Handicapping the 2008 Republican presidential race | NevadaAppeal.com

Handicapping the 2008 Republican presidential race

Kirk Caraway
Appeal Internet editor

Picking who is going to win the Republican nomination this far ahead of the 2008 election is like picking the next Super Bowl champion.

The race so far looks to be wide open. Sen. John McCain was widely seen as the frontrunner, but not anymore. He has benefited so much from the adoring press coverage he received for the past six years that his campaign slogan should be, “No TV camera left behind.”

But his fortunes seem to be falling. The war in Iraq hangs around his neck like Saddam Hussein’s noose. His unflagging support for the war alienates the same independents and moderate Democrats who made him the frontrunner. His attempts to court religious conservatives who can help him in the primary opened him up to charges that the so-called “Straight-Talk Express” has been sent to the junkyard.

McCain has tried some creative ways to distinguish his stance on Iraq with that of the Bush Administration. He has for quite a while advocated sending more troops, knowing full well that we really didn’t have that many troops to send. That way he could still show support for the war, but claim it was not done right. George Bush’s announcement of the “surge” messed that up, so now McCain has come out in favor of sending even more troops, to keep up that excuse that if only he had been in charge, we could have won.

The cold, hard reality is that unless there is a radical change for the better in Iraq in the next 18 months, pro-war candidates like McCain are going to have a very hard time.

There is one Republican candidate who could beat the Iraq War jinx. He’s America’s Mayor, Rudi Guiliani. He has been riding a five-year wave of great press since 9/11. His moderate positions would bring independents back into the GOP fold.

And he doesn’t have a prayer of making it through the Republican primaries. He favors abortion and gay rights, and he’s been married three times and had an affair with a staff member. There are photos of him dressed in drag. Sure, it was just a joke, but they will be featured in a campaign ad coming to a television near you.

Unless all the religious conservative activists who hold great power during the primaries get together and agree to hold their noses to vote for Guiliani, he’ll be a washout.

Then you have Mitt Romney. I didn’t give him much thought at first. How could a one-term governor of Massachusetts make it through a Republican primary? But he has the looks and brains to make a serious run. Like McCain, he has flip-flopped on issues like abortion and gay rights in order to attract religious conservatives. He comes in with less political experience than even George Bush. But like Bush, he comes from a political family, his father having been governor of Michigan.

Romney might be able to sneak by McCain. He has the advantage of not having a congressional voting record, which has come back to haunt senators who run for president. Lots of senators try, but very few get elected.

That won’t stop Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback from running. He’s a bit of a long shot, but he could benefit from a three-way battle between McCain, Guiliani and Romney. Brownback is the religious conservative candidate in this race, with his unbending views against abortion, homosexuality, stem cell research and evolution. If he can hold together enough of the right-wing evangelicals, he might be able to pull ahead.

Of course, if he did manage to grab the nomination, he would have little hope of beating whichever Democrat he would face in the general election. The voters aren’t ready to elect a president who believes America should be a theocracy.

The field of candidates thins out after that. I don’t see any of them making much of a dent, but it’s still early. Whoever makes it will have a tough time in the general, trying to carve out a path through the mess that is Iraq.

• Kirk Caraway is Internet editor for the Nevada Appeal and nevadapolitics.com