ShapTalk: Guest Commentary
By Michael M. Shapiro
Officials of both political parties should have learned a lesson from 2004 when key Democratic politicians, including Gov. Jim McGreevey, jumped on board with Gov.Howard Dean, only to see Dean implode soon thereafter, leaving them with little influence over Sen. John Kerry, the eventual Democratic nominee. Apparently, those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. Approximately one month ago, a long line of Republican officials publicly announced their support for Rudy Guliani for president. Recently, a significant contingent of Democratic officials, including Gov. Corzine, publicly backed Sen. Hillary Clinton for President. Both groups of elected officials will find themselves on the outside looking in should the political winds afoot blow in an unexpected but likely direction.
On the Republican side, Rudy Guliani has seen his poll numbers drop precipitously in recent weeks as revelations of his personal life and his relationship with former Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik have circulated beyond the New York metropolitan area. The idea of announcing to live television cameras that you are divorcing your wife may show the tough, take-no-prisoners side of Mr. Guliani that made him a successful prosecutor and aggressive mayor, but such a persona does not necessarily play well in Iowa or New Hampshire. In addition, his advocacy for abortion rights and other progressive issues that enabled him to become (and remain) Mayor of New York are not exactly endearing him to the conservative masses of the Republican Party.
Meanwhile, the candidacy of Fred Thompson, a movie-actor turned conservative senator from Tennessee turned Law and Order star, is beginning to eclipse Mr. Guliani’s star power, which is the main attraction of Guliani’s candidacy for Republican voters. At the same time, Thompson is becoming an attractive candidate in the field to conservative voters. As he begins to surge in the polls, he may not win the Republican nomination, but he will cause Guliani’s numbers to drop. Should they continue to fall, Guliani will be an also-ran for the Republican nomination.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton was seen as a slam-dunk by party insiders just a few months ago. But times have changed and Hillary’s numbers are not going anywhere but down. Meanwhile, Barack Obama pulled in a solid $25 million in individual fundraising, nearly matching the former First Lady’s high stakes contributors. By doing so, Obama demonstrated that Clinton is not going to be readily crowned the Democratic nominee; she is going to have to earn it. Clinton’s supposed dominance in the Democratic field is the key reason she has lined up such a great deal of money and the party establishment in support of her candidacy. However, Obama’s fundraising prowess thus far, together with his significant poll numbers, has severely compromised Sen. Clinton’s best asset: her seeming inevitability. Without the overarching sense that she is the nominee in waiting, Clinton will face significant hurdles to the Democratic nomination from Sen. Obama.
Meanwhile, Sen. John Edwards is quietly positioning himself to make a serious run as the challenger to the winner of the Clinton-Obama brawl. Interestingly, the senator’s numbers have crept up in Iowa and New Hampshire in recent weeks. Should Edwards continue making inroads with voters and staying under the radar screen while Clinton and Obama fight it out in public, he may just win both Iowa and New Hampshire, thereby transforming the race into a battle between Edwards and the victor of the Clinton-Obama tussle.
While many Republican and Democratic leaders have lined up to back Mayor Guliani and Senator Clinton respectively, both groups have jumped the gun, and may discover that neither of their candidates will be their party’s nominee. Should that become the case, perhaps in 2012 there will be less of a rush to judgment and more thoughtful deliberation before our State’s party leaders choose their respective presidential candidates. If not, they will find themselves on the outside looking in yet again.
Michael M. Shapiro is an attorney who resides in New Providence. An archive of his columns can be found at ShapTalk.com.