Inside Washington's Headlines

by Ken Feltman

Radnor Inc.

August 2007


Legislative insight

Political intelligence




Ken Feltman is Chairman of Radnor Inc., a political consulting and legislative relations firm in Washington, D.C. He is past-president of the International Association of Political Consultants and the American League of Lobbyists.










2008: Unready runners

To be a consistent winner means preparing not just one day, one month or even one year - but for a lifetime.

- Bill Rodgers

As Americans head into the dog days of August, their presidential hopefuls will take one last deep breath before the Labor Day weekend marks the start of the 2008 campaign. After Labor Day, the race becomes a sprint to the finish. The unprepared candidates - those who have not conditioned themselves to make the run, those who lack the will to endure the pain of the effort - will fall behind. Most will drop out. They will not have what it takes to finish the course.

Let?s look at the candidates, party by party, and see which are best trained for the sprint, starting with the top-tier of Democratic candidates.

John Edwards has the stamina to complete the race but not the genes to finish first. He has the desire and a good team behind him. But he lacks that indefinable something that makes one dedicated runner a champion and another equally dedicated runner merely a runner-up. Years ago, American marathoner Bill Rodgers won the Boston Marathon in a little under two hours, ten minutes. He submitted to interviews and adulation for nearly two more hours. Then, he went back on the course near this finish line and jogged beside those runners still struggling to finish in under four hours, 30 minutes. Time and again, he encouraged those runners when he told them that he could never run for "such a long time. Four hours? Where do you get the strength?" To others he said, "I admire you. I could never do what you can do. Congratulations!?

Rodgers must have inspired many runners to finish proudly and strongly that day because, for all but a few elite runners, a marathon is really about testing yourself. A runner finishing in 2:59:56 can be overjoyed that she finished in under three hours; another runner can be ecstatic that he finished a few seconds under four hours. The months, probably years, of training and sacrifice are suddenly worth every ache and pain.

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When it begins, a presidential campaign is like a marathon. The ability to endure month after month of campaigning is essential to success. Then, in the end, the skills that got you through those difficult early months are no longer enough. Only sprinters have a chance. A presidential campaign has one winner. Everyone else goes away with a sunken feeling in the gut - the emptiness of failure, overwhelming loneliness, bitterness and denial. Edwards seems destined to experience those emotions again.

Edwards is positioning himself against Hillary Clinton, not the others in the race. He recently created a bit of an uproar when he seemed to try to conspire with Clinton to limit the visibility of the other candidates in debates. He is Clinton?s opposite: She is campaigning as the he-woman in the race: Tough on terrorism while still a feminist but not necessarily a feminine candidate. Edwards is the she-man: Promoting the issues of the disaffected, the disadvantaged, the Democratic true believers, while trying to remain manly. That may be his fatal weakness: His own wife comes across to participants in Radnor focus groups as more masculine in her attitudes than he does.

Homeland security and terrorism will be in the background in this election. A male candidate will be expected to be tough. Putting feminist issues first will not be appropriate for a male. Edwards is a candidate running in the wrong time. Voters are putting different priorities first. Edwards is locked into yesterday?s - and perhaps tomorrow?s - issues.

Changed politics, unchanged result?

Barack Obama is raising money on the Internet at a clip that builds upon Howard Dean?s breakthrough success four years ago. The good news is that he may be recruiting loads of potential volunteers to knock on doors for him during the final days of the election campaign next year. Wait! First he will need to get the nomination. The people who go to the conventions and select the nominees are not likely to contribute online. Likewise, the people who contribute online are not likely to be selected as convention delegates.

The Internet is changing politics. But it does not yet have a way to change the conventions. Obama?s bubbling, enthused supporters are like those runners who gather at the start and run together. They share their experience and tell each other what they think and what they are going through. They tell each other why their experience is good for everyone. They are slowed down by the slowest runner among them. They seek a different finish line.

Not much change in the polls?

Here are links to a compilation of polls collected by a popular website. The lines going across the page for the Democratic candidates look somewhat like stripes of a flag, waving but not changing position.

The Republican lines are more confused. We will talk about the Republican candidates next month.

Democratic poll numbers

Republican poll numbers

Undeclared, Al Gore stands in the polls today about where he stood several months ago. He is the Democrat?s Fred Thompson: He looks good as long as he does not get into the race. If he gets in, will he be able to do a better job in debates and in other candidate situations than his opponents are already doing? Rich Lowry of the National Review suggests that, based on 2000, he will not: "Al Gore adopted three utterly different personas in three national presidential debates."

A runner?s record is the best indication of how he will perform in the current race. Gore?s uncertain 2000 performance, when he hired image consultants and changed the color of his suits, shirts and ties to project a better image with women, shows who he was then and who he is still: A man who does not know quite what he is all about. His current activities and pronouncements betray a man who is not yet in touch with himself. He is still that earnest and humorless man who, as a junior senator, would bring miniature flipcharts to Georgetown cocktail parties so that he could make his points more memorably. Indeed, the whole boring thing was very memorable and caused more than a few people to flee any room Gore occupied. Lowry dismisses Gore by noting that his "performances could be a case study in abnormal-psychology classes."

The extended Clinton political family

Hillary Clinton has taken hundreds of hits from opponents and skeptics in recent months. What has she accomplished? Most importantly, she has introduced her husband as sort of her Ed McMahon. Ed McMahon was the fellow who introduced Johnny Carson, the star for years of a popular late night television talk show. You can just hear Bill Clinton saying it: ?Heeeeere?s Hillaaaaary!? Hillary Clinton?s team is more tired than she is and she is having trouble sidestepping some issues. Her personal dislike of Obama is showing through and could boost his candidacy. But she is making vital progress.

Quietly, Clinton has lined up support among the people across the country who pick the people who will go to the convention and vote. She is much further along in gathering friendly delegates. She has the best hold on that part of the Democratic constituency that has traditionally selected the nominee - disadvantaged Democrats, mostly poor, mostly women, many minorities. Obama's support comes from the well-to-do and well educated, which generates money and publicity but has not been the key to victory. Clinton's strategy of delegate-gathering will insulate her from being knocked out of the race if another candidate wins the early primaries. She will be there at the finish line.

Joe Biden demonstrates the sadness of a talented runner who lacks the discipline to train, train and train. Because he has again spent more time talking about how he will run for president than actually running, he is so far behind that his positions on issues and his engaging debate performances are not enough. He has too many runners ahead of him and they all have sharp elbows.

Of course, any runner can suffer an injury. Any runner can break down or have an accident. Years ago in Tulsa, a runner was completing the race of his life and was about to win a prestigious race. Just as he entered the final stretch with a wide lead, a truck rolled through the frightened crowd and rumbled to a stop in front of the confused runner. By the time he got around the truck and through the milling crowd, another runner slipped ahead and won. How unfair! But it happened.

Anything can happen but barring trucks or other unforeseen - or even foreseen events such as a terrorist attack - it still makes sense to bet on Hillary Clinton.



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