Thursday, January 10, 2008

Is there scope for a "through the middle" candidate?

It's been well noted on different blogs how yesterday’s early edition newspapers made complete arseheads of themselves by writing up their New Hampshire Primary analysis on the assumption that Obama was going to win. There is little better than mild crowing after all, and the Democrat race is causing so much more attention what with its 'first woman president vs first black president' potential. I guess it's worth noting at this point also that the assumption is that the Democrats are going to win the White House by the soothsaying media.

This may indeed turn out to be true, but what I find myself wondering is at what cost internally for the Democrats might that happen? I may be wrong on this but the race to be in the race for the White House has been possibly the longest in history, and during that time, at least on the Democrat side, what we now appear to have is not so much a race for the nomination but a battle of identity politics in the political home of identity politics. It's gender versus race and I find myself asking what impact that battle could have on the unity of the Democratic Party, and if any impact could be detrimental to them and exploitable by their political opponents?

We're already seeing the issues being pitched against each other by the different briefer in the campaign teams. Obama aides have been wondering if the so-called Bradley Effect whereby voters tell pollsters they'll vote for the black guy and then go for old whitey in private. Meanwhile the Clinton team and the lady herself have made no bones about suggesting that when she has done less well expected in debates and polls it is because of the wife-beating misogynistic bastards. Whichever one prevails through the primaries the seeds are already being sewn for internal discontent.

Putting aside the evident spotlight this places on the virtue and near angelic perception of identity politics from the Left, might this bode poorly for the Democrats when it comes to Republican attacks? If the primaries produce accusations back and forth on gender and race then political opponents would be mad to not exploit them and highlight disunity amongst the party, whilst the Presidential candidate talks about uniting the nation around a measure of some sort of change. Then again does it have to be like that or will it?

I am no expert on how these primaries work, but if ever there was a case for a party to have a so-called 'unity candidate' then now would be as good a time as any wouldn't it? Democrat control on Capitol Hill is already starting to create rumblings after all, and a bitter struggle between gender and race could extenuate those rumblings further and cause more widespread damage than many think. So I ask this question to any specialists in American politics. Has there ever been a precedent for a third candidate to rise through the middle? And is John Edwards a man that could do that?

I always remember a truism that the Democrats never win the White House unless the candidate is southerner. With the Carolina's, Florida, and all those other southern states still go could there be scope for even more inaccurate predictions and surprises yet to come?


rightwingprof said...

Not Edwards, because it's actually gender v. race v. class (Edwards). And southerner or not, Edwards has less chance than either Hillary or Obama of carrying any southern states, except (perhaps) his own.

Westmonster said...

Dizzy, the answer to your question — at least as it relates to the primary era Democratic party — is no, there's never been one who fits your description. The closest example I can think of is Bobby Kennedy in 1968, who joined the race late (Lyndon Johnson withdrew his candidacy after primary season had already started), and was a "unity" candidate in the Obama sense of lets-all-hold-hands, but gained momentum primarily as an anti-war candidate. Plus, he was a Kennedy. And the night he secured the nomination, he was killed.

Gary Hart attempted such a candidacy in 1984, but lost the nomination to Mondale. And unlike others, I really don't see the parallels between the Hart 84 campaign and the Obama 08 campaign — in 1984, it's likely any Democratic nominee would have lost to Reagan.

John Edwards faces an uphill battle in that he's really running from the left and not from the centre of the party. And his money is about to dry up — if he doesn't pull off a miracle in South Carolina, it's probably over for him. Him getting the nomination is about as likely as a George Bush getting a third term in the White House.

To your contention about the battle of identity politics, I think you'd be surprised how generally happy Democratic voters are with the choices they have. Anecdotal evidence suggests (and the polls reinforce) that Democrats think the field is great, and they'd happily support any of the three in the general election.

We're seeing that in the unprecedented turnout. Voters who are turned off to the field as a whole don't turn out in these numbers.

In any case, it's important to exercise caution about the whole identity politics question. Just because the media can't explain New Hampshire doesn't mean this race is down to blacks vs. women. It's early days in this process, and the race will be better defined as we move toward the Feb 5th primaries.

It's likely the contest will continue to be spirited, but that the party will quickly close ranks behind the eventual nominee.

Now, on the other hand, the Republicans are a different story altogether. The problem on that side *is* about identity — whether the nominee will come from the social conservative/evangelical wing of the party, or from the economic conservative wing of the party. Huckabee represents the former, and McCain/Giuliani/Romney represent the latter.

The Republican contest will hinge on geography (evangelicals doing well in the south and midwest, economic conservatives on the coasts), and if Huckabee wins, it's not nearly as likely the party will close ranks behind him. Economic conservatives don't like his credentials, and find his evangelical rhetoric scary.

No matter what happens, this presidential race will be fascinating to watch.

canvas said...

Edwards could make a deal with Obama and become VP (should Obama get the nomination). And he could.