Setting the Presidential Field for 2008

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Robert Siegel talks with NPR's Mara Liasson about the politicians who have already declared an interest in the presidency, and who might be making a run for the White House in 2008.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

In 2008, for the first time in decades there will be a presidential election in which neither a sitting president nor a sitting vice president is a potential nominee. It is a wide open field and some of the players have already announced that they're suiting up.

Unidentified Man #1: I announce my candidacy to be the next president of the United States.

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Man #2: I'm also going to be preparing to run for president of the United States.

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Man #3: Later this week, I will be forming an exploratory committee to take the next practical step.

Unidentified Man #4: It certainly won't be right now or in the very near future, but it will be sometime next year.

Unidentified Man #5: If I decide to run for president, then I'll make an announcement and everybody will be invited and that will end the speculation at that point.

Unidentified Man #6: I always said I would decide early next year, and I'll sit down over the holidays with my family and make that decision.

SIEGEL: Over the past couple of weeks, several candidates have taken steps moving them closer to a formal announcement. Republicans John McCain, Tommy Thompson and Rudolph Giuliani, and today Senator Sam Brownback announced that he's forming an exploratory committee. California Congressman Duncan Hunter announced his candidacy back in October. Iowa Democrat Tom Vilsack has announced. Evan Bayh of Indiana, also a Democrat, has indicated that he may soon follow suit.

Well, NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now.

Welcome, Mara.

MARA LIASSON: Hello, Robert.

SIEGEL: And in each party there is conventional wisdom about who the front runner is, so let's start with the Democrats. I hear Hillary Rodham Clinton is regarded as the front runner.

LIASSON: Yes, she is regarded as the front runner. For awhile, the dynamic in the presidential race on the Democratic side has been Hillary Rodham Clinton and everyone else. However, the everyone else primary just got a big new development when Barack Obama, whose voice you heard in that montage, showed a little ankle on a Sunday talk show recently and said that he is thinking about it, he hasn't closed the door. Well, the Democratic Party went wild and he has the potential to really wipe all the other alternative to Hillary wannabes off the table, because he is right now the excitement candidate in the Democratic Party.

SIEGEL: The Democratic Party went wild because he was so exciting or because they're interested in an alternative to Hillary Clinton?

LIASSON: Both. There are many Democrats who think, although Mrs. Clinton is well regarded in the party, she has a lot of support, that she would not be the best general election candidate. Along comes Barack Obama who has this very compelling personal story. He has a white mom and a black dad and he is very talented. He's charismatic. As one Republican consultant called him, a walking, talking hope machine. He talks about bridging divides. He seems to transcend party and race and ideology. He seems to embody the message that the voters sent in the 2006 midterms. He doesn't come with the baggage that Mrs. Clinton does. He's a fresh face. He's an absolute blank slate, actually. He's only been in the Senate for two years. So he's generating a tremendous amount of excitement that's very bad for all the other candidates, like Evan Bayh and Tom Vilsack and John Edwards.

SIEGEL: Is he raising a lot of money?

LIASSON: Not yet, but he could. Once he decides to actually get in - which we assume he will make a decision after the first of the year. He is going to New Hampshire this weekend and that visit will cause tremendous interest and curiosity. He could raise a lot of money then.

SIEGEL: Let's talk about the Republicans. The conventional wisdom is John McCain, Republican senator of Arizona, is the frontrunner, right?

LIASSON: Yes. He is for all intents and purposes the frontrunner. The interesting thing on the Republican side is that there is no natural conservative candidate, no Southern candidate. Ever since George Allen and Rick Santorum lost their reelection bids and Bill Frist decided not to run, it's been John McCain and Mit Romney, who is the outgoing governor of Massachusetts.

McCain, although he also has worked across party lines and is an independent and a maverick and has a very compelling personal story, has some problems. He's old. He has had cancer. He is distrusted by many conservatives. Although he has tremendous appeal as a general election candidate.

Mit Romney has been, quote, "evolving" on social issues. He wasn't a rock rib conservative when he started out his political career, but he has been trying -

SIEGEL: He has been getting more conservative as 2008 approaches.

LIASSON: Yes, he is getting more conservative as he edges up to an announcement that he will run for president and he's been courting the conservative base of the party in the effort to be seen as the conservative alternative to McCain for people in the Republican Party base who want an alternative to McCain.

SIEGEL: Since we are still more than a year from the earliest of caucuses and primaries, what do people do between now and then? Just try to raise money?

LIASSON: They do a lot of things. They line up key staff and operatives and every time that Romney nabs someone who's very important in South Carolina, it actually makes the news. Right now, they can't raise money until they've filed the necessary papers. What Mit Romney, for example, is doing is going around the country is giving his very, what I hear is a well polished pitch to potential donors saying I'm not asking for anything now. I want you to hear what I stand for, but I'll be back.

SIEGEL: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson with a look at some of those in the presidential field in both the Republican and the Democratic Parties.

Thank you very much.

LIASSON: Thank you, Robert.

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