Grading the Democratic Presidental Hopefuls

Via Kos, we get the list below of would-be Democratic Presidential candidates — those serious enough to have formed a PAC or some sort of committee to serve as a proto-campaign. To which I have taken the liberty of adding my totally subjective grades and random comments. My grades are an arbitrary amalgam of my agreement with policy positions, my utterly subjective assessment of the person’s character (in those cases where I have views), slightly modified by my view as to electability — which usually I don’t weigh heavily long before the primaries; electability gets made in substantial part by how you run for the nomination.

Of course, these grades are just for the earliest grading period. Plenty of time remains to rack up class participation and extra credit points! (Not to mention, lots of tests ahead in future marking periods.)

Bayh  C. It could have been much, much higher but for last week’s vote on the modified Graham amendment [added: by which I mean the “Bingaman Amendment”; by voting against it,] Bayh voted in favor of removing meaningful access to courts for Guantanamo detainees. Not a profile in courage. While this is fresh in memory, I can’t go above a C, and even that…

Biden  F. He must be joking. (Earlier post: Biden His Time)

Clark  A-. On the whole, I like him on the issues. He ran a lousy ground campaign last time, with lots of amateur campaigning mistakes. But has shown a very impressive ability to learn from his mistakes, and is doing almost everything right this time around. (I was especially impressed by this account of Clark campaigning in the South.) And Clark is in a better position than most of the candidates on the Iraq issue. As one of the outside-the-beltway candidates has as good a chance as anyone to become the “ABC” (Anyone But Clinton) candidate.

H. Clinton  C+. I like her, mostly, as a Senator. I don’t like her as a Presidential candidate, both because she polarizes unhelpfully and because I just have my doubts about her.

I do know many people who love the Hillary machine, love the idea of a woman President, love the size of the money pile being piled up, or love the idea of getting Bill Clinton near the Oval Office. It may be unfair, but I still remember Senator Clinton as the person who trusted Ira Magaziner in the health care debacle. This tends to show the sort of poor judgment of people that we can’t afford in a President (although, to be fair, Ira bamboozled a lot of smart people…). Sen. Clinton remains a supporter of the Iraq war, and has generally decided to present a hawkish persona. She gets points for running a smart campaign in NY state and for being a good constituency Senator. She loses points for hanging with all the same tired Democratic establishment figures and for not supporting Howard Dean but instead trying to find someone, anyone, to prevent him from becoming the head of the Democratic Party; not only was Dean perfect for the job, but it meant that he wouldn’t be running for President, which I think was on balance a good thing.

Likely to be one of the leading candidates in the primaries, barring some weird cratering. Right now that seems unfortunate. (Perhaps something will come along to change my mind?)

Edwards  A-. Edwards ran a great campaign in the primaries, and has been through the cauldron of a general election. I’ve never met him, but everyone I know who has was between impressed and awed. And his wife sounds even better. He ran a good campaign in 2004, he says most of the right things (I could stand a bit more free trade). Two minuses: paucity of government experience, and currently out of the loop. One big recent plus: this op-ed. Tactically, Edwards faces a problem of being squeezed on all sides: by Kerry, holding some of the old gang; by Clark and Warner, trying for the ABC crown; and by Feingold on the left (although that might help keep Edwards from being defined as ‘too’ left wing).

Feingold  B+. Seems like basically a good guy, but less electable than some others. Remains to be seen if his style will play nationally. (I also have some small policy differences…) If he doesn’t catch fire, he might be a good veep for an outside-the-beltway conservative.

Kerry  D. He didn’t run such a great campaign in 2004 — was too cautious — although that might not be such a bad thing in a President. Ok, the grade is unfair, given that he should be President now, having gotten more votes than the other guy, [Swift Boat, mumble, mumble] but the fact is that the country is tired of him and I’m tired of all those droning emails he keeps sending me.

Richardson (currently staffing up for his 2006 reelection).  Incomplete. Right now seems like veep material at most.

Vilsack  C+. Who? (Just kidding. I think.) As Governor of Iowa can claim both outside-the-beltway status and also the pole position in the caucuses. Or maybe we can just concede them to him and get on to more serious primary contests? Vilsack is the Chair of the DLC, which I used to think was a great credential, but nowadays view with much greater suspicion given that organization’s fairly lousy track record in the Bush years.

Warner  B-. Warner obviously got a boost from the recent Democratic win in Virginia. Currently the hardest to grade because as governor, AFAIK, he has not had to take meaty positions on most national issues; the ones I’ve read are mostly platitudinous. Another strong contender, perhaps, for the ABC title if he defines himself better. A natural veep for lots of candidates.

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19 Responses to Grading the Democratic Presidental Hopefuls

  1. Sid Fish says:

    You say Kerry “[got] more votes than the other guy…” Are you confusing him with Al Gore? Kerry lost in the popular vote and in the electoral vote.

  2. michael says:

    Yes. I think it’s time to go to bed.

  3. schwa says:

    Some further reading on Richardson from Chuck Todd and a somewhat dated Slate profile.

    My biggest problem with Clark is that he’s been a national political figure for the better part of two years, he has a run for President under his belt, and yet I still have absolutely no idea why he wants the job. Edwards, Warner, and to some extent Hillary (“Just like Bill, but fuller-bodied and more flavoursome!”) and Kerry (“DO-OVER!”) have done a good job of laying out the broad contours of why we should care that they want to be President. Clark’s campaign last time can be summed up by his supporters’ frequent contention of how wonderful it would be to see him debating Bush about the military: resume-driven and almost completely contentless. God help us if we’re stupid enough to nominate another resume candidate.

  4. Lou says:

    What about Bob Kerrey? War hero. Acquitted himself nicely on the 9/11 Commission. He is certainly capable of speaking forcefully and bluntly when circumstances demand, and he has been away from the Washington fishbowl (mostly) for the last several years up there in Cooper Square. Additionally, he could put Nebraska in play. When’s the last time a Democrat did that?

  5. schwa says:

    I should also point out that there’s a major problem with Warner as a potential Veep pick: he’s tall like whoa. He’d tower over most potential ticketmates, to the point of making them look ridiculous.

  6. schwa says:

    Lou — Bob Kerrey’s been at the New School, not Cooper Square (wherever that is; did you mean Cooper Union?). His association with my delightfully idiosyncratic, very, very, very left-wing university alone is probably good enough to torpedo his chances. If that doesn’t, somebody will restart the debate over the ambiguous evidence that he may have been involved in a massacre in Vietnam and that will do for him whether it’s true or not. Plus, nobody in the institutional Democratic Party likes him. Plus, he ran in ’92 and saw his campaign tank not in the dignified John Edwards way but in the sad and pathetic Bob Graham way. Plus, the last non-incumbent Democrat to put Nebraska in play in a Presidential election was William Jennings Bryan, who would have been Pat Robertson’s best friend if he was alive today.

  7. hilzoy says:

    When Kerry announced last time I thought, oh dear God, no. Not him. Not the guy who was my senator for years and years, until I fled (OK, finished my Ph.D. and got a job elsewhere), about whom no one I know who has ever had anything to do with him or his staff has a good word to say, and who moreover has all the charisma and personality of a dishrag. NOT HIM. Like most sentient beings, he was better than Bush by miles, and I worked hard for him, but having managed to lose to Bush, I think he deserves an F.

    Clark, on the other hand, is my guy. Little-known fact: when asked who his favorite philosopher was, he replied ‘David Hume’. You have to love a guy who knows who David Hume is. More importantly, besides being way smart and really, really good on the Constitution, he’s the best positioned (imho) to make a really credible play for people who care about values and are patriotic, and worry that Democrats are not; and to do it not by pandering, but just by being his own sweet self. He got away with being one of the most liberal candidates last time without being tagged as liberal, I think for this reason.

  8. Lou says:

    For whatever reason, I thought the area in which the New School is located was in or near Cooper Square. If I was in error, I apologize, but, no, I did not mean Cooper Union. Incidentally, does the area where the New School is have a name?

  9. Lou says:

    hilzoy: If the junior senator from NY is in the race, won’t the same Clinton supporters who were pushing Clark last time as a viable alternative to Dean turn around and carve him up this time? Do you think he has matured enough as a candidate to: a.) weather those slings? or b.) flourish despite the wholesale defection of “talent” that will flock to HRC?

  10. Lou says:

    To all who have criticized John F. Kerry, I assent wholeheartedly. As a Massachusetts native, I have been beset by Kerry for my entire life, and voted grudingly for him twice for the Senate. In 1996, I had to vote for him because there was a moral calling to defuse Governor William Weld, and in 2002 he ran unopposed.

    With that said, I have never liked Kerry. Ever. I have a hard time coming to grips with someone who is so windy and recondite, yet whom I know has the depth of a birdbath. Obviously, anyone looks like a philospher king next to W., but whatever gravitas the Hamlet of Beacon Hill had last year was only relative.

  11. schwa says:

    Cooper Square does exist — it’s a stretch of 4th Avenue-cum-Bowery — but it’s to the southeast (New York southeast, which is to say compass south) of New School, which has most of its buildings on or a block or two west of 5th Avenue. There are some NYU buildings down by Cooper Square, though.

    As to a name for this area, you’d have to ask a native New Yorker. The only significant landmark close by is Union Square, a block to the east — but I’m not aware of anyone who describes the New School as being “by Union Square”.

  12. Seth Gordon says:

    I am inclined toward Clark because:

    (1) Just as Dubya made a big deal about being a “compassionate conservative”, a Democratic Presidential candidate will need to make an extra effort to be credible on defense issues with moderate voters.

    (2) Merely waving around a resume (Kerry) or joining the stampede to Iraq (Clinton, Biden) does not make you credible on defense.

    I just hope he hires a competent advertising team.

  13. Willie Buck Merle says:

    Go Wes
    Have a Happy Thanksgiving everybody

  14. Melinda says:

    Clark also has an academic background in economics. Very impressive guy.

    I supported Kerry last year because I thought we needed a competent bureaucrat simply to get government functioning properly again, but I think we now need a visionary. I’d be happy with either Edwards or Clark.

  15. apav says:

    That’s just about right. Clark and Edwards are my clear favorites. Clark in particular. He is the only candidate I’ve heard say anything like “liberal, secular democracy is America’s gift to the world” or close to that, EVER. He also understands economics, history and defense. He’s worked with NATO and knows something about working with, as opposed to bullying, allies. Border state guy too, FWIW.

    So the final analyis is CLARK, CLARK, CLARK! Will Hilary get out of the way? Would Edwards do the Veep trip again – if so, I hope somebody unleashes him this time.

  16. Michael:

    Gov. Richardson would ignite a firestorm among Asian-American and civil rights activists. He led the ouster and sparked the racist prosecution of Dr. Wen Ho Lee of Los Alamos.

  17. hilzoy says:

    There were Clinton people in Clark’s campaign, but there were also a lot of people who genuinely liked him, who wouldn’t go for her ever. (Me, for instance.) And if the supposed “talent” who helped him last time leave, I’m not sure how much of a loss that would be.

  18. my first choice would definitely be Clark, but I’d be happy to support Edwards as well — he’s very good on the campaign trail.

    But what about Al Gore?

    As for Hillary….she’s lieberman in drag, and she’s gonna crash and burn the same way ol’ Joementum did.

  19. Joe says:

    Clark/Edwards would be my pick for now.

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