Little Rock’s Political Animals Club had its biggest turnout of the year last week. At 7 a.m. more than 100 came to hear Charlie Cook, who is one of the political experts who tells politicians whether they will win or lose and why. He’s the publisher of “Cook Political Report,” What the audience most wanted him to tell them was if Sen. Hillary Clinton was going to be nominated by the Democrats in 2008. “Certainly she is the overwhelming favorite,” he said. “Democrat leaders say she has it wrapped up because she can raise all the money in the world, she can get all the endorsements and certainly she will have the best manager in the Democratic Party.” The last words got the best laugh of the morning.
All the Democrats know who she is, Cook said, but now only 33 to 40 percent of them say they think they will vote for her. That means that now 60 to 67 percent of the people “just don’t like her.” So what she has to do is to convince her party that she can win a general election, and if she doesn’t she won’t get the nomination.
The last NBC-Wall Street Journal poll for president showed Sen. John McCain and Sen. Hillary Clinton virtually tied – McCain 44 percent, Hillary 42 percent. Cook couldn’t say who would be the next president, but he thinks that all the serious criticism now being aimed at the Bush administration could determine which party elects a president in 2008. Also, “Because of the criticism, if the Democrats don’t elect a lot of people to the House and the Senate in 2006, they ought to turn out the lights and shut the door.”
Criticism of the war and other things has accounted for only 37 percent of Americans supporting Bush in his fifth year as president. By comparison, Cook listed the percentages of people who were supporting other Presidents in their fifth years — Reagan, 65 percent; Clinton, 61 percent; Eisenhower, 58 percent.
Who might be nominated if McCain or Hillary aren’t? Cook listed several in both parties, including two Arkansans.
For the Republicans: former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Gov. Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Sen. George Allen of Virginia. Cook also said: “Don’t underestimate Arkansas’s Gov. Huckabee. He’s got some very, very, very political skills whether you agree with him or not. His wife is about as conservative as you can get, and he is certainly no more liberal than Tom DeLay. My question is can Huckabee raise the money?”
As for Democrats, they are talking about: Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts (however Cook said he hadn’t seen a Democrat who would nominate him again, but in polls 15 percent still say they want him); John Edwards of North Carolina, the 2004 vice president candidate; retired Gen. Wes Clark of Arkansas; Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico; Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware; Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana and Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.
Cook is so sure about Hillary Clinton getting the nomination that he really didn’t predict a second choice. If McCain fails to get the Republican nomination, Cook said it might fall to Senator Allen, a college football star and a lawyer who always wears cowboy boots and is very affable. But he noted that only two Senators have ever been elected president — Warren Harding in 1921 and John Kennedy in 1961.
After his talk, I asked him if he really believed that Americans are ready to elect a woman for president. I reminded him that the closest any woman ever got to the presidency was in 1984 when Walter Mondale, the Democratic candidate for president, chose Geraldine Ferraro, a New York congresswoman, as his vice president. They carried only one state, and Republicans Ronald Reagan was elected president and George H. W. Bush was chosen vice president. Face it: American voters have elected only 25 female governors, and the closest Arkansans came was in 2002 when Jimmie Lou Fisher got 46.5 percent of the votes and Mike Huckabee got 53 percent.
Cook said I had asked a good question. But he said he thinks the reason Americans don’t vote for women is because they don’t think they are tough enough. They think Hillary is.