By Joe Trippi
Sunday, November 12, 2006

Wham! The 2006 midterm elections are over, and the modern conservative era has come to an end.

For the Democrats, a party so long on the outs, it feels good to be back in power. But we can't just revel in yesterday. Democrats have to start looking now to maximize our mandate for the 2008 presidential election.

Because what the voters have done is to kick open the door to a new era in American politics, and their hunger for a new direction didn't end last Tuesday. That's the problem for Arizona Sen. John McCain and what's left of the field vying for the GOP nomination. The Republican nominee will have a hard time trying to chart a new course for the nation while defending an unpopular lame-duck president and trying to breathe life into a conservative ideology that has run out of gas.

No, the real opportunity belongs to Democrats. The voters want change, and they will make it happen. I'm going to make one bold prediction about 2008: Thanks to changes in communications and technology, one of the candidates on my list will raise $500 million, almost all of it from ordinary citizens contributing less than $100 each. Don't believe it? Wait and see. It'll happen, and we'll witness the birth of a new progressive era that could last a generation or more.

So the party's presidential hopefuls won't be fighting just for the nomination, but for the historic chance to help launch that era. As they stand on the threshold of the presidential cycle, here's my assessment of the individual prospects of the many would-be presidents from a resurgent Democratic Party.

Front-runner: Hillary Rodham Clinton

She has it all -- the ability to raise the money; a political team that's among the best, if not the best, in the party; a strong base of support; and an uncanny ability to avoid political mistakes. And I don't care what anyone says -- her husband is one of two rock stars in the Democratic Party and a huge asset.

Ironically, the problem with Clinton's candidacy arises from her strength. Front-runners have something to lose, so they almost always run cautious, safe campaigns. This almost cost John Kerry the nomination in 2004, and could cost the senator from New York the nomination in 2008. Her strength also creates the certainty that a campaign of bold new ideas will emerge to oppose her. She is so strong within the party that, with so many contemplating a run against her, the only viable option for a serious challenger is to put forth innovative ideas in hopes of breaking out of the pack. And there are plenty in the Democratic Party who are capable of doing that.

The "Other" Rock Star: Barack Obama

He's the one candidate who can wrestle Bill Clinton for support in the black community and win. All the others are both thrilled about and terrified of this guy. They're thrilled that he might take black votes from Hillary. They're terrified because he might take a lot more votes from them and become a co-front-runner the day he enters the race, if he does. Obama's obvious downside is inexperience. Three years ago, he was an Illinois state senator; in 2008, he will not have completed his first U.S. Senate term. So he had better have some ideas -- or wait till next time.

The Oxygen Taker: Al Gore

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