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Wrapped up

If a third candidate crowds the 2008 presidential election, the GOP will have effectively handed the election to Hillary
By STEVEN STARK  |  October 17, 2007


The upcoming presidential election was never going to be an easy one for the Republicans to win. As “time for change” fever takes over, it’s difficult to succeed a popular incumbent, much less one as reviled as President Bush.

Still, not that long ago, things looked hopeful for the GOP. The Democrats are likely to choose Hillary Clinton, a candidate with some of the highest negative ratings of any non-incumbent nominee in modern presidential politics. What’s more, there’s a decent chance the Republicans will nominate someone from outside the Sun Belt, who would have unusual appeal in the Democratic base. That’s why the margin is much closer when Rudy Giuliani runs head-to-head with Clinton than it is in polls that pit an unnamed Democrat against an unnamed Republican.

But events are conspiring to eviscerate any chance the Republicans have of winning next year. Simply put, the party is fissuring, so if three or four — not two — major candidates end up on the fall ballot, the Democrats will win in a walk.

Every 12 years or so, a new independent or third-party candidate gains momentum during an election cycle. Almost always, when these candidacies arise, it’s the incumbent party that loses the election. In 2000 with Ralph Nader, in 1992 with H. Ross Perot, in 1980 with John Anderson, in 1968 with George Wallace, and on back through modern-American political history, the lesson of third parties is twofold: they never win and, because their ire is often directed at the status quo — thus the party holding power — they damage the candidate of the incumbent party.

It certainly won’t help matters for the GOP that this year’s splinter candidates will probably come from nominally Republican ranks. The media has focused on New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, but he’s actually the unlikeliest of the three to make a third-party bid. The likeliest is current GOP candidate Ron Paul, who already has one independent general-election run under his belt as a Libertarian (in 1988, when he garnered just 0.5 percent of the vote) and would have no trouble making another. As this year’s version of Perot, Paul’s already shown unexpected grassroots appeal and fundraising ability. And he’s so far refused to say he would support the party’s nominee, which is always a telling sign.

Then there’s the Religious Right, some of whose adherents have put the GOP on notice that, if Giuliani — the party’s strongest general-election candidate — receives the nomination, they, too, would consider going the independent route. (Some later backed off the threat, but it’s still there.)

As Perot discovered in 1992, when the major parties secure their nominees early, the political press has nothing to do for six months, so it devotes its energy to building up independent candidacies. That will happen again next year. And, if Paul, Bloomberg, or a far-right candidate makes a run, that candidate would only have to pick up a percentage point or two in such key swing states as Pennsylvania and Ohio to make a Giuliani victory improbable. (Never mind a victory for Fred Thompson — as a presidential candidate, Thompson would be the second coming of Bob Dole, a nominee who holds the base but nothing more.) Equally important, these challenges would make it much harder for Republicans to focus on the deficiencies of the Democratic candidate.

It’s true that there have been races in which incumbent parties have, despite a challenge by a third party, retained the White House. But in 1924 and 1948 — the most notable modern examples — an incumbent was running for re-election and was able to make a persuasive case for keeping himself on the job. Thus Harry Truman was able to narrowly reverse the tide and beat Thomas Dewey, Henry Wallace, and Strom Thurmond — a feat of personal campaigning that almost defies political gravity. And in 1924, the Republicans were never in jeopardy, so Calvin Coolidge won handily.

The chances of that happening this go-around are remote. Instead, the election may be a repeat of 1992. Though Democrats like to forget it, Bill Clinton was an enormously damaged candidate that year because of the personal scandals surrounding his candidacy. It’s debatable whether he could have won a two-way general election. But 43 percent in a three-person field? That was child’s play, as a three-way race would be for Hillary next year.

Republicans are now hoping that fear of Mrs. Clinton is so great, it will eventually force any voter who opposes her to rally around their nominee. They’d better hope so. If not, we could see three or even four candidates in the general-election mix next fall. That would result in a slam-dunk campaign that even the Democrats couldn’t lose.


Odds: 3-2 | past week: same
Odds: 3-1 | same
Odds: 3-1 | same
Odds: 8-1 | same
Odds: 100-1 | same
Odds: 1000-1 | same
Odds: 25,000-1 | same
Odds: 200,000-1 | same
Odds: 250,000-1 | same
Odds: 3 million-1 | same

Odds: even | past week: same
Odds: 3-2 | same
Odds: 10-1 | same
Odds: 100-1 | same
Odds: 200-1 | same
Odds: 250-1 | same
Odds: 100,000-1 | same
Odds: 16 million-1 | same

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The Presidential Tote Board blog: //

  Topics: News Features , Hillary Clinton , Rudolph Giuliani , U.S. Republican Party ,  More more >
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Wrapped up
You have got to be joking. Ron Paul is gonna sweep this election. The people of the USA want the war to end and the constitution to be reinstated. This article is no more than propaganda. Ron Paul will do what Pelosi was sent to do.
By badunit on 10/18/2007 at 11:57:00
Wrapped up
I'd like to see where you get these odds. The gambling sites such as Sportsbook have his odds at 6-1. Brownback dropped out today, who is next? I feel very hopeful about Dr. Paul's chances, so much that I am donating another $100 next month.
By KitMaira on 10/18/2007 at 4:43:24
Wrapped up
The always worth reading Jay Cost at Realclear Politics has posted a comment on this piece at //
By Steven Stark on 10/19/2007 at 9:51:35
Wrapped up
October 21st, 2007 at 3:37 pm // Poll: Half say they would never vote for Hillary for president. That sounds like even odds to me.
By Krogy on 10/22/2007 at 12:58:32

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 See all articles by: STEVEN STARK

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