The battle for 2008 was always going to be open, with no incumbent on either side. But there was a time when the two parties' choices seemed easy to guess: an aura of inevitability wreathed itself around Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Rudy Giuliani. That would have been a slugfest to savour, a New York derby pitting two scarred bruisers with a talent for doling out and absorbing punishment. Now both those frontrunners, while still narrowly ahead in polls, are stumbling, watching the momentum flow towards their rivals - especially in make-or-break Iowa and New Hampshire, which vote next month. As Barack Obama surges among Democrats in Iowa, it is becoming possible to imagine 2008 as the first US election since 1976 without either a Clinton or Bush. Suddenly, nothing is predictable.
Already some weirdnesses are clear. The two candidates who polls rate as the most electable for their respective parties are lagging behind. Surveys show John Edwards beating every Republican on offer, yet Democrats rank him behind Clinton and Obama. John McCain is the only Republican who polls ahead of the three leading Democrats in a match-up, yet he is stuck in fourth place.
Stranger still, the main candidates are deeply flawed. Obama is young and inexperienced; Edwards, with his $400 haircuts, has an authenticity problem; Hillary is seen as establishment and robotic. Among the Republicans, McCain, at 70, is old and an advocate of an unpopular war in Iraq. Giuliani's liberal stance on guns, gays and abortion - and a Technicolor personal life that has seen him defending the taxpayer-funded security detail that protected his lover when he was the married mayor of New York - have alienated him from the family-values voters who can decide Republican contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. Mitt Romney has the big hair and dazzling smile of a Hollywood president. Trouble is, he's a Mormon seeking the votes of evangelicals who refuse to recognise him as a Christian. TV actor and former senator Fred Thompson is such a lethargic campaigner, he's in single digits.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007