As I have been suggesting for some months, President Obama may be the first incumbent in the past century not renominated by his own party. His popularity has fallen steadily, spurred on by his radical political agenda and the lavish style of his incumbency in the White House, i.e., his frequent and expensive vacations and travel, including the seemingly wasteful travel of his wife while the nation undergoes economic downturn, and most Americans have to tighten their belts. His policies and those of his party (which controls both houses of Congress by large margins) are often opposed by most voters, and his conduct of foreign policy has been replete with failures, misunderstandings of international politics, and outright fawning to world leaders who are self-declared as our enemies. Most egregious perhaps, is his unwillingness to adapt or change.
Of course, it is a relatively long time until the primary season in early 2012, but the possibility is now credible enough that we might ask: If not Obama, who?
The most conventional answers are not very helpful. Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are so bound to Obama as top members of his inner circle that it is hard to imagine either of them, especially Biden, turning on their leader to run against him.
So who is qualified to be president in the Democratic Party, and not so tied to the administration, that they could lead an insurrection, capture the party nomination, and then be a serious opponent to the Republican nominee in 2012?
My first suggestion is someone who was my dark horse candidate in 2008, then governor and now U.S. senator Mark Warner (Virginia). Mr. Warner is a class act, who would have made voters notice him in 2008, and if he had the political courage in 2011-12, could make some political history. Mr. Warner comes out of the moderate-yet-liberal Bill Clinton school of Democratic politics, not the leftist Jimmy Carter-Al Gore-Barack Obama school. He has an impressive record in elective office, as an executive and a legislator, and a career as a successful businessman, behind him. (Could you imagine a Warner-Romney race?)
Senator Evan Bayh (Indiana) remains a major figure in his party. (He was reportedly Hillary Clinton’s first choice for vice president in 2008). He has a national constituency of his own, and a record as a serious, independent and moderately liberal senator. He recently chose to retire from the senate, but is only 55 years old.
Other possibilities include U.S. senator Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota), a witty and hard-working moderate in her first term, and who has already established herself as one of the leading young figures in the senate. Her previous background was as a prosecutor running a large county attorney’s office. Governor Brian Schweitzer (Montana) has made alternative energy his issue, has lots of personality, and has populist appeal. Governor Bill Richardson (New Mexico) has been a congressman, ambassador and cabinet officer, and has already run for president. Senator Mark Udall (Colorado) was six-term congressman before going to the senate, and comes from one of the most distinguished American political families of recent years (his father and uncle were serious candidates for president; his brother is current U.S. senator from New Mexico).
While the Democratic bench is not as currently as heavy as the Republican bench (Gingrich, Romney, Daniels, Barbour, Pawlenty, Huckabee, Palin, Thune, Jindal, et al), this is also a factor of the Democratic leadership currently being dominated by Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. But there are potentially serious candidates, nor can Secretary of State Hillary Clinton be entirely ruled out in 2012 because of her large constituency from her 2008 presidential run, and from her name recognition as first lady (1993-2001).
I agree that my speculation is based on what now seems unlikely. After the mid-term elections, President Obama is almost certain to reverse field and change his agenda. The economy could recover by 2011-12, and international events and trade could turn our way.
On the other hand, for more than 30 years I have had a nose for unexpected turns and twists in presidential politics. Sometimes I have been plain wrong. Other times I was ahead of everyone else. But it is not playing on a ouija board or reading tea leaves. There are always real signals in the air, and I must say the political broadband these days is as full of traffic as I can remember.