The future leaders of both the Liberal Party of Canada and the US Democratic Party will be chosen in the next 18 months. In the States, none of the front runners have declared themselves in the race yet, but most of them have a Political Action Committee (PAC) and were very active in supporting key democrats in the mid term election. In the end, the front runners will include:
- Senator Hillary Clinton of New York;
- Senator Barak Obama of Illinois;
- General (ret) Wesley Clark of Arkansas;
- Former senator John Edwards of North Carolina;
- Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin; and
- Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico.
The leader of the Liberal Party of Canada will be chosen at the convention in Montreal on December 2nd and 3rd. The list of hopefulls include:
- Author and scholar Michael Ignatieff;
- Former Ontario Premier Bob Rae;
- Ontario MPP and Cabinet Minister Gerard Kennedy;
- MP and former Cabinet Minister Stephane Dion;
- Former hockey legend, lawyer and MP Ken Dryden;
- MP and former Cabinet Minister Joe Volpe;
- MP and former Cabinet Minister Scott Brison; and
- MP and former Cabinet Minister Marta Hall-Finnlay;
The Liberals probably have a slightly easier job than the democrats as they have not been out of power as long, and Canada doesn't have a strong advantage of incumbancy that the US does. However if the goal is to win the next election, the future Liberal leader must have broad appeal in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. These are the three most populous provinces and are all provinces that traditionally split a significant portion of their votes.
Unfortunately, all of the candidates have warts. As much as I like Gerard Kennedy, his lack of command of French is a liability for him in Quebec. He would probably fare worse the Paul Martin in Quebec. Bob Rae is going to have a tough time convincing Ontarians to forget his disasterous premiership of the province under the NDP banner. Michael Ignatieff is a very smart and sophistocated man, but he seems to lack the political experience to know when to simplify and/or dumb down the message for media and public consumption. Intelligent, complex and nuanced look a lot like uncertain, contradictory and even deceitful once filtered through the dumb-o-matic that is our main stream media. John Kerry didn't learn this in time. Stephen Harper is also smart, and finally learned this lesson; look where it got him. Ken Dryden also has all of the right components, but will have a hard time shaking his image of being little more than a celebrity MP - which is not true, but none the less, it is a perception that is out there. American's like sports hero politicians. Canadians don't. Stephane Dion is intelligent, politically savy and a native son of Quebec. He could win it all.
The democrats have different problems, but more time to solve them. The problem I see is that, unlike the Canadian Conservitives, the Republicans have at least two very credible, popular and experienced potential candidates in Senator John McCain and former NY Mayor Rudolph Gulliani. Both McCain and Gulliani also have strong appeal with independents and moderate Democrates. Both are perceived as strong on national security. Gulliani could win New York - a frightful thought for Democrats, while McCain could possibly even put California in play. This is a problem for the Democrats. Senators Clinton and Obama are also very strong candidates, but this may not be enough.
Senator Clinton is intelligent, articulate, experienced, and unfortunately, seems to be a lightning rod for hate from the Republican base. There is no doubt that as much as she would mobilize the Democrat base, she would also mobilize the Republican base. Would she have enough appeal with independents, moderate conservatives and women voters to overcome the massive Republican turn out against her, particularly against McCain or Gulliani? Senator Obama is just as strong a candidate as Clinton and lacks the hate from the far right. He would get a very strong turn out from black voters to vote for the first African American President, but the Democrats usually carry the black vote, so is this enough? Neither is a Southerner - which conventional wisdom holds is an advantage for a presidential candidate.
Wes Clark is a southerner who also has a strong appeal with moderates. As a miliary man, he would have some appeal on homeland security, but he is still seen as an outsider in the democratic party and has little political experience. The national security advantage may not be as important in 2008 as it was in 2004 and 2006. Governor Richardson of New Mexico is a dark horse. He has all the credentials - former ambassador, senator, a southern governor, etc, and if elected would be the first Latino/Hispanic president. But again, with the exception of Cuban exiles, the Latino vote generally goes heavily democrat anyways. It is also not certain that Richardson will run - he sat out 2004.
The democrats however have an advantage that the Liberals don't; control of the legislative agenda. Over the next 2 years, the democrats will be able to put issues before Congress and make the Republicans support or oppose them. How will the Republicans react when the Democrats kill most of the Bush tax breaks that only affect the most wealthy Americans? Will they vote against (or veto) an increase in the minimum wage? Will they oppose more stringent CAFE fuel efficiency standards or efforts to regulate CO2 emissions? In the end however, the Democrats will likely be judged on how they influence the President to extract the United States from Iraq.
The Liberals also have an advantage that the Democrats don't have; some control over the timing of the next election. This is not an exact science however. The Conservatives could pull the plug when it suites them as well, and most Canadians understand that forcing an election when it benefits you is at worst self serving and best opportunistic.