois. He might also be the only candidate that doesn't scare the crap out of the NRA.
However, his admission that he hadn't advocated for the firing of the Attorney General because Alberto Gonzales is Hispanic was flatly racist, and there's no excuse for it. It creates a fair question about how he is currently managing personnel in New Mexico and how he would do it at the next level. I'd love to have him as Secretary of State or somewhere else where his foreign relations experience could be helpful, but I'm unwilling to support him for anything beyond that. He actually probably belongs on the cold list.
Joe Biden: He's friendly and likeable. He's got mounds of experience. Thus far he's the only candidate to show a plan to fix the situation in Iraq, not just pull our troops out. He'll chew your ear off with ideas if you let him. He's probably raised more cash than any 2 candidates not named Clinton or Obama.
Really, though, one outburst near the end of the debate was a deal breaker for me. Less than an hour after being asked if Americans could trust him to mind his manners on the world stage, he called it "Happytalk" when other candidates were talking about ending war. I understand his point, that sometimes preemptive strikes are necessary and have worked wonders in other places, but I was appalled by the way in which he stated it, which might as well have started with "You're a moron." Pacifism is more than just "Happytalk." It's a legitimate desire to do everything we can to end the unnecessary shedding of American blood. And if Joe Biden can't hear talk of it without going off on an unprompted rant, then he's not worthy of the office.
Hilary Clinton: She didn't embarrass herself in the debate. She's putting a happy face on her years of controversy and blaming them on "sticking up for her beliefs," which is partially true. She's got enormously huge money and the capacity to out-advertise any of her opponents 2-to-1.
She's also the candidate the Republicans can't wait to face. I'm a firm believer that voters should never choose a candidate just because they can beat the Republicans, but there's an argument to be made that there's no way she could beat a Republican. Months before the caucuses there are polls showing her with unfavorable ratings over 50%. There are whole libraries of old video that could be used against her day after day to convince dyed in the wool Democrats to stay home and Republicans to go out to the polls even if they'll die on the way home. Simply put, I don't think she stands a chance of being elected president.
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