The midterm elections of 2006 are a thing of the past. That means that the presidential election campaign of 2008, lasting far too long, and costing ridiculously too much, is about to begin.
Contenders from both major political parties, who have long been coyly holding inquiring reporters at bay, will announce their decisions to set up "exploratory" committees to seriously test the political waters and make their final decisions to run or not run.
The conventional wisdom about the lessons from this fall's contest is that the voters are tired of combative politics in Washington, that they want cooperation instead of confrontation, and that the Democrats astutely fielded a bunch of moderate members from their party to appeal to the center of American politics, so winning both the House and the Senate in Congress.
President Bush has smoked the political peace pipe with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and there is talk of bilateralism – except from left-wingers who fear their Democratic Party has forsaken its liberal foundations, and right-wingers who fear that Mr. Bush has thrust aside the Republican Party's true standard of conservatism.
The problem for would-be presidents in this land of such extraordinary diversity is that they generally must appeal to their extreme wings – liberal in the case of Democrats, conservative in the case of Republicans – to get their party's nomination, then swing back to the political center to get the nation's votes.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has just won a massive reelection victory to the Senate, has plenty of funds, and can count husband Bill as a plus by her side for Democrats. But with Republicans, she still carries an abundance of liberal baggage. She has been trying to shed this by taking more and more centrist positions.
This, however, has opened her to attack from the left. Al Gore, who once seemed to have entered bearded exile from politics after his defeat in 2000 by Bush, is emerging as a potential challenger from the left. Gore loyalists, who say there is little love lost between the Gores and the Clintons, argue that while Senator Clinton may be able to win her party's nomination, she cannot win the presidency.
Another potential Democratic challenger to Clinton is Barack Obama, who, although still a freshman senator, has won extraordinary exposure and acclaim. Though skeptics wonder whether someone with such relatively little experience in elected office should run at this time, his proponents argue that 2008 might yet afford him his best shot.
Sen. John Kerry apparently still hungers for the presidency, but seasoned Democratic politicos conclude that his prospects of getting another party endorsement are slender. So, too, are the prospects of John Edwards, Senator Kerry's engaging vice presidential partner in the 2004 presidential campaign. Other Democratic politicians mulling their prospects are Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, and Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana.
On the Republican side, the perceived front-runner two years from the election is Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war of the North Vietnamese. A sturdy supporter of the war in Iraq, Senator McCain has a reputation for plain speaking, but has recently run into some trouble striving to ally both Republican right-wingers and centrists to his yet-to-be-announced candidacy.
Meanwhile Mitt Romney, the outgoing Republican governor of Massachusetts, has been burnishing his credentials with his party's conservative wing. Savior of the scandal-beset 2002 winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and an unlikely Republican who brought financial order to his liberal state, Mr. Romney's star has been rising.
Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York who bolstered that city's morale after the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers, is oft-mentioned as a potential candidate and is popular in polls. But as one seasoned Republican political expert says: "Everybody loves Rudy, but nobody would vote for him."
Until his recent reelection campaign crashed and burned, Virginia's Sen. George Allen had been mentioned as a possible GOP presidential runner. That is now moot. Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist has high interest in the White House but his career as Senate majority leader has been beset by some miscalculations.
With the names of Allen and Frist fading from the A-list, a name from the past has surfaced: Newt Gingrich, who led the campaign for conservative revolution in the Republican Party more than a decade ago.
The horses are jostling in the starting gate. The race is about to begin.
• John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, is editor and chief operating officer of the Deseret Morning News.