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Few Surprises

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Despite all the huffing and puffing about presidential exploratory committees, staff announcements, and phone calls to party leaders, only four consequential events other than the midterm elections occurred in recent months concerning presidential politics: Sen. Barack Obama's October 22 declaration that he is seriously considering seeking the Democratic nomination; the announcements by former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist that they are not going to run; and GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter's signal that he might run.

Everything else has unfolded in much the way observers could have predicted a year ago.

At this point, it's fairly safe to assume that Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will pursue the GOP nomination. And they may well be joined by Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Rep. Hunter of California, and Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado. The question marks in the Republican race are former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Although national polls of Republican voters often show Giuliani at the front of the GOP's 2008 pack, most observers with a real grasp of the Republican nominating process think that Giuliani's support for abortion rights, gay rights, and gun control means that he has no real chance.

Gingrich has indicated that he is building a movement with a worldview that he will be rolling out in the coming months. If the movement reaches a critical mass and he concludes he can win, he will announce his candidacy in September. If not, Gingrich could take another look in 2011.

For Democrats, the only significant remaining question is whether Obama runs. A fairly persuasive argument can be made that a freshman U.S. senator only two years removed from the Illinois Senate shouldn't run for president yet.

That argument is quickly drowned out, though, by the cacophony of pleas from Democrats urging him to run. And such a courtship can be quite seductive. Personally, I don't think Obama will run this time, but I find it impossible to separate my sense that it's too early from my sense that he won't do it.

The weekend after this year's election, Cook Political Report/RT Strategies polled Republicans and Republican-leaning independents about the 2008 contest. When Giuliani was included in the list of candidates, he ran first with 27 percent of the vote, followed by McCain at 25 percent and Gingrich at 10 percent. Romney ran fourth with 9 percent, and everyone else was in the low single digits. Taking Giuliani out of the mix, McCain's support rose from 25 percent to 34 percent and Gingrich's climbed from 10 percent to 16 percent. Romney edged up to 10 percent. No one else drew more than 5 percent.

For the Republican field, one big unknown is whether anyone can attract the bulk of the party members to McCain's right. And the Arizonan is not going to make that an easy task.

On the Democratic side, a Cook/ RT Strategies poll on the party's supersized field shows Clinton with 34 percent, Obama with 20 percent, former Vice President Gore (who is very unlikely to run) with 11 percent, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina with 9 percent, and Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts tied with 4 percent. Everyone else -- New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, and retired Gen. Wesley Clark -- scored 2 percent or less in the survey of Democratic voters and Democratic-leaning independents.

Taking Gore out, Clinton rises 5 points to 39 percent, Obama gains 1 point to 21, Edwards goes up 2 points to 11 percent, and Kerry picks up 2 points to 6 percent. Without Gore and Obama, Clinton goes to 51 percent, and Edwards grabs second place with 13 percent. Without Gore, Obama, and Kerry, Clinton gets 52 percent and Edwards 14 percent.

Some presidential wannabes in both parties are so little known by the public that they wouldn't immediately benefit from the exit of a better-known contender. Kerry is well known, but he's so badly damaged and unpopular that a thinning field won't help him much either.

 
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