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Somehow, It Seemed Easier When They Just Threw Hats Into The Ring

Now that we've decided Democrats are going to romp to big victories in the 2006 midterm elections if they can just hold it together (these things are always decided six months out, after all), is it time to turn our full media attention toward 2008? Since "conventional wisdom" has a way of turning out in very unconventional ways, you should be wary of making big predictions for November in May. But that's hardly going to keep us from going full-blast on that big race, slated to come up for a vote in a full two and a half years.

We're already waist-deep in stories about Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain as well as a short list of other heavy-hitters but you can't have too many names in the mix when it comes to preparing for primary season. Of course, there's always room for more.

Appearing on NPR's "On The Media", host Brooke Gladstone asked New York Times Magazine editor Gerald Marzorati about two potential presidential candidates who have appeared on that publication's cover over the past several months – former Virginia Governor Mark Warner and Sen. Chuck Hagel. While maintaining that these stories were more about ideas than these two individuals, Marzorati acknowledged attaching figures to a discussion of those ideas is necessary. "Presidential politics is sort of where we focus our attention as a nation," Marzorati said.

Still Gladstone was curious about whether Warner and Hagel represented the "anti-Hillary" and "un-McCain" respectively, a question never really answered. The NPR host isn't the only one noticing the search for alternatives to the commonly regarded front-runners of both parties. CJR's Liz Cox Barrett last week saw the same dynamic at work on the cover of New York Magazine, which made clear that former Vice President Al Gore was becoming the "Un-Hillary." Barrett points out Gore is just the latest entry for that title, joining the likes of Warner and Sen. Russ Feingold before him and notes:

It's all part of the speculative run-up to primary season when there isn't much for the political press to report. What's a political reporter to do when the primaries themselves are nearly two years away? Why, hand out meaningless titles! Or declare -- with a little help from pollsters, think-tankers, and anonymous sources (including once and future campaign managers) -- "This is the one to watch."
Recently another name has catapulted to the top of the "hot" list, that of freshman Sen. Barak Obama. A rising star in the Democratic Party even before he was elected to the U.S. Senate, Obama seems to have gone from promising leader and potential vice presidential material to superstar in near-record time. Jeff Zeleny wrote the latest Obama-as-presidential-candidate story in the Chicago Tribune Sunday:
In recent weeks, Washington chatter about Obama eyeing the presidential race has increased. Leading Senate Democrats and party activists have privately urged him to consider a campaign, or at the very least, to leave the door open for a possible last-minute entry.
As Zeleny observes, this kind of name-tossing is "a ritual that unfolds every four years, at this very time, when politicians openly dream, tease and ruminate about their presidential ambitions, knowing full well there is hardly a downside to such public conjecture."

All the more reason to take all this talk with an entire shaker-full of salt.

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