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Circling the White House

By Charlie Cook
Sunday, May 7, 2006

Republicans

John McCain : Solidifying his front-runner status despite mistrust of him in conservative and GOP establishment circles. The worse President Bush does, the more desperate Republicans become, and the more likely they will turn to their own "change" candidate. Plus, he keeps beating Hillary Clinton in polls. Is the train pulling out of the station?

Rudy Giuliani : Great mayor, great orator, great leader on 9/11. But a pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-gay rights candidate won't win this GOP's nomination. Probably won't even run.

Newt Gingrich : Counted out in Washington, gets rave reviews outside the Beltway on the Lincoln Day circuit. Fresh ideas, big themes, untainted by current mess in Congress, underrated candidate but still a long shot for the nomination.

Bill Frist : Has the national platform and exposure to launch a strong campaign, but lacks the communication skills and political instincts to capitalize on it. Going nowhere.

Mitt Romney : Probably the brightest and most talented candidate in the GOP field, boosted by recent passage of universal health care in Massachusetts. Mormon faith could be an asset in that it offers a network of potential supporters and donors, and a liability in that some conservative religious leaders either don't consider Mormons "true Christians," or regard the fastest-growing religion in small-town America as a threat.

George Allen : Despite lack of national recognition, is an early co-front-runner for the GOP nomination among party insiders. But is this Reagan/Bush 43 hybrid hurt by being too much like the current president? Is he too much of a status-quo candidate who might not stand up as well against Hillary as McCain?

George Pataki : Has never impressed many Republicans west of the Hudson. Smart but an ineffective communicator, and hard-pressed to adjust his centrist record rightward. Extremely unlikely to be nominated.

Mike Huckabee : Effective speaker, good crossover appeal, has a conservative and values-oriented base and background (he's a Baptist minister). But can he build off the dieting schtick and can he raise money?

Chuck Hagel : Impressive, an independent like McCain though more skeptical on Iraq -- but is there room for two mavericks in the same primary? Definitely a real comer in the party. May not run this time but is worth watching for the future.

Sam Brownback : The moral-values candidate, in the tradition of Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes. Conservative support could give the Kansas senator longevity in a crowded field.

Tom Tancredo : Grenade-thrower on immigration control, a one-trick pony, but could create awkward moments for more viable rivals in debates.

Democrats

Hillary Clinton : 100 percent of Democrats know her, 100 percent have an opinion of her, 80 percent like her, but just 33 to 44 percent support her for the party's nod. If she can convince them that she can win the general, she will be the nominee. But nearly half of Democrats worry that she can't win in November 2008.

John Kerry : Trying to correct some negatives from 2004, such as sharpening his stance on Iraq. But despite his close 2004 finish, the attitude in the party is: "Been there, done that, got the T-shirt."

Al Gore : See "John Kerry." Appetite for an anti-Iraq-war candidate could draw him into the race, but not likely.

John Edwards : May be the most skilled candidate in the field, but still faces the "inexperienced" tag that plagued him in 2004. Can talented candidates with thin national security résumés win in a post-9/11 environment?

Joe Biden : Great speaker, though long-winded. Has the most policy experience in the field, and has gone from young Turk to party statesman in three decades. Does he have the discipline to make it happen this time?

Mark Warner : Southern governors have done well in Democratic primaries. Has won in a red state, is moderate and electable, but has even greater national security shortcomings than Edwards.

Bill Richardson : Great résumé and Hispanic appeal, but is he focused enough to go the distance? May well not run.

Russ Feingold : Running as the Howard Dean of 2008: against the Iraq war and against the Establishment. Already courting the party netroots, is the purest liberal in the field -- but is there enough room on Hillary's left?

Evan Bayh : Unexciting but very dependable and electable. If Democrats are feeling pragmatic, the Indiana senator will have a great shot.

Wesley Clark : Banking on national security. Will be more experienced as a campaigner and politician this go around. A long shot, maybe more in the running-mate mix.

Tom Vilsack : Great life story -- orphan to Iowa governor, classic middle America candidate -- but can he excite the base?

ccook@nationaljournal.com

Charlie Cook is publisher of the Cook Political Report and a political analyst for National Journal and NBC News.

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