Todd Domke

A classic tale of two parties

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Todd Domke
January 17, 2008

IF YOU CAN forget that in choosing the next president we may be placing the future of humankind in the hands of one politician, this campaign is something to savor.

We have not seen such an unpredictable presidential race, with so many unusual candidates and diverse opinions, in our lifetimes.

Perhaps it's best understood as a tale of two parties.

Democratic Clash of the Titans: Even if you are underwhelmed by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, you should appreciate that their primary battle will become one of the most pivotal, analyzed, and debated in American history.

Clinton says she isn't playing the gender card. Obama says he isn't playing the race card. But the significance and ramifications of this choice will be lasting and profound for women, African-Americans, both parties, and the nation as a whole.

John Edwards will be a footnote in this story. He might win enough delegates to be a king-maker or queen-maker, but he is history - and not in the good way.

The results in Iowa and New Hampshire indicate that when Democratic voters come to the Hillary-or-Barack fork in the road, they want to go in both directions.

For many Americans, of all races, the inauguration of Obama would mean redemption for a nation that allowed segregation just two generations ago.

And for many Americans, a first female president would be an equally hopeful sign that people were rejecting unfair discrimination and demeaning stereotypes.

But the election of one means the defeat of the other. That will be stressful for a Democratic Party that promises to ensure fairness and enforce equality.

Before the two titans and their surrogates started lambasting each other, some voters imagined the winner picking the loser as a running mate. That seems like "a fairy tale," for several reasons:

1) Two liberal northern senators lacking executive, military, or foreign policy experience wouldn't be a balanced team. 2) They don't trust each other, so neither could be happy as the underling. 3) They've exchanged so many barbs, the GOP nominee could run TV spots with their snide sound-bites and simply say, "I approve their message."

The GOP Family Feud: The Republican candidates seem to be taking turns winning primaries - Mike Huckabee in Iowa, John McCain in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney in Michigan.

If Huckabee or McCain win South Carolina, and Rudy Giuliani wins Florida, and five candidates continue to split the vote through the "Super Tuesday" primaries on Feb. 5, GOP delegates might be heading for a wide-open convention.

A brokered convention is plausible because candidates refuse to quit. Indeed, Romney refuses to quit reinventing himself. He won Michigan by becoming yet another Mitt, the prodigal "native son" who will save the auto industry. He is the Sybil of politics - in every primary, a new personality rears its handsome head.

Mitt called Michigan his "second home," as he earlier cited his "second home" in New Hampshire. And didn't he return to Massachusetts from a "second home" in Utah? Will his Belmont mansion become a fourth "second home"? Anyway, with the Florida primary looming, hopefully he's bought a Miami condo. Otherwise he won't sound credible when he announces that he's become a Cuban-American.

Meanwhile, the GOP battle rages between its regional and ideological factions.

Every candidate has a base of support, but can any candidate unite the factions? Giuliani supporters can't accept Huckabee because of his religious views on social issues. Huckabee supporters can't accept Giuliani because of his secular views on social issues. Ron Paul supporters can't support any god but Ron Paul. McCain and his supporters can't stand Mitt because he's a flip-flopper. Mitt and his supporters can't stand McCain because he too often sounds like the old Mitt.

If five candidates each win a fraction of delegates - 5 percent, 10 percent, 20 percent, 30 percent, 35 percent - there could be a deadlocked convention.

That would be like the GOP convention of 1860, when there were many factional, regional favorites. After three ballots, they settled on an Illinois attorney named Lincoln, a local "favorite son" since the convention was in Chicago. Once elected, he tried to achieve national and party unity by appointing his defeated foes to the cabinet.

We won't be electing a political genius this time, but the campaign will be historic. And we best savor it by taking it seriously and humorously - as Lincoln once did.

Todd Domke is a Boston-area Republican political analyst, public-relations strategist, and author.

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