by Jonathan Singer, Sun Sep 10, 2006 at 11:38:22 AM EDT
In today's issue of the Los Angeles Times, Ron Brownstein takes a look at the current political climate and surmises that the path to victory in 2008 will be bipartisanship and independence.
As campaign 2006 heats up, the first important new theme of the 2008 presidential election may be emerging.
From Washington state to Maryland, candidates in both parties are running against the relentless partisan conflict that now defines life in the nation's capital. In an era when party-line voting in Congress has reached the highest level, by some measures, since the 1890s, a growing number of office-seekers are pledging to operate as an independent voice and a bridge between the parties if voters give them a ticket to Capitol Hill. In the process, they are honing arguments likely to be common in the race to succeed President Bush.
For evidence supporting his conclusion, Brownstein cites as examples Republican Senate candidates Jim Talent of Missouri, Mark Kennedy of Minnesota, Michael Steele in Maryland and Mike McGavick in Washington. Brownstein acknowledges that their rhetoric does not match their record -- Talent and Kennedy have extremely partisan voting records (which Brownstein mentions) and Steele and McGavick are closet conservatives (which Brownstein doesn't) -- but writes this off by noting that a number of Democratic Senate hopefuls (Jim Pederson in Arizona and Bob Casey in Pennsylvania) as well as Joe Lieberman are also running more bipartisan campaigns.
[T]he candidates pledging more cooperation are tapping into what polls show is public exhaustion with the bruising collisions between the parties that dominated most of President Clinton's term and have consumed almost every day of Bush's presidency.
Whatever happens to McGavick and the others, they are blazing trails presidential contenders from both parties are likely to follow. These '06 campaigns are an early signal that in '08, many Americans may want a president who, as someone once put it, will govern as a "uniter, not a divider.
This seems like an awfully large stretch to me. A handful of candidates, many of whom have a long track record of extreme partisanship, profess their independence and voila, that's going to be the ticket to success in two years? Now perhaps a hardline ideologue who claims to be independent -- a la John McCain, for instance, or George W. Bush in 2000 -- will be able to win his party's nomination (and maybe even the White House) in 2008, but there is no way that a true non-partisan will get anywhere close to winning the general election, let alone the primaries.
Think back to the 2004 Democratic primaries. Joe Lieberman, who at one point was viewed as the heir apparent to the Clinton-Gore lineage and thus on the inside track to the party's nomination, came in a distant fifth in the supposedly deliberative New Hampshire primary. Or look to 1996. Not long after the federal government was shut down, pro-choice "moderate" Arlen Specter made a bid for the Republican presidential nomination. His candidacy failed to get off the ground entirely. I could name you more supposedly moderate and independent candidates who failed to connect with their parties, even in times of extreme partisanship, but I don't think it's worth the space.
Every four years we hear the same Beltway crowd clamoring for presidential candidates above the partisan fray. But until I see any indication that voters are interested in candidates who are actually independent of the normal ideological and partisan template rather than candidates who just claim to be so, I think it's best to just disregard these pundits.