Handicapping for '08

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Since this is the horse-race season, let's examine the talked-about prospects for president in both parties since the jockeying for 2008 is already under way. The field is huge now, but it will dwindle long before the first caucus in Iowa and the first primary in New Hampshire.

Charlie Cook, the respected analyst for NBC News and National Journal, lists 11 potentials in both parties. I'm not a betting man, but more than half of those ambitious folks will be off the track long before a vote is cast.

The main reason for their departures will be the inability to raise enough money to make an effective race. And the necessary amount to even play will be bigger than ever

Since President Bush will be retired, my GOP list of likelies is only four and perhaps five. Sens. John McCain of Arizona, George Allen of Virginia, and Bill Frist of Tennessee appear certain candidates. So does former Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York City. The only dark horse in the bunch is former Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, but his ambitions are likely to exceed reality.

The dropouts on the Cook list would be Sens. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, along with Govs. George Pataki of New York, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado was on the list only for his fiery stand on immigration, but you can scratch him right now.

The Democratic side is trickier to pare down at this point.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York is considered a certainty by most observers. Call me a contrarian, but I think she may eventually take a pass when she hears the growing number of voices who argue that she can't win the general election.

Senator Clinton must be aware that any "red" state from the past two elections will be difficult for her and even impossible in the South and in the Border States. Her margin of error would be more narrow than Al Gore and John Kerry, and they both lost.

Certain Democrats in the running for the nomination will be Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin along with former Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

Eliminated from the Cook list would be Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, Govs. Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Tom Vilsack of Iowa, and former Gen. Wesley Clark. The last two, Gore and Kerry, could rethink the race if Clinton bows out, but Kerry is the more likely. And his cheering section is dropping fast.

So place your bets. This tout sheet could be full of holes, but it's fun to play the horses.