Rallying cries

By STEVEN STARK  |  September 19, 2007

All the GOP candidates have faced a similar definitional problem, which is why that race is still wide open. In 1988, Michael Dukakis promised that he would do for America what he did for Massachusetts. Substitute New York City for Massachusetts and you essentially have the 2008 Giuliani campaign to date.

The problem there is that a national Massachusetts was a lot more appealing to Democratic primary voters 20 years ago than a national New York City is to GOP voters centered in the heartland and the South today. Thus, Giuliani faces a culture clash almost wherever he goes — not an easy path to victory. He’d be better off also accentuating the tough-guy-prosecutor part of his résumé and promising to go after terrorists the way he went after Wall Street crooks and street crime. Interestingly, in the past week, he’s begun to sort of do that — only his “enemy” hasn’t just been Al Qaeda but the New York Times (there’s New York again) and Clinton. It’s a thought-provoking juxtaposition.

Mitt Romney is a nice, wealthy, respectable candidate who has presented absolutely no overriding themes — which is why, sooner or later, his campaign will implode if he doesn’t shift gears fast. He has the business record to offer himself to the nation as a kind of “national CEO” — which might be enormously alluring, à la Lee Iacocca or even Wendell Willkie. But it’s getting very late to go down that path.

Fred Thompson has just announced, so it remains to be seen what his themes (if he has any) will be. But the early signs aren’t promising. Dispensing homilies and playing Arthur Branch on TV do not a campaign make. And throughout his career, Thompson has never shown the slightest inclination to offer a set of overriding themes with wide appeal. Worse, he’s put himself in the position of constantly being called “the new Reagan,” which could well do to him what being called “the next JFK” did to a generation of Democratic politicians. It destroyed them all because, alas, there was only one JFK and one Reagan.

Which leaves John McCain. In 2000, his campaign resonated because he seemed to offer a “third way” before Bill Clinton or Tony Blair ever thought of the idea — a set of independent policies that would appeal to the “radical middle” turned off by the partisanship of both major parties.

As this campaign began, a more partisan McCain initially found that path closed to him, and his campaign virtually collapsed. But in recent weeks, he’s found his voice again as a kind of 21st-century Harry Truman — an aspirant who is, in fact, so senior and seasoned that he doesn’t care what the conventional politicians and press think anymore. “My only allegiance is to the truth and to you,” might be his slogan. Could it work? In the ideas vacuum of the current GOP race, it actually could.

To read the “Presidential Tote Board” blog, go to thePhoenix.com. Steven Stark can be reached at sds@starkwriting.com.

THE FIELD
REPUBLICANS

RUDY GIULIANI
Odds: 2-1 | past week: same
MITT ROMNEY
Odds: 4-1 | same
FRED THOMPSON
Odds: 9-2 | same
JOHN MCCAIN
Odds: 6-1 | same
NEWT GINGRICH
Odds: 8-1 | same
MIKE HUCKABEE
Odds: 25-1 | same
SAM BROWNBACK
Odds: 1000-1 | same
TOM TANCREDO
Odds: 150,000-1 | same
RON PAUL
Odds: 200,000-1 | same
DUNCAN HUNTER
Odds: 200,000-1 | same
ALAN KEYES
Odds: 3 million-1 | new entrant

DEMOCRATS
BARACK OBAMA

Odds: 5-4 | past week: same
HILLARY CLINTON
Odds: 4-3 | same
JOHN EDWARDS
Odds: 7-1 | same
BILL RICHARDSON
Odds: 100-1 | same
JOE BIDEN
Odds: 200-1 | same
CHRIS DODD
Odds: 250-1 | same
DENNIS KUCINICH
Odds: 100,000-1 | same
MIKE GRAVEL
Odds: 8 million to 1 | same

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