Can a Democrat make it to the White House?

By By Ryan Seher

By Ryan Seher

OK, I have a little test for everyone. Take out a pen and a sheet of paper, and write down as many Democratic presidential candidates as you can. Are you drawing a blank? Well, you’re not alone. According to a recent CBS News poll, more than 60 percent of Americans cannot name any of the Democrats running for president either.

Believe it or not, the 2004 presidential election is only 13 months away. The Democrats have been on the campaign trail since the beginning of the year, talking with voters and spreading their message. Still, 65 percent of America has no idea who the candidates are. But they should.

Why? Because one of the Democrats will hopefully be the next president of the United States. Do any of them actually stand a chance against President Bush? A few months ago I would have answered that with a resounding no. Riding high on what looked like a swift victory in Iraq, Bush was deemed unbeatable, and his Democratic opponents were barely making a splash.

But there’s a different story being played out today. President Bush has become vulnerable. Because of the unprecedented job loss, concern about the economy and continued unrest in Iraq, many people are unhappy with the president. According to a Gallup poll released last week, President Bush’s approval rating has dropped to just 50 percent, the lowest level of his presidency. And, in the same poll, Bush either trailed or was tied with the top Democratic candidates in head-to head matchups.

Who are these candidates? Well, let me tell you.

Of the 10 Democrats running for president, four of them have a real chance of winning the nomination next spring. The man leading the way is former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. In recent months Dean, the most ardent anti-war candidate, has gone from a little known governor of a small New England state to the front-runner of the race. He has raised the most money and consistently leads the polls in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Coming in behind Dean are Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri. Kerry and Gephardt have also fared well in the early primary states, polling just behind Dean. Kerry had been the early favorite, but his campaign has lost momentum in the last month while Gephardt, with the help of several labor union endorsements, has seen his standing rise.

Rounding out the contenders is the newest entry into the race, retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, who announced his candidacy only a few weeks ago. Because of the media exposure surrounding his entry, Clark now leads all of the other candidates in nationwide polls. But, because this is his first run for public office, only time will tell if he can make the switch from military man to presidential candidate.

Following the lead contenders is a group I like to call the Second Slot candidates. These candidates, unless their campaigns kick into high gear soon, will be relegated to competing for the Vice Presidential slot on the Democratic ticket.

This group includes Sen. Joseph Liebermann of Connecticut, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and Sen. Bob Graham of Florida. All three of these men would fare well in the general election, but their campaigns have yet to gain any strength. Lieberman does well in national polls but is too conservative for the liberal leaning primary voters. Bob Graham, a four-term senator from Florida, is not well-known outside of his home state.

Edwards has all of the right qualities to be president, but because of the Dean and Clark juggernaut, he has not been able to make a lasting impression.

Any of the upper-tier candidates would have a good shot at defeating President Bush next November. The Rev. Al Sharpton, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Illinois Sen. Carol Mosley Braun, however, would not. These candidates have no chance at winning the nomination, but they do have a role to play-they bring with them specific issues that might not otherwise be addressed. Sharpton’s presence forces the candidates to discuss racial issues, while Mosley Braun brings women’s issues to the table and Kucinich-well, Kucinich is just there.

So, you heard it here first. No more staying up nights worrying about who is going to take on President Bush. If the right person steps up, we could very well see a Democrat in the White House in January 2005. And don’t worry, I’m not going to grade the test.

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