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Arnold G. York

And the Morning Line is …

The talk around our Sacramento office is about handicapping the upcoming 2008 presidential race. Every one seems to have an opinion, except me. I’m about the only one who doesn’t have an opinion because, truthfully, not much has happened yet. I don’t have a sense that I know very much about many of the candidates, nor how the American public is going to react to them when they go head to head.

This is the first presidential year I can remember when both parties have a slew of candidates and no clear frontrunners, and any one of them could go all the way. Most of them have significant negatives, or rather thin resumes, or both. Actually, a lack of experience may not be bad as it seems because it gives the opposition less to attack. After all, look at “W” who won even though he couldn’t have had a thinner resume. Of course, if you choose a candidate with a thin resume you really don’t know what you’re getting because the candidate is unformed, and if he or she chooses advisors poorly, or doesn’t learn quickly, they end up making bad decisions, like Iraq.

To watch everyone handicapping this race is like watching a bunch of racetrack touts trying to handicap the day’s races based upon the racing form and the early morning workouts, except we don’t even have a workout yet.

How is it that we really begin to pick presidential candidates?

Everyone who has been in politics for a while has some baggage. Some of the baggage is who you are. Some is what you’ve done. Some is what you haven’t done. Some of it is who loves you and who hates you, and both the size and the vehemence of those love or hate constituencies. Then there are the primaries, which is our chance to see the candidates under pressure and under attack. We don’t have any of that yet, so I’m sitting at the workout track trying to figure the morning line.

Here’s my line:

The Democrats

Sen. Hillary Clinton

Bright, capable, seems to have done well in the U.S. Senate, has a husband who is a great asset but also a liability. Engenders high degree of loyalty in followers, but also has a high degree of very committed and angry opposition, not just in the Republican ranks. I know a bunch of Democrats, both male and female, who are very uncomfortable with her. The big question is if the country is ready for a woman-particularly a woman like Clinton. Although battle hardened, she’s rather flat on TV.

Sen. Barack Obama

Is the country ready for a black president with a name that sounds very foreign and also with a very limited amount of experience to be running for office? He’s clearly very bright and articulate, with a wonderful feel for an audience that Bill Clinton had and few of the others seem to have. He does well both in person and on TV, but he’s new to the national scene, and relatively inexperienced. Which means his public image is not set, so a couple of hard blows could send his numbers tumbling.

Bill Richardson

A former governor and U.N. ambassador, part Hispanic with an Anglo name, experienced, capable, but not really very well known nationally and it would take a lot of money to build that national image. Unclear how he handles TV.

Sen. Joseph Biden

Capable and experienced, sort of a mixed national image, seems to generate respect but not much excitement. Also a sense that he’s the old guard and it might be time for some new blood. So-so on TV.

Former Sen. John Edwards

Now mature and experienced but yet to generate any great excitement. He’s also focused his campaign on the more blue-collar base of the Democratic coalition, for now at least. He’s articulate and does reasonably well on TV. Could be a sleeper.

Former VP Al Gore

He’s the big “if.” Gore, remarkably, has managed to resurrect himself. He’s developed an appeal to the broad middle of the electorate. The question is does he really want it bad enough, and is he too little, too late? I suspect he could raise the money if he needed to, but he’s probably the compromise candidate if the others block each other out.

The Republicans

The Republicans have their work cut out for them. They go into the 2008 election the party of an unpopular president in a very unpopular war, plus another wedge issue, immigration. They have to put some distance between themselves and the Bush presidency, but without offending their political base, which is not going to be easy. They have a very interesting group of candidates.

Rudolph Giuliani

Former mayor of New York, hero of 9/11, but a bit much of an urban liberal Republican for many in the party, with some New York baggage. But if he can reach the social conservatives, he could be formidable. So-so on TV.

John McCain

Always formidable, and does very well with the press and on TV. But he’s an old face and a supporter of the Iraq war, and he has also been courting the conservatives, which has diminished his standing with the undecided and the conservative Democrats somewhat. He’s one of the forces behind the immigration bill and if he can sell it, his standing will improve. It’s also a point of difference with the other Republican candidates.

Mitt Romney

He’s their new face, with a yet unformed public image, which means he’s both fresh and also vulnerable. A great deal may depend on how he handles the Mormon issue. It’s very similar to the issue that John Kennedy faced in 1960 with the Baptist preachers. Kennedy met it head on, went down to Texas and talked to them, and was able to convince them that voting for Kennedy didn’t mean that the country was going to be turned over to the Pope in Rome.

I’ve left a number of others out but it looks from here that none of them would be very likely to win.

In the final analysis this year, the primaries will be more important than ever. How many of the strengths and weakness will play out at the polls is far from clear. Every one of these candidates is going to take hits, because these days with computers and tape libraries there are very few secrets. What makes the difference is how you handle the hits. For example, there were a half-dozen things the Republicans had on Bill Clinton, many of which would have sunk anyone else’s candidacy. But Clinton had this remarkable ability to bounce back, and that bounce back talent contributed enormously to his stature and his victory. Kerry, on the other hand, got hit with the Swift Boat attack, a very unfair attack on his war record, and he stumbled badly in refuting it, and it cost him dearly.

The way we pick our presidential candidates is not pretty, but it’s probably a reasonably accurate predictor of how they’ll react under fire, sort of a trial by combat.