Balloting Sets Tone for '08 Presidential Race
Updated 11/8/06, 2:35 p.m.
Yesterday's elections didn't just determine control of the House and Senate. The balloting also set the tone for the 2008 presidential campaign, created a potential new political geography for the next two years, and winnowed the presidential field a bit.
Voters endured one of the most negative campaign seasons in memory, featuring television ads, debates, and candidate broadsides that went relentlessly on the attack. Political analysts say Americans got tired of the negativity and may demand a more civil tone the next time. At least that's what Washington insiders were saying last night.
There were outright casualtiesand near-death experiences. Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts wasn't on any ballots, but he did himself grave harm as a 2008 hopeful with his "botched joke" in which he said the danger of not making the most of one's education is that one can "get stuck" in Iraq. GOP Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, thought to be a potentially strong conservative presidential candidate, was eliminated as a serious contender when he lost his seat to Democrat Bob Casey (although some conservatives would still like to see him run because he makes the conservative case so passionately).
Most dramatic, GOP Sen. George Allen of Virginia seems to have fallen out of the top tiers of the Republican field. His Senate race against former Navy Secretary Jim Webb still hung in the balance Wednesday, but win or lose, Allen damaged himself with a series of gaffes that raised doubts about whether he is ready for prime time.
The status of the presidential front-runners remained unchanged. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York emerged from Election Day with considerable momentum. She won a large majority in her bid for re-election, demonstrated her prowess as a fundraiser, and even captured moderate and conservative areas in the New York suburbs and in rural areas of her state.
"She showed she's a popular senator, and that was an important thing for her to do in advance of a presidential run," says an ally. Clinton hasn't announced her intentions but is expected to make the race.
Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois also was a big winner. Obama wasn't running for anything, but his campaigning for fellow Democrats demonstrated extraordinary charismaso much that even Obama was saying at the end of the campaign that he would evaluate whether to run for president in 2008. His problem is that his views on many issues aren't known, and his political and government experience is minimal.
On the GOP side, Sen. John McCain of Arizona kept his position as a GOP front-runner, even though he has not yet announced his presidential intentions. He is widely considered a maverick in GOP circles and is distrusted by some hard-line conservatives, but he did convince many that he is a loyal party man. That, combined with his independent streak, could be just the right combination for a party in need of a makeover. Straight Talk America, McCain's political organization, issued a summary of his political activities in the 2006 election cycle, showing that McCain attended 346 events and raised more than $10.5 million for Republican candidates and party organizations across the country. The senator flew 137,747 miles, "enough miles to fly 5.29 times around the globe," according to his spokesman.