Just as everyone has breathed a sigh of relief at the end of 2004 presidential campaign, I would like to take a quick look ahead to 2008. Unless George W. Bush is unable to complete his second term, 2008 will bring the third open presidential election (no incumbent running) in 20 years. Even though that’s still four years into the future, the campaign will be unofficially getting underway almost immediately. Therefore, many of the potential candidates can already be identified and there should be no shortage of them on either side.
Today, I will be taking a look at the potential Republican candidates. Among them are Arizona Senator John McCain, Tennessee Senator Bill Frist, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, Virginia Senator George Allen, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.
John McCain is probably in the best position to capture the GOP nomination, should he decide to run. He was beaten by Bush in the 2000 primaries, but he has since been one of the President’s most loyal supporters, despite some differences of opinion. McCain is one of the most popular politicians in the U.S. and won re-election to his Senate seat last week with more than 70% of the vote! Unlike the Democrats, the Republicans have a history of sometimes awarding their nomination to someone who has waited his "turn." A case in point is Bob Dole, who was rejected in his bids for the nomination in 1980 and 1988, only to finally get it in 1996.
Bill Frist is a surgeon is who was first elected to the Senate during the "Republican Revolution" of 1994. He is now the majority leader of the Senate and should benefit from the GOP’s pick-up of four additional seats in this election cycle. Frist seems to be well liked by all factions of the party. He would probably have the inside track to the Republican nomination if McCain decides not to run.
Jeb Bush would like to continue a streak that the Republicans currently have in place. Since 1976, they have featured either a Dole or a Bush on every national ticket. That’s eight straight presidential elections! The fact that he was able to help his brother do better than anyone expected in Florida (winning by five percentage points) bodes well for him. That alone should greatly improve his stature within the Republican Party. Having family ties to the White House won’t hurt either.
Dick Cheney has said he probably will not run for president (and there are even rumors that he might even resign before the end of Bush’s second term). If he doesn’t run, or if he does run and subsequently fails to get the nomination, the 2008 election would be the first without the inclusion of a sitting president or vice president since 1952. However, politicians have been known to change their minds. I still think he might ultimately decide to run. If he does, unlike most sitting vice presidents, he will have an uphill battle for the nomination. However, his popularity with the far right wing of the party would play to his advantage and could ultimately give him the edge he would need. There’s still a question mark as to how evangelicals within the party would react to his support of his gay daughter.
Rudy Giuliani rebuilt his image with his handling of the 9/11 aftermath. Previously, he had to withdraw from a potential Senate race against Hillary Clinton, because of health problems. That was the official line, but most people believed it was because of a nasty divorce and rumors about extramarital affairs. He is now a very popular politician, but whether he is conservative enough to win the Republican presidential nomination is questionable at best. He will likely be opposed by the evangelical wing of the party.
Before being elected governor of Massachusetts in 2002, Mitt Romney headed up the Salt Lake City Olympic Organizing Committee earlier that same year. He had also made a run for the U.S. Senate against Ted Kennedy in 1994 and lost. However, he did so much better against Kennedy that most of his previous challengers had done, that his loss actually helped boost his political career. Since being elected governor, he has become one of the bright young stars of the Republican Party. His father, the late George Romney, served as governor of Michigan and sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 but lost to Richard Nixon. His father’s remarks made during the nominating process about having been "brainwashed" about Viet Nam ultimately cost him the nomination. Should Mitt Romney decide to run, he will want to avoid that kind of blunder.
Like Frist, Rick Santorum was first elected to the Senate in 1994. As Conference Chairman, he is now the third highest ranking Republican in the Senate. Santorum is a favorite of the religious right with his strong anti-abortion and anti-homosexuality views. However, pragmatic primary voters might shun him, feeling that he may be a bit too extreme to win a general election. Of course, four years before the 1980 election, many Republicans expressed those same sentiments about Ronald Reagan.
Tom Ridge was a very popular and effective governor of Pennsylvania before taking over Homeland Security. He was in his second term as governor when he resigned to take over that post. Prior to being elected governor, he served several terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Ridge is more of a moderate Republican, but unlike Giuliani, seems to have some appeal to the party’s conservative base. Whether he has enough remains to be seen. He is pro-choice, so he will get some opposition from the religious right, should he decide to seek the nomination.
George Allen is another rising star within the Republican Party. A former state delegate and son of the late Washington Redskins’ coach of the same name, he was elected to Congress in 1990. However, his district was redrawn and he ended up in the same district as another, more established Republican congressman, Tom Bliley, by the end of his first term. He decided not to seek re-election in 1992 and was elected governor of Virginia in 1993 and then elected to the U.S. Senate in 2000. He headed up the GOP’s Senate Election committee for the last two years. The extra seats that the Republicans picked up in the Senate last week will be a feather in his cap. He has strong conservative credentials but is relatively unknown nationally.
Before taking her current post, Condoleezza Rice had previously served on the National Security Council under President George H. W. Bush. She is not a career politician or lawyer, but comes from an academic background – she has been a member of the Stanford University faculty for over 20 years. She has never held elective office but has sometimes given indications that she has presidential ambitions. She has been a very loyal member of the Bush Administration and that has earned her a great deal of respect throughout the party. Where she stands on social issues is still uncertain. She might ultimately prove to be a better prospect for vice president than president.
Next week I will continue my look ahead to 2008 with the potential Democratic presidential candidates.