One of the nice things about having zero emotional attachment to any of these candidates is that I can look at the race dispassionately. Sure, there are a couple I have an obvious distaste for (Bayh and Biden), but those guys aren't serious contenders anyway so it really doesn't matter.
So here's my take on who's up and who's down in the race. My first Cattle Call of the 2008 presidential cycle.
THE TOP TIER
1. Barack Obama
He's just executed, either by accident or by design, the most masterful media rollout in the history of presidential campaigns (or at least since I started paying attention). He's got Oprah. He's got star power. He Sister Souljah'd this site. He's tied for the lead in the latest dkos straw poll. He's got more "friends" on MySpace than any other politician.
Voted against it. Obama opposed it and spoke out against it from the start.
Plusses: A media star, and I'm not just talking politics. Has little baggage. History defining candidate. Eloquent. He's the kind of candidate who would NOT hurt local Democrats running lower on the ballot. Still has a high ceiling.
Negatives: Lack of experience. Hasn't showed much leadership other than nagging about what Democrats should say. His tough races have all been primaries. And while he's proven he can win those, lack of general election experience could come back and bite us.
2. John Edwards
Benefitted greatly by Feingold's departure from the race, picking up a significant chunk of netroots support (tops in the latest straw poll, in fact). He is the "labor candidate", though we saw how well that worked out for Gephardt in 2004. Had a primary schedule that was made for him until Obama got in the picture, but is still pretty good nonetheless.
Iraq: Voted for the war as he revved up for 2004. Then recanted his vote as he revved up for 2008.
Plusses: Campaign experience. A pretty good "Two Americas" message. Everyone loves his wife Elizabeth.
Negatives: That war vote still suggests poor judgment. The "lack of experience" thing still hangs over him. It's hard to see, given his name ID and high public profile the last four years how he could gain more support. I'd be surprised if he isn't already at his ceiling.
3. Hillary Clinton
You know the arguments -- she has the money, she has the name ID, she has the top consultants, yadda yadda yadda. Fact is, she didn't want to enter this race this quickly, yet Obama has tipped her hand. Now, it's a race for Team Clinton to figure out how to take back some of that media thunder in which Obama is basking. She was supposed to be the rock star in this race, yet she's been pushed aside for the new kid.
Iraq: Voted for the war as she revved up for 2004. Who knows where she stands on the war today.
Plusses: Despite what her detractors say, she can win the White House.
Negatives: Would kill down-ballot Democrats in the South and Mountain West. Heck, she'd set back the Democratic Party in those places a decade or more. She's reached her ceiling. All the money in the world won't change the fact that 1) people know who she is, and 2) they've already made up their minds about her. It'd be nice to know what her position on Iraq is, but who the heck knows?
THE SECOND TIER
4. Wesley Clark
Has great netroots support, and seemingly not much else. Has great upside, however. Of all these candidates, Clark could benefit the most out of the early February DNC cattle call -- the same one that allowed Howard Dean to emerge as a real force in 2003. If he's to light a fire under his candidacy, that'll be his opportunity.
THE THIRD TIER:
5. Bill Richardson
Senators rigged the system so that they could transfer their campaign funds into presidential accounts while governors could not. So Richardson starts $10 million in the hole. His support amongst Latinos shouldn't be underestimated, but that support won't do him much good anywhere outside of Nevada amongst the early contests. But the dude can raise money, he's a governor in a field bereft of those most desirable of presidential candidates, hails from an important Red state in the Mountain West -- the next frontier for growth in the Democratic Party. He can easily move into the second tier. After that, however, it'll get tough for him.
6. John Kerry
He wrote the big check in 2006 for the DSCC and worked harder for our candidates than probably any other. Then he flubbed a joke and it was the end of the world. It was an interesting experience. While I have never been a fan, and wasn't thrilled with him making a second bid for the White House, the response was ridiculous. The flubbed joke gave many Democrats an excuse to put the shiv into him with ferocity. That they did so using right-wing frames and furthering the right-wing's continued Swift Boating of Kerry was irrelevant to them. They jumped at the chance to knock Kerry down a peg or three. It was an ugly episode, but if nothing else, it proved that Kerry had accumulated too much ill-will to effectively run again.
7. Evan Bayh (Things like this will hamper any efforts to break out.)
8. Joe Biden (D-MBNA)
9. Tom Vilsack
10. Chris Dodd
11. Mike Gravel
Dodd had the worst year imaginable. He supported and campaigned for Joe Lieberman in the primary, and lost, earning the hostility of the grass- and netroots. Then he supported and campaigned for Ned Lamont in the general and lost, earning the hostility of establishment types backing Lieberman.
Update: In an editing error, I wrote that Obama "hurts" candidates down-ballot. I actually meant the opposite. He would not.
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