frank_talk (2007-08)

Primary Paradoxes

Presidential candidates refuse to fit comfortable story lines

by Frank Cagle

The national political pundits are going to have a difficult time in the coming year in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election. Conventional wisdom, prejudice and political correctness will be tested. The story lines just won't stay in the expected grooves.

Of three major Republican contenders for president--John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich--they have eight wives or ex-es between them. If the public record is to be believed, they have all committed adultery. As Kate O'Beirne has observed, the only serious contender who only has one wife is the Mormon (Mitt Romney).

How does this play with the meme that the Republicans are theocrats ruled by the Christian Right and the only qualification for the presidency is being against abortion and gay rights?

Thus far the pundits have explained that the rubes out here in conservative land just haven't found out about Giuliani's record, and when we do his candidacy will be over. He just can't win Republican primaries. You see, Red State America doesn't really have access to the major newspapers, the internet or the cable chat shows that discuss Rudy's problems with conservatives ad nauseum. Meanwhile, Giuliani continues to lead in current polls of Republican candidates.

The pundits cannot comprehend that while conservatives may think abortion and family values are important they consider the defense of the country and the safety or our families to be an overriding concern. They might be surprised how many of us love New York City and were sad to see it degenerate into a crime-ridden welfare state. Giuliani came in and cleaned it up. He demonstrated an executive branch competence that has been sadly lacking for two terms in the White House. Giuliani has demonstrated in dramatic fashion that he can respond to a terrorist attack as he became America's mayor in the wake of 9/11.

In any number of conservative Republican forums for the last six years Giuliani has been met with enthusiastic crowds. Whether fund-raising for Republican candidates or addressing business groups or promoting a book, he has the drawing power of a rock star. This includes Tennessee and any number of other Red States. (Obviously these crowds are people that don't have cable or a subscription to The New York Times .)

Many conservatives disgusted by President Bush and his inept administration held their noses and voted for him in 2006 because they could not turn the security of this country over to John Freaking Kerry.

Conservatives hate McCain, from amnesty for illegal aliens to campaign finance reform to whoring after the "liberal" media. Conservatives aren't going to vote for Romney, not because he's a Mormon but because he could get elected in Massachusetts. The rest lack a resume.

If California moves its primary to early February, then Rudy is a lock.

The Democratic primary has John Edwards running a populist marathon through traditional Democratic Party interest groups, and he polls well in Iowa. The pundits are fixated on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Lip service is given to the idea America isn't ready to vote for a woman or an African American to be president, but they get treated as the frontrunners all the same.

I endorsed Congressman Harold Ford Jr. in the recent Tennessee Senate race and hoped he would win. But did we think he would? He came closer than anyone thought he might. But I have been disgusted with the commentary about how the rednecks down in Tennessee just wouldn't vote for a black man. Tennessee has elected exactly the same number of black senators as New York, California and Connecticut.

In this primary season we will find out if all the male chauvinist rednecks are in Tennessee, or whether there may be a few in other states as well.

It could be the move to make California an early primary decider is in order to give Clinton a leg up. Her superior name recognition and money advantage might enable her to lock up a huge block of delegates and make her inevitable. This after Edwards has spent years positioning himself in Iowa and New Hampshire. Should Clinton stumble in Iowa or New Hampshire Democrats might want to look elsewhere, discovering that America is not ready for another Clinton. This could open the door for Edwards or Obama, or dark horse candidate Gov. Bill Richardson. Clinton's greatest strength is her air of inevitability.

Democrats run a risk. They may spend the primaries nominating the candidate who can out anti-war the other guys. But they should remember they may have to run a general election campaign against Giuliani--a moderate on social issues who also has a reputation as a tough crime fighter and a credible leader to fight the war on terror.

Iraq may be a mess, but the dangers of terrorism remain. Democrats should not get so fixated on Iraq that they forget that. They do so at their peril.

Frank Cagle is a political analyst and the editor of Knoxville Magazine . You can reach him at .