For cumulative ratings on the 2008 candidates, see Cumulative Scorecards for the 2008 Democratic Debates.
(See cumulative ratings at Rating Bill Richardson - Cumulative Scorecard for the 2008 Debates.)
If I was forced to cast my vote today, in February 2007, for the Democratic 2008 nominee, based on the candidates' presentations at the DNC Winter 2007 Meeting, I would cast it (to my surprise) for Bill Richardson.
While the 7-term Congressman and former U.N. ambassador is always well-spoken and personable, the newly trim-and-fit Gov. Richardson made an brilliant case as to why he should be the nominee.
His rapport with the Democratic faithful was warm and instant and he effused friendly goodwill toward the Democratic candidates.
Richardson reminded us why Americans tend to elect governors, rather than senators, to the presidency. As governor, acclaimed international diplomat, and as Energy Secretary under President Clinton, Bill Richardson lays claim to:
* brokering international agreements
* understanding the Middle East
* balancing budgets
* expanding health insurance access
* significantly raising teacher pay
* creating 80,000 new jobs in New Mexico
* decreasing unemployment to its lowest level since 1978
* passing state legislation to protect the civil rights of same-gender couples
Gov. Richardson spoke at length about the Iraq War, proclaiming that "We've done in Iraq what we said we would do... It's time for our troops to leave with honor."
And Richardson lamented, "I don't know how any president could be so blind to the hurt and anguish in this country, and so blind to the will of the people... "
Richardson, the nation's only Latino governor, made no reference to his ethnicity (Caucasian father, Latino mother) and no specific appeal to Latino voters. Instead, he opted to state that Democrats need a candidate who can be victorious in "every region of the country"... which could exclude Hillary Clinton (several parts of the country) and Barack Obama (the South), at least.
The Verdict on Richardson: Leader of the middle-tier candidate, with an excellent chance to break-out into the top tier, especially if Clinton, Obama and/or Edwards falter.
Bill Richardson's strengths are his superlative track record. Based on experience, he's doubtlessly the most qualified of the 10 candidates for the 2008 Democratic run for the presidency.
Richardson has 2 challenges: He's not as well-known nationally as the frontrunners, and he has a reputation for living grandly and large, which occasionally bothers the frugal crowd.
Former Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa
Like Gov. Richardson, Gov. Vilsack's speech and resume reminded me again why the last 2 Democrats elected president were both governors: experience, deep and wide.
During Mr. Vilsack's 8 years as Iowa's governor, he:
* balanced 8 budgets, and left a surplus for his predecessor.
* built, from nothing, a renewable energy industry.
* greatly expanded health insurance access.
* pushed legislation that granted targeted tax relief.
Tom Vilsack has none of Gov. Richardson's diplomatic or foreign affairs experience, though, and little of Richardson's charisma, but Vilsack received a passionate response for his powerful, plain-spoken speech in which he declared:
"Our policies have been directed by fear. Fear of special interests. Fear of foreign governments. Fear of the unknown. No family can live in fear. No government can be run in fear. And the American dream can never be renewed by fear. the time has come in this country to replace fear with courage... "
And on Iraq, he took no wishy-washy, poll-tested stance:
"The war must end, and our troops must be brought home now. Congress has a constitutional responsibility and a moral obligation to do it now!"
The Verdict on Vilsack: A middle-tier candidate with longshot potential to break-out into the top tier.
Tom Vilsack's viability as a 2008 possibility is a pleasant surprise. His drawbacks, of course, are that he's a virtual unknown nationally, and he lacks national political and U.S. foreign policy experience at a time when such experience is desperately needed.
Former Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska
(See cumulative ratings at Rating Mike Gravel - Cumulative Scorecard for the 2008 Debates.)
Mike Gravel, a 2-term U.S. Senator from Alaska during the Vietnam War era and Democratic thorn-in-the-side to President Nixon, gave a barn-burner of a speech roundly condemning the Iraq War and every Democrat who voted for it in 2002. He orated above the Democratic din:
"The Democrats controlled the Senate in October 2002, and provided cover for the President to invade Iraq... Political calculations trumped reality, and the Middle East was set ablaze. It was politics as usual.
"Anyone who voted for the war on October 11, 2002, based on what President Bush presented to them, is not qualified to hold the office of President of the United States."
And his tough talk grew even tougher... to the undisguised delight of the room.
No word on what energetic 76-year-old Mr. Gravel has been doing since he left the Senate in 1981, or what qualifies him to be president now. But he certainly packs a powerful wallop of a speech.
And by staying in the race and participating in the debate, he threatens to derail the candidacy of anyone who voted for the Iraq War in 2002, which is Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd. Barack Obama must love this guy.
The Verdict on Gravel: Bottom-tier candidate, and not likely to rise in public ratings. But Mike Gavel promises to keep the race lively and focused.