Number of 2008 Presidential Candidates Continues to Grow
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JUDY WOODRUFF, NewsHour Special Correspondent: The Iowa caucuses still are a year away, but a crowded field of presidential hopefuls has kicked off the campaign season earlier than ever before.
Just over the weekend, three more candidates have entered the fray, bringing the count of potential contenders to over 20. New York Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton grabbed the headlines on Saturday by announcing online that she was forming an exploratory campaign committee, the first step toward making an official run.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: I’m not just starting a campaign, though; I’m beginning a conversation with you, with America, because we all need to be part of the discussion if we’re all going to be part of the solution.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Clinton’s Internet statement mirrored the approach taken last week by Illinois Senator Barack Obama.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: As I’ve spoken to many of you in my travels across the states these past months, as I’ve read your e-mails and read your letters, I’ve been struck by how hungry we all are for a different kind of politics.
JUDY WOODRUFF: By setting up exploratory committees, Obama, Clinton and other candidates are allowed to raise and spend money, often online, before officially announcing their candidacy.
And yesterday, another Democrat threw his hat in the ring: New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. He also did so via the Internet and said he planned a serious run.
GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), New Mexico: I’m taking this step because we have to repair the damage that’s been done to our country over the last six years.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Former Democratic senator and vice presidential candidate John Edwards also used a less traditional approach for his campaign announcement, but did so in person, appearing last month in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, which was devastated during Hurricane Katrina.
JOHN EDWARDS, Candidate for President: This campaign will be a grassroots, ground-up campaign, where we ask people to take action.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Along with Edwards, four other Democrats have moved past the exploratory phase to say they are definitely in the running: Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd; former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack; Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, making his second bid; and former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel.
Another Democrat expected to enter the race is Delaware Senator Joseph Biden, while 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry, 2004 candidate General Wesley Clark, and former Vice President Al Gore, the 2000 nominee, are all possibilities.
As for the Republican field, several candidates have formed exploratory committees: Arizona Republican John McCain, who failed to get his party’s nomination in 2000; former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani; Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts; and California Congressman Duncan Hunter.
Those who already have formally announced their candidacies include: former Virginia Governor James Gilmore; Tommy Thompson, former Wisconsin governor and former secretary of health and human services in the Bush administration; and Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, who announced his candidacy on Saturday in Topeka.
SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), Kansas: America is great because she’s good. That goodness is not based in Washington or New York or even Topeka; it is based in the hearts of the American people.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Other potential Republican candidates still on the sidelines include: Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.
Fundraising requirements for '08
For more on the early 2008 campaign and the candidates, we turn to Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today, and Dan Balz. He's a veteran political reporter at the Washington Post. He joins us from the Post's newsroom.
Susan and Dan, thank you very much.
Susan, this race feels early to me. It feels full of heavyweights. How does it feel to you?
SUSAN PAGE, USA Today: This is my eighth presidential campaign, and I've never seen anything like this. You have such a big list of contenders.
And it's the first time in the time I've been covering politics -- and, in fact, the first time since 1928 -- since we haven't had a president, sitting president, or sitting vice president who is in the contest, kind of defining the field at least for one side. That's one reason it just seems so wide open this year.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Dan Balz, is there something different about this campaign? I know we often say that about presidential campaigns when they get under way.
DAN BALZ, Political Reporter, Washington Post: We always feel like this one is the earliest ever, but in some ways I think that's the case in this 2008 battle.
One of the reasons is that the fundraising requirements are going to be greater than ever. Essentially, anybody who's serious for the nomination will not be taking public financing. And they're going to be raising $100 million or, you know, $200 million or more by the time they reach the convention, if they're the nominee.
That means you've got to raise at this point about $2 million a week for the next 50 weeks. That's a principal reason.
A second reason is that the primary calendar next year will be more front-loaded than ever. There will be more early events than we've ever seen before. That means you have to get going early. You've got to raise much of your money right away.
And I think the third reason simply is that the 2006 election signaled that the country is in a period of evolution politically. And I think people on both sides of this race, in both parties, want to see what we're going to get to in 2008, and they're anxious to have that debate begin.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan, that money figure is just startling, $2 million a week. Is that really what we're talking about?
SUSAN PAGE: It's a remarkable amount of money these people are going to have to raise: $100 million probably this year, as Dan said, to be taken seriously.
On the other hand, you can raise money in new ways. Howard Dean demonstrated in 2004 that you can use the Internet to raise enormous sums of money in small contributions from a lot of people. So while the number seems pretty daunting, there are ways that you could have a different kind of candidate, one that doesn't necessarily have a lot of big givers on his or her side, being able to raise significant sums.
Raising the money
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Dan, you mentioned candidates opting out of the so-called public financing system. As I understand it, Hillary Clinton is the only candidate so far to say she's opting out both for the nomination, for the primaries, and for the general election. What bearing does that have on her campaign and on everyone else?
DAN BALZ: Well, I think what it means is the death of the public financing system for presidential campaigns that's been in place since the Watergate scandal. Everybody anticipated that this would be the first campaign in which at least one, if not both, of the nominees from the major parties opts out of the public financing for the general election.
What that means is, a, her decision will put pressure on the likes of Arizona Senator John McCain, or Rudy Giuliani, or Barack Obama, or any number of candidates to make a similar decision. And, secondly, it means this will be the most expensive campaign we've ever seen.
The general election last time was about -- they got a check of about $85 million from the federal government for the fall campaign. We're going to see money way in excess of that in the general election this time.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan, this fundraising really does become the first primary, doesn't it? Are all of these candidates capable of raising that kind of money?
SUSAN PAGE: You know what's amazing is, not only have we seen this early starts with a lot of candidates -- and we've had candidates get in and get out. We've had significant, serious contenders, like Bill Frist and Mark Warner on the other side, on the Democratic side, kind of test the waters and announce they're not going to run. And I think the money has played a big part in that.
For some of the second-tier candidates that you mentioned, they're going to need to step up to the plate on money or they'll be out of this race before it even begins.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Take us inside what's going on in one of these campaigns right now. How much time are they spending on the phone trying to get, frankly, people with a lot of money to give them money?
SUSAN PAGE: I think candidates at this point are spending more money on fundraising than on any other aspect of their campaign, certainly more money -- more time, I mean, more time on fundraising than any other aspect, although, at the same time, they need to be getting some media attention. They need to be meeting with voters in places like Iowa, New Hampshire. But I think the money is now, at this point, the dominant thing they're doing.
Developing the issues
JUDY WOODRUFF: The other thing, Dan Balz, that we know the candidates have to be thinking about is honing the message, figuring out what they're going to say to voters. We heard Hillary Clinton say she wants to have a conversation.
Is that true, or have the candidates at this point all figured out what it is they want to say and how they need to say it?
DAN BALZ: Well, I think, to some extent, they know what they want to say and how they want to present themselves. But these campaigns are evolutionary.
And candidates, as they get out in these early states and begin to interact with voters, begin to get a different sense, perhaps, of what the country is really looking forward. We're going to have a very interesting debate certainly in the Democratic Party, and perhaps in the Republican Party, about future policy on Iraq, at a time when the situation in Iraq is going to be evolving.
So I think candidates are going to have to be continuing to pay attention to where the voters are and what they need to say on that.
Senator Clinton opened her campaign with a public event yesterday that was all about health care. This is an issue that she tried and failed on when her husband was president and yet we know is one of the biggest issues. There are a lot of ideas out there. I don't think anybody has got yet the exact thing they want to say.
So there is a lot of testing, thinking, trying out, and changing as they go, as we see this process unfold, Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan, you agree it's too early to say what this campaign is going to be about?
SUSAN PAGE: Well, I think it's going to be in large part about Iraq. We know from President Bush's interview with USA Today that ran today that he expects a lot of troops, U.S. troops, to still be in Iraq at the point his presidency ends. I think Iraq is likely to be the defining issue in both parties.
And one of the problems these candidates face is that what they say in January they're going to have to live with in November of 2008. If they stake out a position that's very firm on Iraq, they're going to have to live with that for a long time.
That's one of the reasons this long campaign creates some special difficulties for contenders that the candidates have not had to face in previous years.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And there's always an urge to say, "All right, here's who the frontrunners are. And here's who's likely to make it. And here's who isn't." Can you resist that completely at this point? How do you answer that question?
DAN BALZ: Judy, are you asking me that?
JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes, I am.
DAN BALZ: Oh, I'm sorry. Well, we always try to resist it, but it is inevitable that the handicappers get involved in this. I think there's general agreement that, on the Democratic side, Senator Clinton and Barack Obama, the Illinois senator, and perhaps John Edwards are in what you would call a top tier, with Senator Clinton probably a little higher up than the other two.
On the Republican side, it's a little harder to sketch out. Mayor Giuliani gets the highest ratings in the national polls. He comes in first in those. But Senator McCain has done much more political work on the ground and, by din to that, is seen as something of an early frontrunner, although I would have to say he is a fragile frontrunner, particularly because of the war in Iraq.
So it's hard to handicap these. There are people that are not getting much attention right now who are likely to be factors six or eight or 10 months from now that we're, you know, we're going to have to pay serious attention to then. These things always end up as a surprise somewhere along the way.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What would you add to that?
SUSAN PAGE: I think that's certainly true. We both remember President Muskie, President Cuomo, people who ended up not making the grade at the end of the day, or people like Bill Clinton, who at this point would not have been seen as a serious contender for the presidency.
The ability to connect with voters
JUDY WOODRUFF: What are the things that you're going to be looking for, Susan, as a political reporter who's covered those eight -- this is your eighth campaign. What are you most focusing on right now?
SUSAN PAGE: You know, I think you look a lot at the ability to connect with voters. You know, John Connally could raise money. He couldn't connect with voters.
Connecting with voters, having a message that seems authentic, maybe is authentic, but at least seems authentic, and having a sense of self, I mean, that's one of the things I think has vaulted Barack Obama to be taken so seriously, even though, by virtue of his experience, we probably shouldn't be taking him so seriously.
When you see them in an Iowa living room, how do they do? I think those are big tests for candidates.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Dan, what are you looking for?
DAN BALZ: Well, I think the other thing you look for is what many of us overlooked early on in the last campaign, which is, what is the issue out there that's important to voters that we all have overlooked?
Now, Susan's right: This election is going to be in many ways mostly about Iraq. But there may be other things stirring out there. And one of the things that is valuable about getting out on the trail with these candidates is that you begin to pick up on that. And that's one of the things we'll be looking at.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I know one thing all of us are going to need to get through this election is a lot of energy. So we're going to be looking to both of you to lead the way, in terms of keeping your energy levels up. They certainly are today, in January of 2007.
Thank you both, Dan Balz of the Washington Post, Susan Page of USA Today. Thank you.
SUSAN PAGE: Thank you.