Democratic presidential candidates appeared together twice this week, first on Tuesday at a forum in Chicago hosted by the AFL-CIO and MSNBC then last night at forum in Hollywood hosted by Human Rights Campaign and the LOGO network. At the first, the goal was to promise organized labor the most goodies. Perhaps the most striking bit of pandering came with Hillary Clinton’s craven retreat from her husband’s successful trade policies, declaring that “NAFTA and the way it’s been implemented has hurt a lot of American workers” and touting her opposition to CAFTA.
At the second forum, the goal (at least for the non-fringe candidates) was to be as gay-friendly as possible without actually endorsing gay marriage. Bill Richardson was the most transparent: “The country isn’t there yet,” Richardson said of gay marriage. “Civil unions with full marriage rights is achievable.” In other words: Of course I’m for gay marriage, but I feel politically compelled to lie about it.
The Republicans don’t have nearly so many debates that focus on constituencies as narrow as union members or gays, partially because their coalition is structured differently, with the emphasis more on ideology than on demographics. It would be entertaining, though, to see the candidates face (for example) a libertarian group to debate economic issues and answer questions about which federal agencies they’d eliminate. I suspect you’d here some variations on “the country isn’t there yet” at that one, too.
Tomorrow is the Republican straw poll in Ames, Iowa. The straw poll is a measure of organizational strength, with campaigns’ ability to get their supporters to the event seen as a proxy for their ability to get their supporters to the caucuses. Rudy Giuliani and John McCain have opted not to spend resources on the poll (though they will be on the ballot, as will undeclared candidate Fred Thompson), so Mitt Romney, as the only top-tier candidate actively participating, is a virtual shoo-in to win (were Romney to lose, it would be a devastating blow to his campaign). The contest for runner-up remains fierce, though, and for good reason: A primary function of the straw poll is to thin the herd.
Mike Huckabee and Sam Brownback are both hoping that strength in Ames will give their campaigns a fillip. Huckabee, with his anemic fundraising numbers, would be particularly imperiled by a disappointing showing. And Tommy Thompson has vowed that he will drop out of the race if he doesn’t place first or second. In other words, Tommy Thompson will drop out of the race — which is convenient, as we therefore won’t have to keep track of two Thompsons when Fred finally jumps.
The real Iowa race — the one that kicks off the race for the nomination — keeps getting closer, and not merely at a constant rate. This week South Carolina Republicans moved their primary to January 19th (it had been in early February) to maintain the state’s “first-in-the-South” status; Florida had moved its primary to January 29th. Under New Hampshire State law, the New Hampshire primary will now be no later than January 12th, and possibly earlier. This, in turn, will push the Iowa caucuses back, as Iowa is determined to maintain first-in-the-nation status. Some have suggested the Iowa caucuses could come as early as mid-December. Yes, that’s December of 2007.
If this trend continues into the next election cycle, the 2012 Iowa caucuses may already have happened.
John Tabin is a columnist for Brainwash.