I. VICTORY OUT WEST
If the Democrats are to seize control of the White House in 2008, they need to rally behind the party’s brightest star, New York Senator Hillary Clinton. If they again parade a spineless, lackluster nominee–a la Al Gore, Bill Bradley, John Kerry, Michael Dukakis, “Hollerin'” Howard Dean, et al. They can expect another election day version of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. If the Democrats are humbled again, they have nothing to look forward to in 2012, unless the Republican President-elect makes a Gerald Ford-like gaffe or two.
For the Democrats once-promising candidate Gavin Newsome is already out of the running. His endorsement of gay marriage left him with the maverick label and knocked him out of contention. (Is he (the new “Governor Moonbeam?”) The name of Bob Graham pops up every year, but he is as faceless as they come. Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards are two more young guns that might make a strong showing at future Democratic conventions. Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer has the same maverick label, but is seen as a fiscal conservative. Some mention the name of Obama Barack, but I don’t see that as a realistic option.
However, if a minority candidate from the Party is to make a strong push in the future, I’d bet on California Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante or New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. If Bustamante is elected Governor in 2006, or 2010, he will be catapulted onto the national stage, especially if he can solve the state’s fiscal woes. He is intelligent, well-liked and the high Latino populations of California, New York, Florida and Texas offer a substantial voter base.
Richardson will also hold sway with Latinos and Demo party bigwigs. If Hillary Clinton were to win the nomination and Richardson was her choice for Veep, they would create a formidable ticket.
Since the Dems have no southern strategy, their hopes lie out west. This is essential, since in 2004 George W. Bush won four states with Democratic Governors (New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and Arizona). These states, along with Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah and Nevada want to vote as a bloc. They form an aggregate of 53 electoral votes–almost as many as California’s 55–which is solidly Democratic. Add this 108-vote bloc to New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania–which have all gone Democratic in each election since 1992 (73 electoral votes total), and the Dems would be 2/3 of the way to the White House.
Whoever garners the nomination must sleep with two conflicting entities–labor and big business. Labor has been a long-time Demo stronghold. On the other hand, the presidency is financed and thus, partially owned by business conglomerates that will contribute the majority of the 450 million dollars needed to run a successful campaign. There are other factors to be considered: Gasoline prices, which will have a profound impact on inflation; unemployment and interest rate levels. The ost important factor may be whether or not our military is engaged in conflict with any number of countries–including North Korea, Iran, Iraq and in Southeast Asia–and to what extent.
II. CAN LATINO POWER RESUSCITATE THE DEMOCRATS?
If the Dems focus their strategy out west they would be wise to seek the ever-growing Hispanic vote. Not only are Bustamante and Richardson well-known, but Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has a rising popularity. The question will be whether or not he is seasoned enough. However, Bustamante and Richardson will be invaluable in selling the Dems platform in their heavily-Hispanic states, as will former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros.
Arizona’s population is 25 percent Hispanic. New Mexico’s is 42. California, Florida, Texas and New York also have sizable Latino populations. These six states account for 162 electoral votes, 60% of the total needed to win. The dramatic increase in the number of Latino citizens in the 1990s has created a powerful voting bloc that both Democrats and Republicans are wooing. Statistics show that between 1984 and 1996, the GOP’s share of the Hispanic vote in presidential elections dropped from 37 to 21 percent, while the voter registration for this group increased by nearly 30%.
Washington Post reporter Terry M. Neal writes, “The GOP has long been accused by critics on the left of seeking electoral advantage by using race as a subtext–on issues from welfare, busing, affirmative action, immigration and crime–to drive a wedge to court white voters.” Bush’s approval rate among black voters is 2%, which is why the GOP would be wise to woo this resource. Though blacks shun the Republican party, their votes have failed to put the last two Democratic candidates over the top. This is why the Dems must expand their base. Strangely, Black American Political Action Committee (BAMPAC) showed that Condoleezza Rice had an approval rating (41%) just over half of that of Jesse Jackson and Colin Powell. However, “Rice experienced the largest surge in name recognition and approval rating. Fifty-nine percent of the black registered voters polled recognized Rice’s name in 2002, compared with 38 percent last year; and her favorable rating rose to 41 percent this year from 17 percent in 2001.”
The ever-growing clout of Latinos is most evident in California, where they comprise about 30 percent of the population. This political weight has enabled Latinos to combat anti-immigration sentiment, including denial of social services to legal immigrants.
California’s Lieutenant Governor, Cruz M. Bustamante is expected to launch another Gubernatorial bid in 2006. Early polling shows him defeating current Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger 46-42% in a two-man race. Bustamante’s chances are improving as Schwarzenegger’s popularity is dwindling even among fellow Republicans. Furthermore, during the November elections four Schwarzenegger-backed ballot initiatives were defeated, making him vulnerable come June.
Bustamante sought the State’s top job during the 2003 recall vote of Gray Davis. State Democratic leaders had urged prominent party members not to run, hopeful it would increase Davis’s chances of holding onto the seat. Bustamante denounced the recall but ran anyway, losing by 1.3 million votes. Subsequently, many Dems considered him disloyal. Bustamante also alienated some blacks when he “accidentally” used the word “nigger” in a speech.
It is Richardson who has the more impressive credentials. He was nominated as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. In 1998, he was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Secretary of Energy. He was elected Governor of “The Land of Enchantment” in 2002. He has also negotiated with Saddam Hussein and the government of the Sudan to free prisoners and his work addressing human rights abuses earned him a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995, 1997, 2000 and 2001. He also assisted in the arms negotiations with North Korean delegates.
During Richardson’s fifteen years representing New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District, “He sponsored and passed a bill to retain and improve health care for rural New Mexicans as well as a bill to increase the amount of nurses in the state. He traveled to Missouri and convinced milk producers to open a dairy factory in eastern New Mexico, creating jobs and bringing economic development to the state.”
Richardson understands the power of the Hispanic voting bloc, saying “These are changing political times…We have to band together and that means Latinos in Florida, Cuban-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, South Americans – we have to network better. We have to be more politically minded, we have to put aside party and think of ourselves as Latinos, as Hispanics, more than we have in the past.”
Latinos are concerned about laws that would restrict immigration. Richardson however, has no clear position on the issue. He declared four counties along the New Mexico border as disaster areas and stepped up border patrols; at one time he called for an amnesty program; another time he was against building a fence along the border, calling it “easily porous.” In 2003 he signed a bill allowing illegal immigrants to obtain drivers’ licenses.
What Richardson does believe in is strong alliances between the U.S. and Mexico, saying, “Now is the time to increase our economic cooperation, our trade, our educational exchanges.” Further, Richardson is praised by New Mexico’s conservatives for cutting state taxes.
Cisneros, who is also the former Mayor of San Antonio has a scandal-ridden past (An affair, divorce and a convicted of making false statements to federal officials), but he still holds sway among Latinos. In Texas, such support will be crucial. (Cisneros guilty plea was negotiated and he received a $10,000 fine, but was later pardoned by President Clinton).
He believes that Latinos can make a difference in states representing 214 electoral votes adding, “We have just now begun to achieve critical mass with enough votes to make a difference,” Cisneros said. “We have within our reach the ability to influence the outcome.”
A non-Hispanic candidate the Dems may consider is fifty-year old Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. He is not quite through his first year in office, however, and has already sparked controversy by first choosing Republican State Senator John Bohlinger his running mate and by once suggesting the return of Montana National Guard troops from Iraq to help battle wildfires across the state.
Schweitzer is a rancher and holds an undergraduate degree in international agronomy from Colorado State University and a Master’s Degree in soil science from Montana State. He was also appointed by President Clinton to the United States Department of Agriculture. In 2000 he ran unsuccessfully for a U.S. Senate seat.
As a last resort the Democrats could always emulate George W. Bush and add a wizened member of the party to their ticket. In this case they could opt for Florida Senator Bob Graham. The 69-year old Graham is considered a moderate. Michael Grunwald of the Washington Post says of Graham, “The Almanac of American Politics had described him as ‘careful, methodical, thorough,hardworking, reliable’–it might as well have added ‘zzzzzzz’.” This means he won’t outshine the top of the ticket, expected to be Hillary Clinton. Plus, he hails from a state that has 27 electoral votes, which would be important if the GOP nominee is current Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
Michael Grunwald writes, “Graham differs from President Bush on several fronts. Graham supports tax cuts, but ones aimed more at low- and middle-income workers. But he is most effective at dismantling the Bush record when it comes to fighting terrorism. Graham says that the administration had Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda ‘on the ropes’ after Afghanistan but let them get away by focusing on going to war against Saddam Hussein…He is running for the nomination as a centrist.or, as he would say, from the ‘electable wing of the Democratic Party’.”
Health considers might hinder his chances as he has had open-heart surgery and would be nearly 70 when the campaign begins. Graham is convinced had he rather than Joe Lieberman been on the ticket in 2000, Gore would have won the Presidency.
III. THE COST OF A PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN
The next presidential election is a mere three years away, but candidates have made fund raising a non-stop affair. Before the last ballot from the 2004 election was counted, both political parties were gearing up for 2008, a campaign expected to cost between 450 and 500 million dollars. During the 2004 campaign President Bush and Senator Kerry raised $693,664,838. Each candidate also received 74.6 million in government funding for the general election.
Even the campaign “reform” laws fail to keep the Presidency out of the grasp of corporate America. These laws were enacted to prevent political parties from collecting money from corporations and unions. The parties were allowed to solicit donations from wealthy individuals (i.e., corporate CEOs and the lot), but such donations were capped. “527 groups”–a reference to a section of the aforementioned law–are allowed to raise unlimited amounts of money for advertising, usually in the form of attack ads. As in the case of John Kerry, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth launched successful ads against him during the 2004 Presidential campaign.
Congress should enact legislation that eliminates donations from so-called “Political Action Committees” and all but individual campaign contributions (with a cap). The government could issue each candidate 75 million dollars. Each would have to spend wisely, but more important the Presidency would no longer be for sale to corporations and the officeholder would no longer be tied to special interest money.
Astronomical financing costs keep third party candidates out of the loop, unless the ticket is headed by a billionaire who can finance his own campaign, or has a personality so outlandish that the mere announcement of “contemplating” a run nets them 19 points in the polls. (Read Trump, Donald). Even a third party ticket with well-known candidates (H. Ross Perot, Jesse Ventura, Ralph Nader, Pat Buchanan) stands little chance of raising enough money to be competitive, let alone get a significant number of votes. This means no hope for America First (Buchananites who split with the Reform Party), Green Party (Nader), Independence (Jesse “The Body” Ventura), Libertarians–with more than 400 elected officials nationwide–including members of school board committees, etc. (even dogcatcher, perhaps), Peace & Freedom, Reform Party (formerly Perot’s boys and temporarily commandeered by Bo Gritz) and the Socialist Party.
Unless Bill Gates bankrolls a celebrity-loaded ticket (such as Oprah and Warren Beatty) third party candidates won’t even garner much media attention. Personalities have won major elections before with nothing more than clever sound bites, most recently Arnold Schwarzenegger in California. (Some might argue this about Ronald Reagan in 1980, when he defeated a bumbling Jimmy Carter). This wiill leave the political limelight shining on the Democrats and GOP, which means we will see more of the personal attacks and distortions waged in every election since 1988, when George H.W. Bush slammed Michael Dukakis with the infamous “Willie Horton” ads.
While the Democrat strategy of working through the Internet has reaped rewards, it will take more than cyber-leeching and campaign spending to regain the White House. It will take a clear, coherent message from the center. The ticket will more than likely have star power at the top of the ticket, but it’s the Vice-presidential slot that will be key. The central issue will be “What does the number two man bring to the ticket?” But right behind that will be, “How much (cash) can he bring to the ticket?”
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