Professors Size Up Possible Presidential Candidates

By Andy Mccullough

(U-WIRE) SYRACUSE, N.Y. – While President George W. Bush is
influencing policy and making decisions for the country during his
final two years in office, politicians across the country are vying
to replace him.

For the first time in 40 years, neither an incumbent president
nor vice president will seek the nomination for the presidency.

With Bush’s second term drawing to a close and Vice President
Dick Cheney not interested in a promotion, the field of possible
candidates is wide open.

Looking to fill the void is a mix of familiar faces and fresh
blood, an eclectic crowd including a respected war veteran, a
former first lady, a Mormon Republican from New England, a
grassroots Southern charmer, a charismatic African-American
senator, and the former mayor of New York City.

All are considering their potential future as the 45th president
of the United States.

With the first caucus scheduled for Jan. 18, 2008 in Iowa,
neither party’s candidacy is still even close to being settled.

For a Republican Party still licking its wounds after defeats in
the 2006 midterm elections, many feel this election could bring a
change in the Republican campaign ideology and move its focus
toward moderates in the electorate.

“They just lost an election using the politics of playing to the
base,” said Charlotte Grimes, Knight Chair in political reporting
at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. “[Campaign
strategist Karl] Rove used the same old wedge politics, the same
old play-to-the-base politics, and it didn’t work. The question is:
What’s the new game plan?”

The nomination of Sen. John McCain would be a start.

The Arizona Republican – who came up short in the 2000 primaries
– is seen sometimes as too liberal. His stance on immigration is
soft by conservative standards, and he hasn’t taken a mainstream
right-wing stand on abortion and gay marriage.

McCain is admired by moderates, however, for his valor as a
prisoner of war in Vietnam and his two decades of work in
Congress.

“I see McCain getting support,” said senior Paul Troisi,
president of the Syracuse College Republicans. “He has a great
resume, great experience. A lot of people on both sides like John
McCain.”

The events of the coming months will shine more light on a murky
situation for Republicans.

“McCain finds himself confronting two unknowns,” said political
science professor Robert McClure.

The first question deals with what will occur in Iraq during the
next year, McClure said.

If the influx of new troops – a plan McCain supported – does not
succeed, he may lose ground. Someone like Sam Brownback, a
conservative Kansas senator who recently spoke out against the war,
may move into the forefront.

Brownback would have more appeal to the activist, evangelical
base of the Republican Party, McClure said. They will be the people
voting in the primaries – not the moderates.

The second question is who can challenge McCain.

As a Mormon and conservative from Massachusetts, former governor
Mitt Romney doesn’t fit the mold of the typical Republican
candidate, a factor that can work both ways for him, McClure
said.

Romney does represent somebody very new in the campaign process,
said John Palmer, dean emeritus of the Maxwell School of
Citizenship and Public Affairs as well as one of two public
representatives on the Board of Trustees for Social Security and
Medicare.

But that may not be enough to grab media attention, Troisi said.
Romney, too, may be a tad liberal for party members.

“Just the stigma of being from Massachusetts is something his
opponents may pick on,” Troisi said of the typically liberal state
famous for politicians such as Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Rudy Giuliani, mayor of New York City from 1994 to 2001, is
another Republican with the potential to run.

Giuliani became a major international figure following the
terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Although many – like McClure and Palmer – have said the jump
from mayor of a city to president of a nation is not as extreme as
it may seem, there are still lingering doubts about Giuliani’s
widespread appeal.

“9/11 saved his reputation,” said David Rubin, dean of the
Newhouse School. “Before that, he had been perfectly awful on race
relations, free speech relations” and other city issues.

Troisi also cautioned that – similar to Romney – Giuliani may
seem a little too Northeastern and liberal for many voters.

The question remains whether these hopefuls bypass McCain, who
currently sits atop the rankings at NationalJournal.com, a
political journalism Web site, as the favorite for the Republican
nomination.

“That,” McClure said, “is why we have elections.”

In the Democratic race, looking solely at money and
organization, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton is the favorite right
now, Rubin said, but the race will not be as simple as that.

Clinton, the wife of former president Bill Clinton, faces unique
challenges should she decide to run.

As a public figure for nearly 15 years, many seem to have
already formed an opinion about her.

“Her problem seems to be that when people don’t like her, they
really don’t like her,” Grimes said, adding it may be very
difficult to sway those people into voting for her.

Sam Eschenbrenner, former president of the Syracuse College
Democrats, said he finds Clinton’s occasional lack of charm and
charisma – especially when contrasted with her husband – is a
negative on her for many.

“Hillary is an opportunist, just like Bill was an opportunist,”
he said. “But Bill was an opportunist you could like. Bill was an
opportunist on legislation, on getting things done. Hillary is an
opportunist looking to get into the White House.”

Others are turned off by her guarded approach to politics.

By being overtly cautious and always playing to the center on
issues, Clinton has lost some weight with the more liberal members
of her party, Eschenbrenner said.

“If Hillary gets the nomination, a lot of people in the
Democratic Party are going to have to do some soul-searching,”
Palmer said.

Countering Clinton is Sen. Barack Obama, a powerful speaker and
budding media darling.

Fifteen-hundred people packed a town hall in Manchester, N.H.
last month to hear the Illinois Democrat speak during a trip to New
Hampshire – the state that will hold the second primary.

Though Obama is relatively new to the political process – Rubin
said his blank voting slate may be problematic – he remains an
attractive candidate.

As the son of an African-American father and white mother, his
presence has an allure.

“At this point, Obama appears to have the capacity to reach and
entice people to agree on him as a candidate that would disagree on
certain other issues,” McClure said. “His race does have a factor
in that.”

Still, McClure cautioned, that like Clinton’s gender, “Obama’s
race cuts against the grain of American politics and could turn
into a liability.”

When Obama officially declares his candidacy next month in
Springfield, Ill., the question will be if he can fight his way
through the rigors of the day-to-day campaign grind – a
cross-country undertaking that can be exhausting for a relatively
inexperienced 45-year-old junior senator in his first term.

“Obama is going to suffer what all candidates go through:
something called ‘the Big Frisk’,” Grimes said. “Everything he does
is going to be examined, scrutinized, questioned.”

How he will hold up under this microscope of the campaign trail
is a great unknown for potential voters.

Emerging from the pack of other presidential hopefuls – like
Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and Syracuse Law graduate and Delaware Sen.
Joe Biden – has been John Edwards, the former North Carolina
senator and John Kerry’s vice presidential running mate in
2004.

Unlike Clinton and Obama – who have both tried to stay as
cautious and guarded as possible in the early going of this race –
Edwards has made clear his stance on key issues.

He has spent a good deal of time speaking with media outlets
about his plans for fighting poverty – spending $15 billion in
government money a year – universal health care and stemming the
tide of global warming.

In the Jan. 15 issue of The New Yorker, he again defended his
call for an immediate removal of 40,000 troops in Iraq.

“Let’s start leaving,” Edwards said in the article, arguing
America had done its part in helping rebuild the country and that
it was time to go.

“You can’t police places forever,” he told The New Yorker.

The spoken feeling among various political pundits is that in a
race against high-profile names like Clinton and Obama, Edwards
must loudly establish his stances in order to stand out from the
pack of contenders.

So far, his views appear to be shared by many potential voters –
a poll cited by The New Yorker had Edwards and Obama receiving the
most support, with 22 percent each of potential voters in the Iowa
caucus. In the same poll, Vilsack was third with 12 percent and
Clinton was fourth with 10 percent support.

Still, many believe Edwards’ openness about his views may hurt
him in the end.

Giving out too many details is often dangerous, Grimes said.
Candidates should avoid alienating voters with aspects of their
policy early on.

“The more specific you get, the more likely you will lose
voters,” Grimes said, emphasizing that the more careful candidates
will keep their messages broad for as long as possible.

With so much time between now and the first caucus, volatile
issues like the war in Iraq, immigration and fiscal reform can
transform at any moment – altering the political landscape and
pushing certain candidates to the forefront.

“We have a saying in my profession,” McClure said. “‘It’s a long
way to election day.'”

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