When I first saw these rankings of the 2008 contenders, I thought maybe ABC should just have titled the report "Netroots: You Are Irrelevant." But perhaps that's unfair. After all, they do include as part of their rankings a "Netroots" score, even if it isn't weighted very heavily. And in all honesty, this isn't a completely terrible ranking, even if it is quite early for rankings. They're broken down by a number of criteria -- the aforementioned "Netroots,""Polling / Name ID,""Money Potential,""New Hampshire," and so on. They point to the fact that their ranking of the 2004 contenders at this same point in 2002 found the number one and two spots going to John Kerry and John Edwards, respectively. Not bad, but I'm still not convinced. After all, in mid-2002, Kerry and Edwards had been knocked down by Gore and Gephardt, and Gray Davis came in at number nine. A lot can happen in two years.
On the GOP side, the top five, in order, are John McCain, George Allen, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and Mike Huckabee. For the Democrats, it's Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Mark Warner, John Kerry, and Tom Vilsack. Though they do offer some explanation of their methodology, it seems there's a lot of boilerplate conventional wisdom in here. Is Vilsack really in the top five for the Democrats? Does he really outrank Bill Richardson and Wes Clark? Personally, I doubt it. And among the Republicans, I can't buy Rudy Giuliani at number four. Now, maybe that works. But in two years, with his social life the talk of the GOP primary circuit, not so much.
So those are my issues with the overall rankings. What do I think of their more specific charts? Honestly, I don't feel well-equipped enough to dissect every list here. "Polling / Name ID?" That's a matter of hard numbers, hard to argue, unless you're going to talk about their relevance this early in the game. "Fire in the Belly?" Well... okay. Here's how they describe the category:
Fire in the Belly: How badly does the candidate want it? How hard is he/she willing to work? Will he/she do "what it takes" to win, including shedding or at least temporarily freeing himself/herself from other responsibilities and distractions? Are they ready to ask strangers for $4,200 contributions and sleep in bad hotels away from the family night after night?
On our side, the winner in this category is Mark Warner, with Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Bill Richardson tying for second place. What, no John Kerry? This strikes me as too nebulous a characteristic to rank accurately, but in terms of gut instinct, I'd say again, it's not terrible. I do disagree with putting Russ Feingold in the middle of a four-way tie with Tom Vilsack, Evan Bayh, and Wes Clark for seventh place, however. If "fire in the belly" is defined by willingness to twist one's self like a pretzel to placate every constituency, Feingold is certainly not the winner. But if it's defined by willingness to put one's self out in public as a strong advocate for his or her beliefs, then Feingold is massively underestimated here. Point being, once again, I think this is too vague to be considered serious criteria.
And finally -- for the purposes of this post, anyway -- the "Netroots" ranking. ABC figures that Russ Feingold is in solid first place in the Democratic blogosphere, with Wes Clark in second. Obviously, they've been paying attention to the straw polls. However, they put Kerry in third here, and I'm going to have to disagree. Kerry's certainly been courting the netroots vigorously, but does that really earn him the number three spot? I still sense a lot of skepticism of Kerry after 2004, here and at other sites. And Kerry also tied Mark Warner in third, which I don't agree with. By all means, Warner has earned the spot by both reaching out to the netroots and taking advantage of people like Jerome and Nate. But other than his e-mail list and posting diaries, Kerry hasn't come close to matching that effort.
At the end of the day, rankings like this serve to define the conventional wisdom as much as codify it. Of course, the media's already defined Hillary Clinton and John McCain as the front-runners, so ABC isn't really doing them any favors here. However, I can't help but feeling there's a not-so-subtle message in here directed at candidates like Russ Feingold and Chuck Hagel, that they really shouldn't bother, and neither should their supporters. But I don't really like taking my marching orders from the vaunted "Gang of 500," and I'm fairly certain I'm not alone in that.