The Big Gamble: Rudy Giuliani was at one point in time considered his party's giant-killer. Despite his status as mayor of New York City - an anathema to Republicans normally - Giuliani was all that stood between the party and a potential Senator Clinton in the spring of the year 2000. The mayor bowed out of that race after being diagnosed with prostate cancer and enduring a publicly embarrassing divorce while Hillary Clinton all but waltzed into the Senate.
But after 9/11, Giuliani was born again in the GOP as a leader in the midst of crisis and a general in the war on terror. As such, Giuliani entered the race in a position of national strength. In spite of his apostasies on such core party issue as abortion, gay marriage and gun control, he was the new sheriff in the party and accorded a measure of respect and forgiveness that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
For all the goodwill accorded him, Giuliani has thus far failed to cash in. Indeed, he appears determined to prove the viability of a strategy which has never succeeded. Rather than stake a claim in one of the early states - Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina - Giuliani has put all of his chips in the delegate-rich states falling weeks after the contest has begun.
On the face of it, such a strategy looks to be a good bet. Social conservatives in Iowa and South Carolina or rascally independents in New Hampshire are well outside of Giuliani's core base. More moderate Republicans in states like Florida, California, New York, etc., are his natural reserve of support and show up in much larger numbers. But can any candidate afford to wait until five or six very intense competitions pass before making a move? Will Giuliani become a mere afterthought by the time Florida votes on January 29th? It is by far the biggest strategic gamble of any campaign in this cycle. And the success of it will determine whether Giuliani once again becomes his party's best hope or fades into the background in a repeat of his 2000 senate bid.
In ? We Trust: Always a factor in American politics, religion surfaced in 2007 in a manner never before seen. Mike Huckabee garnered attention when he proclaimed himself a "Christian leader" and hailed the "birth of Christ" in television advertisements. But those were simply traditional concerns in a very non-traditional discussion.
When Mitt Romney delivered a much-anticipated address on the role of faith in politics, it gave voice to an issue that continues to churn beneath the surface. Romney's Mormon faith has been seen as a detriment to his aspirations within the Republican Party since before he announced. Evangelical suspicions of the faith were not put to rest by his attempt to tie the traditions together. In fact, just this past weekend it was revealed that those suspicions were being exploited in the conservative state of South Carolina.
On the Democratic side, Obama has been dogged by his Islamic heritage - his father was Muslim although he himself is a member of a Christian church in Chicago. Despite that fact, the rumors have persisted, aided along by Obama's middle name, Hussein. At least two Clinton aides in Iowa have resigned after admitting to forwarding e-mails tying Obama to the Islamic faith.
Polls have consistently shown that Americans are unwilling to vote for a Mormon candidate and are unsure which faith Obama in fact belongs to. In the end, faith could play a more pivotal role in both nomination process than it ever has before.
Issues? What Issues? A year that started out as a referendum on the war in Iraq ends with more emphasis on celebrity and personality than any specific issues. The assassination of Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto suddenly thrust foreign affairs back into the spotlight for the first time in months. And while uncertainty in international affairs could well cause some primary voters to reassess their decisions, 2007 was spent on different concerns.
For both, personality and positioning has dominated the landscape but especially among Democrats. Hillary Clinton spent a good chunk of the spring and early summer fending off attacks on her support of the Iraq war and justifying her refusal to apologize for her vote authorizing it. But as summer wore into fall, it became less about the relatively minor differences over policy and more about broad themes and attitudes. There's no doubt that more Americans could accurately name the candidate supported by Oprah Winfrey than could explain the differences in health care proposals.
Among Republicans, immigration supplanted war and terrorism concerns as a policy litmus test. To be sure, social concerns like abortion and religion have played a part, that too has been more attitudinal than specific. The major source of tension has been believability rather than specific differences.
The relative lack of policy differences in both parties were on display in the 20-plus debates held in 2007. Among Democrats, the sharpest differences were voiced by gadfly candidates like Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel while Clinton, Obama and Edwards fought over the margins. On the Republican side, libertarian-minded served as the voice of opposition to established orthodoxy, jousting with Giuliani, Romney and McCain alike.
The Process Dominates: For decades the primacy of Iowa and New Hampshire in the nominating process has been under fire from many of the other 48 states looking for a piece of the lucrative and attention-getting action. While past cycles have seen rogue challenges from the likes of Delaware and Michigan, 2007 began the first all-out assault on the calendar. En mass, mega-states like California, New York and Florida began moving their primary dates earlier in hopes of muscling out Iowa and New Hampshire.
While the national parties have attempted to stem the chaos by striping states moving to dates outside of party guidelines, such disciplinary actions were not enough to avoid creating a process in which voters will begin making their preferences known just three days into the new year. And, with over half of all states voting on or before February 5th, it's likely that at least one nomination battle will be decided a full ten months before the general election, the effects of which will likely change the dynamics of the election in was that can only be guessed at.
Money: Two candidates are nearly certain to top the $100 million mark in campaign donations for 2007 and in the first nine months of the year, nearly $50 million had been spent on campaign ads, according to one analysis of campaign spending. Evan Tracey, the chief operating officer of TNS Media Intelligence/Campaign Media Analysis Group, told the Boston Globe that he expects total ad spending in the presidential race to reach at least $800 million. And Tracey estimates that campaign ad spending at all levels will top $3 billion.
For the first time in recent history, nominees of both parties are expected to opt out of public financing, which limits spending. The increased activity by "outside" groups and so-called "527" organizations will make this the most expensive election ever.
When the 2008 campaign story is written next December, it will certainly speak of events that have yet to be thought of. But the year 2007 will forever have a unique place in presidential campaign history.
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