Political Corner: A Look Ahead to 2008 On this week's Political Corner, Ken Rudin, NPR's Washington desk editor talks with Democratic strategist Ron Walters and GOP strategist Rev. Joseph Watkins about who will be vying for the White House in 2008.

Political Corner: A Look Ahead to 2008

Political Corner: A Look Ahead to 2008

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On this week's Political Corner, Ken Rudin, NPR's Washington desk editor talks with Democratic strategist Ron Walters and GOP strategist Rev. Joseph Watkins about who will be vying for the White House in 2008.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

Every presidential campaign starts with that awkward period where people keep announcing they're running for an office we won't vote on for nearly two years. Don't call presidential candidates slow out of the box. But how are we supposed to make sense of it all.

Well, we turn to NPR's Washington desk editor, Ken Rudin, who fills in for NPR's Juan Williams on this week's Political Corner.

KEN RUDIN: We're joined now by Ron Walters, professor of political science at the University of Maryland. His latest book is called “Freedom Is Not Enough.”

Ron Walters, welcome.

Professor RON WALTERS (Political Science, University of Maryland): Good to be with you.

RUDIN: And I have Reverend Joseph Watkins. He's a member of the government relations firm at Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney. He's in Philadelphia. Gentlemen, we are about, let's say, 53, 54 weeks away from the Iowa caucuses. And we've known in the past that in any kind of politics calendar things that seem to be apparent one week disappear the next week. So, of course we're talking 54 weeks in advance.

But having said that, I thought we'd take look at - an early look at the beginning of 2007 at the Democratic-Republican presidential field. Mitt Romney, the outgoing governor of Massachusetts, files his papers this week to be a presidential candidate. Rev. Watkins, what do you think of Mitt Romney's chances?

Reverend JOSEPH WATKINS (Member, Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney): He's a very attractive candidate. I remember that back in 1994 he nearly edged out U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, which was seen to be almost impossible to do in the state of Massachusetts. But he came close to doing it back in 1994. Was elected himself as governor of the state in 2002 and has had a very, very good time of it. I think he'll do extraordinarily well in the primaries if he's able to get his message out and raise the money that he needs to get his message out and also to build an organization.

RUDIN: You make the case that he run for the Senate in 1994 against Ted Kennedy. But back in '94, he was pretty much a little different on issues like civil unions and rights for gay Americans, certainly more conservative in 2007.

Rev. WATKINS: Well, that's exactly right. He's a more conservative candidate now. What makes him attractive to a lot of the conservative base is the fact that he stands where the conservative base stands on a lot of the social issues.

RUDIN: Ron Walters, what are you hearing about the Romney candidacy?

Prof. WALTERS: Mitt Romney, of course, I think had a sort of a Chicago moment; ran against a fairly unattractive female candidate in the state of Massachusetts, a heavily Democratic state, and won. I say a Chicago moment because that something like sort of the Barack Obama moment going all the way back to Carol Moseley Braun.

I think part of the problem he's going to have is coming out of a state where he tried to craft a very conservative record. He's running I think as a conservative. He sees sort of daylight in this - the field that's developing that doesn't have sort of a dedicated conservative. And he's going to have to sort of craft that in order to get through the primaries.

RUDIN: Rounding out the Republican field, obviously John McCain, who's run before. But again - McCain, Romney and Giuliani - all the Republican true believers and the Republican Party have problems with McCain, Giuliani and Romney. Joe, so tell me who is the new Ronald Reagan of the Republican Party?

Rev. WATKINS: Well, clearly, Romney is the one that wants to lay claim to Ronald Reagan's conservative base. But you have to consider the fact that John McCain has been around for a long time. He's a true American hero. He has already been through the process once. He was very credible in the 2000 presidential sweepstakes and will be so again. I think John McCain is the man to beat going forward.

RUDIN: Ron?

Prof. WALTERS: Waiting in the wings I think is Newt Gingrich. I think he's looking at this very carefully. He is sort of a bona fide conservative. And I think that you're right, Ken. If people have trouble with the first three, then I think he may be the alternative.

RUDIN: On the Democratic side, I mean I guess that the latest news is John Edwards, the vice-presidential candidate in 2004, has never stop running and he announced his candidacy last week or a week before in New Orleans. Ron Walters, what do you make of John Edwards chances?

Prof. WALTERS: Well, he excited some people by announcing his candidacy in the Ninth Ward and by saying that's where it's going to set up his campaign headquarters. When you look at what Nancy Pelosi has rolled out in terms of 100-day agenda, very little of the urban policy is on there, very little having to do with poverty and those sorts of issues. So if he runs on that, he's going to probably pick up a base that's sort of the centrist Democrats have been running from for some time now.

RUDIN: Joe, we keep talking about people like John Edwards and others who are -there's no shortage of others who are running - Tom Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa; Wesley Clark will probably run again; Dennis Kucinich, the congressman from Ohio. But what I keep hearing over and over again is that it's a two-person field, it's Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and there's no room for anybody else. Do you buy that at all?

Rev. WATKINS: I actually do. I think you have to look at the numbers because of course there's all the hype and excitement. John Edwards picked what normally would have been a great week to make an announcement and sadly it was a difficult week, James Brown passed away on Christmas Day, the day after President Ford passed away, and of course Saddam Hussein was hanged at the end of the week. So it was a week that was full of important breaking news.

You've got to look at the fact that Hillary Clinton has $13 million already to - that she's bringing over from her U.S. Senate campaign, her successful 2006 Senate campaign. She's got Bill Clinton, her husband, the former president - he was hugely popular around the country - on her side to also raise her significant dollars. She's already got staff people. And Barack Obama, of course, is still very intense. He's very popular but the negatives are getting ready to come out about him, by other Democrats that is. We'll have to see how he fields those negatives as well as how well he's be able to raise money and build an organization.

RUDIN: I'll say, Ron Walters, we keep talking about the Obama-mania. Is it real? Does he run?

Prof. WALTERS: Yeah, I think his timing is impeccable because he - if he announces this week, which he kind of said the he might, or maybe next week, he hits it at a stride when the Democratic Party is on the rise. But the caution here is that one has to parse on the one hand sort of the entertainment value of this guy, the curiosity factor, from those people who are supporting him politically and who will vote for him.

RUDIN: Joe, is Barack Obama the next Mick Jagger or the next superstar?

Rev. WATKINS: We'll have to see. I think what Ron Walters said is right on the money. There's still a lot to be said as to whether or not he really has legs and a chin, you know. I said this before and I'll say it again, Mike Tyson looked absolutely invincible until he run into Buster Douglas, and once Buster Douglas upended him, he got upended again and again and again.

We'll have to see how these negatives - how Barack defends against the negatives that are going to come out against him. And we're going to have to see whether he has the ability to really raise money and to build an organization to not just show but to actually win some of these primaries.

RUDIN: And we'll see if anybody bites off his ear. Joe Watkins, thanks so much for being a guest here. Joe's a member of the government relations firm at Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney. Joe, thanks so much.

Rev. WATKINS: Thanks, Ken.

RUDIN: And Professor Ron Walters at the University of Maryland. His latest book is called “Freedom Is Not Enough.” Thanks, Ron.

Prof. WALTERS: Thanks, Ken.

CHIDEYA: Again, that was NPR's Ken Rudin. Juan Williams will be back next week for our regular installment of Political Corner.

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