Changing Their Stripes
Step right up, and watch the candidates re-create themselves
Adds Dan McGinn, a business consultant and specialist in public image-making: "Giuliani is trying to walk the line by saying, 'I am who I am-just look at the whole record.' Hillary is trying to say, 'I'm not who you think I am.'"
Barack Obama. Last year, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama was barely known as a freshman senator, but since then, his rise has been meteoric, thanks in part to the public desire for a fresh face. Obama has emerged as Clinton's main competitor in the polls, billing himself as a new-generation leader and an African-American who has wide appeal. "Obama is saying, "I am not like these other folks,'" says McGinn, and Obama advisers argue that the less he acts like a Washington politician, the better he will do.
"He hasn't been in national politics long enough to have acquired a brand, and his past doesn't hem him in," says a Democratic strategist not working for any campaign. "He has campaigned on character and charisma. ... What people are uncertain of is if he has the knowledge to make decisions day after day as president. And he's never run anything other than his Senate office."
John Edwards. In 2004, John Edwards was a sunny optimist who rarely attacked his opponents. As a presidential candidate, he called for reducing the disparities between rich and poor. But he lost the nomination and became John Kerry's vice presidential running mate, requiring him to take a back seat in every way. Now, after two years out of elective office, the former North Carolina senator says he has a better understanding of what the country wants, and he is running from the left, as a strong anti-Iraq war Democrat who advocates "transformational change."
"He's changed the most of anyone in the Democratic field," says a senior party strategist. "On the positive side, here's the guy who had time to think and figure out how to address the issues, but on the negative side, here's the guy who decided he had to get to where the party wants its candidates to be for 2008."
More broadly, the political recalibrations really have just begun. When candidates win their parties' nominations, they tend to rebrand themselves yet again, moving toward the center to capture as many voters as possible in the general election. "We'll need a wiring diagram," says Baker, "to figure out where they are."