Surveying the Field
The 2000 Presidential race is already taking shape, and it ain't pretty
As President Clinton's impeachment trial rages on in the Senate, the field for the next presidential election has begun to crystallize. Though the New Hampshire primary is still more than a year away, the excessive cost of running--as high as $20 million for the primaries alone--has prompted several candidates to all but declare their candidacies already to get a head start on fundraising. With a more condensed primary schedule in 2000, gaining an early edge in fundraising is more crucial than ever.
This high barrier to running does not seem to have hurt the GOP. A half-dozen Republicans have thrown their hats into the ring: Lamar Alexander, the former Tennessee governor who has been in contention almost since the moment he dropped out of the 1996 race; Steve Forbes, the billionaire who lost the GOP presidential nomination in 1996; former vice president Dan Quayle; New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith; head of the Family Research Council Gary Bauer; and Arizona Sen. John McCain. Texas Governor George W. Bush, Elizabeth Dole, Ohio Rep. John Kasich and Broadcaster Alan Keyes are all weighing runs as well.
On the Democratic side, the field is decidedly less interesting. President Clinton's heir apparent, Al Gore '69, is practically unopposed. Minority leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), who would have presented perhaps Gore's greatest challenge, announced Wednesday he would not run. Sens. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota and Bob Kerrey of Nebraska have announced that they will not seek the nomination. Only one Democrat--former senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey--has indicated he will run. Though Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts and Jesse Jackson have hinted they may run, the time for viable candidates to enter the race is running out.
Some Democrats seem to feel that this is the best way to go; traditionally there is party pressure not to challenge an incumbent or heir apparent to the Oval Office. Senator Edward M. Kennedy '54-'56 experienced the wrath of his colleagues when he ran against President Carter in 1980. By lining up behind Gore, the party can avoid a potentially acrimonious primary season. But in the long term, the Democratic Party will suffer if it foregoes this opportunity to reexamine its values and agenda.
Democrats have displayed remarkable unity lately, especially in regard to the impeachment proceeding, but there are still ideological divisions within the party--over welfare, over health care and over the future of Social Security--that deserve to be addressed. Gore is clearly in the centrist camp associated with the Democratic Leadership Council and of course most prominently exemplified by his boss in the White House. Now is the time for the party to consider a possible return to its more liberal roots. Gore is an able and principled man, but letting him coast to the nomination would be a disservice to the Democrats.
The Republicans will not have as tranquil a primary season as the Democrats. But by putting the full ideological spectrum of their party before the voters and letting them decide what direction the GOP. should take, the Republicans are making the right move.