Monday, June 18, 2007

"Don't Forget the Unsung Candidates"

John Fout (READER ADVISORY--This author makes a reference to Howard Dean that irritates me and he fails to place both Dean and Timmy in proper context):
In 2003, Howard Dean, a little-known governor from Vermont, joined the 2004 presidential race to raise the profile of health care in the national discourse. A few well-timed comments on Iraq coupled with a revolutionary Internet strategy shoved him into an unlikely role: Democratic front-runner.
It was a monumental moment in American politics and a throwback to elections of decades ago, when candidates could come from nowhere and wind up contending for the White House. We have only to go back 33 years, when Jimmy Carter, a virtually unknown governor from Georgia, announced his candidacy for presidency, only to spend his first year on the campaign as a nonevent in the polls. After his win in the Iowa caucuses, Carter was finally recognized as a possible contender.

Carter is not alone as a long-shot Democrat who wound up in the Oval Office. According to the White House Historical Association, Franklin Pierce, a senator from New Hampshire, emerged as the Democratic nominee for president in 1852 after his name was entered as a compromise candidate on the convention's 35th ballot. Although Pierce received the Democratic nomination, his party renounced him as a failure. Pierce, a handsome man who photographed well, went on to become the 14th president of the United States.

Dean wasn't as successful and wound up a joke after his well-publicized screaming fit. One edited video turned a passionate speech to supporters into a raving rant. Today's candidates have to be reminded that the camera is always rolling.

But Dean, Carter and even the history of Pierce make me wonder which of the lesser-known presidential hopefuls will make a similar move in the 2008 election season, if any.

The last two Democratic presidents were both governors: Carter and Clinton. They shared obscure poll numbers at this point in the election cycle. Only one Democratic governor has entered the 2008 race: Bill Richardson of New Mexico.

Richardson faces a loaded presidential field with hardened campaigners -- Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., N.Y.), former senator John Edwards and a popular newcomer, Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.)

The best weapons for an insurgent candidate are creative campaign strategies and establishing an appeal in the base of your party. The Richardson team has been working both angles.

Richardson was the first Democratic candidate to run campaign ads in Iowa and New Hampshire. He has received attention from the media and from viewers of his ads on YouTube. Richardson's ads are cleverly done. They mimic a job interview where the governor presents his past qualifications -- one of the ads states that he's overqualified for the position -- see them for yourself.

The ads are right. Richardson remains a standout among the Democratic candidates because of his experience serving in Congress, as a diplomat, as an ambassador, as secretary of energy and as governor. No other candidate can match his varied resume. Interestingly, President Clinton named him to several of those positions.

Richardson also has announced a new book -- scheduled for release on Nov. 2. It offers an opportunity to show his range on one of the most important issues facing our country. The title explains it all: Leading by Example: How We Can Inspire an Energy and Security Revolution.

The Richardson campaign hasn't stopped there. He took an aggressive position on the war in Iraq in early May. Richardson called for Congress to exercise its powers under Article I of the Constitution to revoke the authority for the war. This de-authorization could not be vetoed by the president.

His aggressive stance got noticed. It was red meat on the liberal blogosphere, and it affected other candidates. Both Clinton and Obama voted against the Iraq troop funding bill later in May. They were in the minority: It passed the Senate, 80 to 14.

Richardson's campaign points to his move in poll numbers in New Hampshire after the debates -- from 4% to 10%. Has the breakout begun?

Aggression can backfire, however. I cringed during the recent debate in New Hampshire at one point. Speaking on Darfur, Richardson suggested: "Third, we need China, to lean on China, which has enormous leverage over Darfur. And if the Chinese don't want to do this, we say to them, maybe we won't go to the Olympics." This smacks of a "cold" war with China and another boycott made by another governor who became president -- Jimmy Carter.

Another misstep was Richardson's appearance May 27 on NBC's Meet the Press. Many observers were mesmerized by the meltdown as he ducked and ran from difficult questions from Tim Russert -- see here. Richardson seems to have survived, but is it a Dean-like foreshadowing?
Howie P.S.: The rest of the article is about Ron Paul.

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