Why all those 'other' Dems are tacking either moderate or to the left
The returns had just begun to trickle in Tuesday night when former Sen. John Edwards joined a conference call with liberals at MoveOn.org to talk up the prospect of Democrats taking back the White House. "This tsunami starts today and goes through the 2008 election," the 2004 vice presidential nominee said. "We're going to get away from being the country of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo."
As Edwards was thanking the Democratic base for fueling the congressional takeover, other Democrats with White House ambitions took a different view. "Independent and moderate voters gave us a chance last night, and those are the voters we need in 2008," Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh told U.S. News , noting that three of the Democrats' House pickups had come from his conservative Hoosier State. "I hope our party doesn't get the impression that the country has fallen in love with strident partisan Democrats." As nearly a dozen Democrats start carving their niches for the '08 presidential contests, Edwards and Bayh reflect the two broad flanks now emerging: one to the left of Hillary Rodham Clinton and another in line with her more centrist positioning-but without the baggage she brings.
At this stage, Edwards has some advantages among the liberals. He placed second to John Kerry in the all-important Iowa caucuses in 2004 and still has a loyal network of volunteers there. Edwards may also benefit from the addition of two states to the early primary lineup-his native South Carolina and Nevada, where he has strong ties to unionized hotel and restaurant workers. With last month's news that former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner will sit '08 out, Edwards is the lone southerner in the Democratic field, unless former NATO Commander Wesley Clark runs again. That gives Edwards an air of electability that eludes other liberals.
Kerry, meanwhile, may look more unelectable than ever after his botched Iraq war joke. But he has an unmatched E-mail list of 3 million backers from '04 and has earned loyalty by doling out $14 million to 260 candidates during the midterms. And with the Iraq war likely to be an issue even as 2008's primaries get underway 14 months from now, Kerry could be a hit with liberal primary voters. "The midterms were a referendum on the president's policies in Iraq," says a top Kerry adviser. "It both mobilized the base and brought independents to vote for change."
Money. Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, who voted against the Iraq war and the Patriot Act, is reminding audiences in Iowa and New Hampshire that both measures passed Congress with Democratic support. "Too many times, Democrats have folded," says Trevor Miller, spokesman for Feingold's political action committee. Unlike the independently wealthy Edwards or Kerry, who can rely on some '04 donors, Feingold is one of the candidates who need a fundraising base, possibly to be found in the liberal online "netroots." Joe Trippi, who managed Howard Dean's '04 campaign and raised $59 million online, predicts that the right candidate can collect almost 10 times that much in '08. "How many people you sign up online and how many small donors you have," he says, "will be a new measure" of viability. Serious contenders will very likely need $40 million by the time of the Iowa caucuses.
Of course, Democratic stars like Al Gore and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama could become the anti-Clinton darlings of the netroots, making them the two biggest x factors. "If you are a possible front-runner, you get in as late as you can because you don't want eight other banshees trying to take you down," says Trippi. "If you're the little-known insurgent, you don't want to wait too long." Gore says he won't run, but Obama says he might. With his bestselling book The Audacity of Hope, Obama is the second-most popular U.S. politician after Rudolph Giuliani, according to a poll last summer. But he has no foreign policy experience in times that demand it, and a short Washington résumé; he's not yet finished the second year of this term.
Experience is not a problem for long-shot centrists like Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd, or New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, another long shot, declared his candidacy last week. And the field is likely to grow before it starts shrinking.
This story appears in the November 20, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.