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Life in the second tier

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February 28, 2007

By JOHN WHITESIDES

While the early favorites in the 2008 presidential race fight for dollars and support, the immediate challenge for a crowded band of lesser known candidates is political survival.

A fast-starting White House race dominated by a cast of political heavyweights already has knocked out two Democratic contenders and left a handful of hopefuls in each party scrambling to escape the bottom of the pack and climb into the top ranks.

But emulating the rise of past political phenoms like former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who emerged from nowhere to lead the 2004 Democratic presidential pack before flaming out, could be tough this year with so many big names.

The early attention showered on Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, and Republicans Rudolph Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney, leaves little room for other candidates in either party.

“It’s much harder for a second-tier candidate to emerge when the top tier is so crowded,” said Republican consultant Dan Schnur, a McCain aide in 2000 who is unaffiliated in 2008.

“This year you have three solid top-tier candidates in both parties,” he said. “Even if one of them falters, it’s still an uphill fight for someone else to ascend to that level.”

Two Democrats, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, barely started their campaigns before dropping out when they realized they could not compete for money or attention in the crowded field.

The longshots this year include current and former governors as well as congressional veterans who so far attract low single-digit support in polls, small campaign crowds, sporadic press coverage and an uphill fight to raise money.

“A lot of them are first-tier quality candidates, but what they lack is a compelling message,” said Democratic consultant Doug Schoen, a White House pollster under former President Bill Clinton. “Unless there are some new ideas put forward, it’s hard to see how they break through.”

STILL TIME TO MAKE CASE

With the first nominating contest in Iowa more than 10 months away, the contenders say there is still time.

“I realize I’m running behind and that other people are better known,” Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, told Reuters recently. “There is a huge amount of time for me to make my case and try to be heard.”

Other Democratic longshots looking to buck the odds are New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel.

The Republicans include former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson and Reps. Duncan Hunter of California and Tom Tancredo of Colorado.

They hope to be in position to move up when some of the early high-flying candidates take their inevitable fall.

“Someone is going to fall out of that top tier early. In D.C. they love to run you up the flagpole so they can let go of the rope and watch you splat,” said Democratic consultant Dane Strother.

Among Democrats, Dodd and Biden have substantial Washington experience and Kucinich has helped lead opposition to the Iraq war. Richardson, a Hispanic, is the last remaining governor and a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

“Richardson has the best resume in the field. I think he is right there and nobody has figured it out yet,” said Strother, who is not affiliated with a 2008 candidate. “He has a lane into the top tier.”

For Republicans, many influential conservatives are still looking for a candidate and have qualms about McCain, Giuliani and Romney, leaving a potential opening.

“There is a very significant opportunity on the Republican side for a fourth top tier candidate to emerge,” Schnur said. “It could be Gilmore, possibly, or maybe Huckabee. Beyond that, it’s hard to see who that person is.”

Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited

5 Responses to Life in the second tier

  1. Mary

    February 28, 2007 at 5:00 pm

    I have never been more disgusted with our political system, particularly for selecting presidents. Its all about the $$$. Here are Bill Richardson and Chuck Hagel, two men with excellant resumes, character, and leadership. Neither one has much of a chance because

    of a lack of $$$. New Mexico certainly does not have deep pockets. Yet, Richardson has the best experience of the bunch needed for today’s realities.

  2. Dave

    February 28, 2007 at 6:46 pm

    People need to look at Duncan Hunter

    http://duncanhunter.conservativebase.org/

  3. JimZ

    February 28, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    Kucinich/Paul 2008!

    Yea, right. Damn.

    OK, Paul/anybody or Kucinich/anybody

    Yea, right. Damn.

    OK, Edwards/Obama 2008!

    Yea, right. Damn.

    Hillary vs. Ghoulliani

    Voting Libertarian or Green for me.

    Chuck Hagel sounds good until you look at his voting record/history. He was a BushCo. follower until of late. Seems he finally woke up. Doesn’t make him anti-war, though (he even says that). He just knows Iraq will be an electoral disaster for the GOP if they don’t get it over with soon.

    Richardson sounds good on some issues, I don’t agree with him on others, but I don’t think he stands a chance. One negative commercial about his complicity in the Wen Ho Lee debacle and he’s over.

  4. Ross

    February 28, 2007 at 7:58 pm

    It’s funny the article doesn’t mention congressman Paul of Texas. I wonder why….

    I’d vote for him, but I gave up voting until there are no more computers deciding who wins.

  5. BS Detector

    March 1, 2007 at 5:35 pm

    Thanks Ross.

    I pushed the buttons in 2004. Then I went home to wait for the computer hackers to tell me who I voted for.