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Remembering the future, Part I: The Democrats

First of three parts

By Doug Patton
web posted August 27, 2001

Dateline: January 2009

It was a groundbreaking battle for the presidency, featuring, for the first time, a female presidential nominee. Of course, this woman was the one most pundits had prophesied for a decade would be the first - former First Lady and U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-NY, the most loved and hated woman in the nation.

Hillary Clinton
Clinton

Even after a landslide 2006 reelection campaign in New York, Sen. Clinton did not breeze to the Democrat nomination for president. Nine Democrats lined up to run against her, including former Vice President Al Gore, three governors, and five of her colleagues in the United States Senate.

Gore, still smarting from losses in 2000 and 2004, had become the Harold Stasson of the 21st Century. Overweight and exhausted from four grueling presidential campaigns, the former veep waged a bitter, no-holds-barred campaign against the former First Lady. At one point, in the middle of a frustrating debate, Gore blurted out, "if Hillary Clinton wins this nomination, she'll have to pick Gary Condit as her running mate so her husband will have someone to chase interns with!" It was a desperate end to a long, pathetic political career, and Gore dropped out of the race after a poor showing on Super Tuesday.

The senators arrayed against Mrs. Clinton ran the gamut from very liberal to very conservative - at least by Democrat standards. And while each of them knew he was no match for the ruthless Hillary Clinton, each secretly hoped to become her running mate.

Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Gore's 2000 running mate, was the first in and the first out. He had run in '04, dropping out "for personal reasons" after losing the nomination to Gore. In 2008, he was in and out of the race so quickly no one cared about the reason.

Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina had been one of the Democrats rising stars during the first decade of the new millennium. His quick smile and open demeanor reminded many of Bobby Kennedy, and his southern roots made him attractive to Democrat moderates and crossover voters. Unfortunately, it was that very trait that caused Hillary Clinton to distrust him, and even though he did well in the primaries - once even defeating Mrs. Clinton in the South Carolina contest - Edwards was passed over for the VP nod.

Another southerner, Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana, had deferred to Gore in 2004, and by 2008, the senior senator from Louisiana saw his star fall from the political heavens as hard-core Democrat activists hungered again for a true liberal.

Two such liberals, Sens. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota and John Kerry of Massachusetts, never got the traction necessary to mount a serious campaign against the formidable Hillary Clinton juggernaut. Wellstone, once described as looking like Art Garfunkel's head on Paul Simon's body, simply could not compete in the high-definition television age. Kerry was stiff and wooden - some compared him to Gore - and confused voters thought of him as "that guy from Nebraska who committed atrocities in Vietnam."

Three governors threw their hats in the ring. Gov. Gary Locke of Washington was a novelty as the first Asian-American ever to seek the presidency, but he was little known outside of the Northwest.

Gov. Tom Vilsack, having been safely re-elected to a third term in 2006, entered the first-in-the-nation caucuses as Iowa's favorite son. However, his plan backfired when the other candidates used his candidacy as an excuse to bypass Iowa in favor of the all-important New Hampshire primary. Iowa Democrats were not amused, and Vilsack almost lost the caucus vote in his home state.

In the end, Hillary looked westward, to the electoral goldmine of California, for her running mate. Gray Davis had risen in California politics, always outperforming expectations. The state's energy crisis had threatened to cripple the first Davis Administration and make him a one term wonder. But Davis was blessed with unusually mild summers and a faster than expected build-up of power plants and he was re-elected in 2002. He wisely passed on a run at the presidency in 2004.

By 2006, term-limited as governor, Davis set his sights on the open presidential contest of 2008, and again was underestimated. Without ever attacking her personally, Davis came in second to Mrs. Clinton in five states on Super Tuesday and trounced her in California.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, unwilling to be politically or intellectually upstaged by anyone, and recognizing a credible political partnership when she saw one, picked the liberal, mild-mannered Davis as her running mate. ESR

Next week: Remembering the Future, Part II - The GOP

Doug Patton is a freelance columnist who has served as a speechwriter and policy advisor for federal, state and local candidates and elected officials. His work appears on various web sites, including www.GOPUSA.com, www.AmericasVoices.org, www.EnterStageRight.com, www.EtherZone.com, www.TikiTrash.com and www.ConservativeThought.com. © 2001 by Doug Patton

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