Will 2008 Be A Ho-Hum Election?

[ Posted Monday, October 15th, 2007 – 14:38 UTC ]

Conventional wisdom (or at least the self-proclaimed sages of political conventional wisdom, the Washington punditry) has been telling us that the 2008 presidential election is going to be The Most Important Election In Modern Times (if not actually In History), and that (of course) the electorate is More Polarized Than Ever -- which explains not only how incredibly early the contest started, but also the fierce battles for the primaries now being waged.

But what if this conventional wisdom turns out to be wrong? What if the 2008 election is a real snooze-fest, and voters are barely motivated to go to the polls?

Now, I'm not predicting this is going to be the case, but I found two things interesting in the past few weeks. The first is an fascinating essay here at Huffington Post by RJ Eskow. He writes of a danger to Hillary's campaign that I hadn't previously heard espoused: What if Hillary doesn't energize the Democratic base and her biggest problem is getting voters excited enough to go to the polls next November to elect her? What if the hard leftists, the anti-war types, and the unionists aren't all that impressed with Hillary as a nominee? While they may not vote for a Republican, they could indeed stay home in droves.

From the Republican primary race comes a very similar story of the Christian right threatening to vote for a third-party if the GOP nominates someone they deem not sufficiently attuned to their agenda (while they don't name him, they're talking about Rudy). This may turn out to be an empty threat from the Christian right base (unless Ron Paul runs as a Libertarian and they decide to throw their weight behind him); but even if they don't actually vote for a third-party candidate (or -- the horrors! -- a Democrat), they may also decide they have better things to do on election day than go down to the polls.

Also contradicting the convention wisdom, the primary campaigns on both sides have been unbelievably tame and boring. Can you name a single difference between any of the top four Republicans in the race, about how they'd go about tackling foreign policy, domestic policy, taxes... anything? Can you explain to me the difference between Clinton, Obama, and Edwards' stance on Iraq? Or health care? In one sentence? While there are differences between the frontrunners and the second tier, the frontrunner group in both parties have almost identical language (barring small differences) on the major policy issues of the day. Democrats, for the most part, are content enough with their field of candidates, but (tellingly) Republicans are talking in the same worried tones about the same worried subject that was on the lips of all Democrats last time around -- "electability." They're getting on board with Giuliani because he'd be the "best chance" to beat Hillary, not because they're particularly enthusiastic about Rudy.

So while national polls are not how the nomination process actually works, poll-watchers are beginning to talk openly of a Clinton-versus-Giuliani race for president next year. I'm not saying it's inevitable, but you've got to admit it's certainly within the bounds of possibility. Both Clinton and Giuliani have topped the nationwide polls by a fairly comfortable margin for a fairly long time now. While this doesn't guarantee success, it does show that both their respective campaigns have enjoyed a large degree of success at courting voters up until now. While many other matchups exist for the 2008 general election, Clinton v. Giuliani is the strongest possibility so far.

So could it become a race for who depresses the vote the least? There's already a large group of "the base" from both parties actively dissatisfied with both Clinton and Giuliani.

Hillary's problem is with the anti-war crowd and from the anti-DLC crowd in the Democratic Party. Voters put off by the Clinton mantra of "triangulation" and voters upset that Hillary seems to be hedging her bets on the war (and almost every other issue she addresses) may decide they simply can't vote for her. They will be torn between feelings that ANYone would be better than another Republican, and feelings that they didn't get as strong a progressive candidate as they were hoping for, so why bother?

Rudy's problem is with the churchgoing set. He's had several divorces (the last one quite public and messy), he's on his third wife, and his children barely speak to him. Not exactly "pro-family" -- but if that were his only problem, the religious right might still be OK with Rudy (Saint Ronald of Reagan, remember, was the first divorced president ever). Unfortunately, there's all that history of Rudy supporting gay rights (he lived with a gay couple while having aforementioned messy divorce problems, while he was still mayor), gun control laws, and abortion rights. This is the Republican Christian Conservative trifecta of God, guns, and gays -- and Rudy scores zero-for-three. This may be too much for the religious base of the GOP, and will cause the same anguish Democratic voters may be feeling with Hillary: ANYone would be better than Hillary (shudder) Clinton; but he's not even a real conservative... he's barely a Republican, so how can I vote for him?

The conventional wisdom in any presidential election is that the candidates preach to their base during the primary season, and then once they've locked up the nomination, they tack back to the middle and court the undecideds and people who don't pay much attention to politics, since that's where the race is won or lost.

This election cycle, though, Hillary seems to be running as a centrist already in the Democratic nomination race. Rudy is less obvious about his centrism, but he hasn't completely flip-flopped on every issue in a bid to win the nomination (as Romney has so obviously done) -- he still admits that his record in New York City is what it is. He speaks in coded language about judicial appointments in the hope of convincing the anti-abortion wing of the party that he would continue the tradition of packing the Supreme Court with staunch right-wingers, but they may not be completely convinced of his sincerity. When you add in his marital problems, it may mean an extremely light turnout in the areas where "family values" (as defined by the GOP) reign.

If this scenario actually comes to be, I have no idea who would win such a contest, although I'd probably bet on Hillary to pull it off. But what if today's conventional wisdom turns out to be wrong? Wouldn't it be strange if both nominees' biggest problem turns out to be energizing their base? After years of talk of "how polarized and divided" each election has become? What if all the partisans stay home, and the election is completely decided by the big squishy group in the middle of the American electorate?


[Technical note: I refuse to use the term "CW" for "Conventional Wisdom" as some are wont to do. For me, personally, "CW" means something else entirely. Sorry about that.]


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


20 Comments on “Will 2008 Be A Ho-Hum Election?”

  1. [1] 
    Michael Gass wrote:


    The last poll I saw cited said that 41% of those polled WOULDN'T vote for Hillary. Does that mean 59% will? Hardly. Look at any poll where there are numerous choices and you see that 43% can be the high with 30's running second and third. Even IF Hillary wins the nomination in the primary, how many voters WON'T vote because that means it'll be Hillary or the GOP.

    I wouldn't say it will be "ho-hum". The GOP is providing great popcorn time for the citizenry as it self-destructs (though, their candidates are worse than ho-hum). The Democrats have, actually, a so-so class. None of the candidates have outstanding credentials.

  2. [2] 
    fstanley wrote:


    I thought that the conventional wisdow would suggest that low voter turnout gave the advantage to the hard core base that will always vote for their party ticket no matter what. And that means that more GOP voters will go to the polls than Dems.


  3. [3] 
    loslobo wrote:

    I read this on Huff and decided it was best to reply here. How could one not be involed in this election? I admit I was not truly enlightened about all this administration has done in 2006. I ask you Chris do you believe that Bush/Cheney was behind 9/11? I can't understand all the denial. Is this self preservation or ignorance? Being a journalist I would hold you and others to a higher standard, how can you not be SCREAMING IMPEACH THESE BASTARDS all day, every day?

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    Hillary Clinton as the Dem nominee will virtually guarantee a GOP victory in the White House.. Hillary is simply NOT electable...

    Like fstanley said, many more GOP will mobilize to vote AGAINST Hillary than Dems would mobilize to vote AGAINST the GOP candidate. Especially if that GOP Candidate is Guiliani..

    I can see MANY of the conservative Democrat voters actually showing up to also vote AGAINST Hillary...

    I'll say it again.. If Hillary is the Dem Candidate you can be assured that, come 2009, there WILL be a Republican president in the White House..


  5. [5] 
    spermwhale wrote:

    The far right Republican Idiot-Whacko Machine continues to play their mantra touting their primary support for Hillary. Their tired logic still continues to insist that their candidate Giuliani sic, will thoroughly beat Hillary in the general election if for no other reason then electorate apathy toward Hillary.

    The top polls are already dispelling fears that Hillary, even based on personality issues will polarize the voters thus handing presumably Giuliani a landslide win.

    I personally predict that such continued right wing propaganda will come back to bite the right at the polls.

  6. [6] 
    CDub wrote:

    In order for anti-Hillary apathy to translate into a Republican win, the GOP will have to put up someone
    (A) Better than Hillary or
    (B) No worse than Hillary.

    Can you think of any Gop candidates that can fill those shoes? Now that you've got a name in mind, what's the possibility that they'll win the primary?

    I think the anti-Hillary crowd will be overwhelmed by the anti-stick-in-the-mud crowd ... unless the Gop primaries dump the anti-science-front-runners in favor of someone with something to say.

  7. [7] 
    Michale wrote:

    So, we have CDub and Spermwhale on record as saying that, if Hillary is the Dem candidate, she will win the general election..

    Time will tell who is right and who is wrong...


  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:

    It's actually quite comical to hear ya'all castigate Bush and the GOP for the surveillance issue (which was fully authorized by Congress) yet turn around and jump into bed with Hillary, who listened in on private phone conversations of political rivals..

    Can you say HYPOCRITE???


  9. [9] 
    CDub wrote:

    Michale wrote:
    Can you say HYPOCRITE???


    I've got no trouble with that:

    HYPOCRITE Michale…..

    As for your election predictions, didn't you predict that the Gop would hold the congressional majority after the 2006 elections ... Yes.

    Your prediction for 2008 is worthy of note, but I'm confident that ANY democratic candidate will beat the creationist crowd that the Gop is banking on.

    And I was right in 2006 ... let's see if I can get 2 for 2 over you.

  10. [10] 
    Michale wrote:


    >HYPOCRITE Michale…..

    Please point to ANY position or statement I have made that is hypocritical..

    You can't because it just ain't so..

    However, I can point to MANY statements of yours that are hypocritical.

    For example, I see you neglected to comment on the fact that Hillary listened in on private cell phone calls of her political opponents...

    Seems kind of hypocritical of you.. Especially in light of how you castigate Bush for the surveillance programs that your Democrats overwhelmingly approved....

    As far as your prediction, that's fine.. You are on record as saying that Hillary can win the Presidency..

    As I said above, time will tell who is right and who is wrong..

    Unless, of course, you will waffle your "prediction" in the coming weeks and months...


  11. [11] 
    CDub wrote:

    Not only could Hillary win, Kucinich, or the Jack-in the Box clown could beat the entire Gop crowd hands down.

    As for proving your hypocrisy (torture), that's hardly necessary. All I have to do is inspire you to keep opening your mouth. This will prove to those with open minds where you're coming from. As for you closed minded types, Exxon has an environmental policy that you'll find fascinating.

  12. [12] 
    Michale wrote:

    >As for proving your hypocrisy (torture),
    >that's hardly necessary.

    The word you are looking for is not "necessary". The word you are looking for is "possible".

    As in, it's hardly POSSIBLE that you can show any hypocrisy on my part, because there hasn't been..

    This seems to be your MO.. You make grandiose and BS statements and then fail to provide ANY supportive documentation..

    And, for the record, you did not say "Hillary COULD win"... You stated that Hillary WILL win..

    Now, of course, if you want to waffle on or retract your claim, feel free... It will simply be more proof that you are afraid to stake a definite position on anything...

    Much like Hillary Clinton herself...


  13. [13] 
    CDub wrote:

    Michale wrote:

    And, for the record, you did not say "Hillary COULD win"… You stated that Hillary WILL win..

    And for the record, just where in your imagination did I ever say that?

  14. [14] 
    Mjolnir wrote:

    The problem with Hilary is that she represents a great deal of what is wrong the Democratic party, and that Rudy represents a great deal about what is good about the Republicans. It makes it tougher choice for many. What I think about most on Election day these past few elections is the Supreme Court, and Im not sure that Rudy's picks would be as far right as people would want. We seemingly cant trust either the executive or the legistave branch to do the right thing anymore, I have to hope the judges in the country, if given a chance, eventually will get it right.

  15. [15] 
    CDub wrote:



    It's good to have voices from the right that aren't on the attack.

    I have a couple of questions for you, you say, "The problem with Hilary is that she represents a great deal of what is wrong the Democratic party, and that Rudy represents a great deal about what is good about the Republicans.".

    I'm interested, what is the great deal that is wrong with the Democratic party, and what is the great deal that is right with the Republican party?


  16. [16] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Mjolnir -

    If I understand what you're saying, Hillary represents the corporate-DLC-willing-to-compromise wing of the Democrats, and Rudy represents Republicans who have actually lived in a big city and are socially moderate. But then I could be wrong about that.

    In any case, I wanted to thank you for your comment, and invite you to comment on today's article (Wed.) as your comment here largely inspired me to write further about the potential Rudy-v-Hillary race. So I'd be interested to hear your take on my followup.

    In any case, thanks for commenting.


  17. [17] 
    Michale wrote:

    >It's good to have voices from the right
    >that aren't on the attack.

    Ouch... And the ref takes a point away!! :D

    However, I am constrained to point out that what you perceive as "always on the attack" is nothing more than "The Best Defense"... :D

    As in, "The Best Defense Is A Strong Offense".... :D


  18. [18] 
    Michale wrote:


    >And for the record, just where in
    >your imagination did I ever say that?

    OK, fair enough..

    If I misunderstood your position, then feel free to clarify...

    Are you saying that Hillary WILL win the General Election, assuming she makes it in the Primaries??

    Or are you simply waffling and saying that Hillary COULD win the General Election, if she makes it in the primaries??

    Why are you always so afraid to go on record..

    You appear to not only NOT have the strength of your convictions, you appear to not have ANY convictions at all...

    I find that very sad and feel sorry for you...


  19. [19] 
    CDub wrote:

    Michale wrote:

    >And for the record, just where in
    >your imagination did I ever say that?
    OK, fair enough..
    If I misunderstood your position, then feel free to clarify…

    You seem to think that my participation is subject to your approval, and that my meanings are subject to your interpretation. I, on the other hand, harbor no such illusion.

    If there are words who's meaning you need explained, I'm sure you'll find a dictionary will be helpful in that regard. But your "I'm offensive because I'm a victim" game is one that you'll have to play alone today.

  20. [20] 
    Michale wrote:


    >If there are words who's meaning
    >you need explained, I'm sure you'll
    >find a dictionary will be helpful in
    >that regard. But your "I'm offensive
    >because I'm a victim" game is one that
    >you'll have to play alone today.

    "I am afraid to make an unequivocal stand on any issue because it might turn out to be wrong and I cannot stand that. So I will go thru life just waffling on everything..."

    Well, since you are afraid to make your meanings clear, I will simply go on with throwing your own words back at you...

    So, you honestly think Hillary Clinton can beat Guiliani...

    Time will tell who is right and who is wrong... :D


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