Assessing the field

Dateline: 16 January 2008

At the time of writing there have been three contests for the Republican presidential nomination. By the time you read this there will have been four, so you have me at an advantage. So far each state has been won by a different candidate, but that trend cannot continue indefinitely, and almost certainly will not hold for Michigan, which votes on 15 January. It will probably be won by either the winner of Wyoming (Mitt Romney) or the winner of New Hampshire (John McCain).

Currently, Romney leads in every sense except media coverage. He has won the most votes and has the most delegates. His second place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire were undoubtedly setbacks, but he has finished first or second in every state that has voted so far, which is a much better record than any other candidate. If he loses Michigan, his campaign will be in real trouble, but he still has a chance to come back in Nevada. If he wins Michigan he is probably the front runner for the nomination.

McCain’s campaign has come back from the dead. He ran out of money in mid-2007 and had to sack most of his campaign staff. Rumor has it that he expected to raise $200 million last year. If so, he missed his target by 75%. But he won New Hampshire. His vote was smaller than in 2000, but this time he tied among Republican voters (winning independents) and in 2000 he lost the GOP vote.

Huckabee is the weakest candidate in an otherwise excellent Republican field. At the head – in terms of quality – are a governor and CEO with a solid record of achievements in the private, government and voluntary sectors and a mayor who turned around a broken metropolis and inspired the world. The two current or former senators in the GOP race seem to me also to have records that far outclass the three senators seeking the Democratic nomination. John McCain has served in the Senate for longer than Hillary Clinton and John Edwards combined. He also has a record of legislative achievement. He steered a deeply controversial – I despise the measure myself - campaign finance bill through Congress and got it enshrined in law. None of the leading Democrats has any legislative achievements to speak of.

Which leaves me wondering about the role of the mainstream media in this. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards all claim they have healthcare plans which can solve the problems which America faces. John Kerry made the same claim four years ago. But any healthcare plan which they put forward will need to be approved by Congress. Since the two front runners are senators now why can’t they propose their plans now? And why are journalists from CNN and the New York Times not asking them this? (In fairness, of course, John Edwards quit the Senate four years ago, but has been claiming to know the answer to healthcare since he was in the Senate).

The journalist James Taranto, editor of Dow Jones’s OpinionJournal.com, has speculated that the media, by going easy on Democrats, does them no favors. John Kerry was not prepared for tough questions when he ran for president, because the media had always been friendly. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama could face the same problem.

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