By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Missing in action (II)

My friend Larz raises a good point, noting that there are at least 54 people running for president, yet only a handful ever get invited to debates or covered by the media.

I’m not naive. Based on poll numbers, fundraising, experience and the conventionality of their views, I’d say there are only six plausible candidates for president: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards among the Democrats, and Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain among the Republicans. (Sorry, Governor, but the Republicans are not going to commit Huckacide.)

But why should we be screening anyone out before a single vote has been cast? What should the standard be? It seems to me that if a candidate is competing in enough states to win the nomination of either major party, then he or she deserves at least some coverage. How much? I don’t know.

Then there’s the perennial conundrum over what to do in the general election, when independent and minor-party candidates come into play. Again, it seems to me that if a candidate is on the ballot in enough states so that she or he could theoretically win the presidency, then coverage is warranted.

Should such candidates be included in the televised debates? I’d say yes. Maybe for the final debate you could restrict it to candidates who are pulling at least 15 percent in the polls. But I don’t see how you can exclude people until they’ve had a chance to make their case.

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  1. Joel Monka

    It’s all a result of campaign finance laws and public funding of campaigns laws- they were all written, as nearly as possible, to eliminate any possibility that any third party or independent candidate would ever have influence. A more honest title for those laws would have been “The preservation of the Party Bosses act”.

  2. Tony

    I think you way under-estimate Huckabee’s chances. I interviewed him in 2005 and was extremely impressed with him. I have been telling people not to underestimate him and I was not at all surprised by his surge. Having said that, Huckabee’s chances of winning the presidency have everything to do with who the Dems put up [and potentially, whatever votes the candidacies of Bloomberg from the middle and Nader or McKinney from the left earn away from the major party nominees]. If the race comes down to Huckabee and Clinton, which state does Hillary win that Kerry didn’t? Add “Jeopardy” theme music here …I don’t see Hillary winning any of the states Kerry lost. She is probably the most divisive political figure who has forward themselves into the national spotlight in the history of politics. Maybe she wins Iowa this time. Maybe she wins New Mexico, if Richardson is her veepee. But that won’t be enough to win the presidency. She’ll still lose. Another question: Which state does Huckabee lose that Bush didn’t lose? Tick, tock, tick, tock … I don’t see where Huckabee loses any of Bush’s states. Middle America is still very religious. The most impressive thing about Huckabee is that he actually seems to be a compassionate conservative. He raised taxes to pay for health insurance for poor kids. While some like to throw up the pardons and clemency issues at him, that is about forgiveness. That is what compassionate people are supposed to do with criminals who have served their time and turned their lives around. Huckabee is much more impressive than Bush – without all the bullsh*t – and that clown won two elections. Republicans and swing voters believed Bush – a total clown – what will happen when they actually get to meet someone who is a lot more impressive? Has he made mistakes? Sure. But the guy has lived and walked the life. AGain, if the other Dems win the nomination, the entire thing is in play. Obama might be able to put more southern states in play. But that’s a big maybe.

  3. o-fish-l

    Never mind Huckacide, I agree with Tony that he is more viable than Dan thinks, but is anyone else amazed at the three Democrat candidates that Dan considers (and I agree) to be plausible? Talk about political suicide.I mean, with all the negativity toward Bush and the Republicans the last several years this should be a cakewalk for the Dems. Then they rally around a polarizing woman, an African-American man with a Muslim sounding name, and the worst of the worst ambulance chasing lawyer. Before anyone piles on the sexist-racist criticism, let’s be realistic. There are significant segments of the population that might consider voting Dem. but would never vote for either Hillary or Obama. Edwards is just an unbearable phony.I’m not saying the Republican field is free from political handicaps — Rudy’s divorces and Romney’s Mormonism could alienate some, but I don’t see Republicans or independents going Dem. because of those, whereas I could see many Dems. and independents going GOP just because of who the Dem. candidates are. It amazes me that the Dems. would put a candidate up in the General who begins with one hand tied behind his/her back.

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Fish: I rarely agree with you, but I think you’ve accurately identified the vulnerabilities of the three leading Democrats. I also think Romney and Giuliani have enormous vulnerabilities. McCain may be the strongest general-election candidate in either party, but first he has to do what he failed to do in 2000: reassure his own party, which doesn’t seem particularly comfortable with him.

  5. Anonymous

    Tony: Ohio, Iowa, New Mexico. What states that Bush lost do you think Huckabee will carry?Huckabee has basically cast himself in the Frederick March/William Jennings Bryan role in “Inherit the Wind.” America wants someone who believes in God, but they don’t want someone who takes it that seriously. Hillary Clinton will be the next president, in large part because, like the house struck by a plane in the “World According to Garp,” she’s disaster-proof. Everything bad about her the public already knows and is too bored to discuss anymore. “Whitewater” is right up there with “Keating Five” — setting the merits of the case aside, the important thing is that they’re both beyond the political statute of limitations.This may sound incredibly sexist, but there’s a “Lurleen Wallace” factor that plays a major role in Hillary’s campaign. Bill Clinton is so popular now thnbaks to Bush’s failings that America would absolutely give him a third term if given the chance. Hillary is the next best thing.Ironically, the other biggest benificiary of the Bill Clinton legacy is the Republican’s hands-down best bet of retaking the White House in 2008 – Rudy. Because America now doesn’t care if you had a mistress as long as you can do the job. I think Rudy is the strongest general election candidate in either party.Dan: I think McCain’s biggest problem is, unfairly, Reagan’s second-term slip into Alzheimer’s. Most people aren’t going to give a demanding job to a septuagenarian.Bob in Peabody

  6. Local Editor

    To answer your original question,how many of those 54 candidates are on any ballot other than New Hampshire? Anyone with a check for $1,000 can be a candidate there. I don’t think that entitles a candidate to equal coverage.

  7. Anonymous

    It’s not just screening anyone out. You could make an argument at this point in the race for excluding certain candidates because of low poll numbers or poor event turnout, but what is the defense for the hype machine that thrust Fred Thompson into the spotlight while he was still “testing the waters” back in the summer? His Senate career was hardly remarkable, his official announcement on Leno was a dud, he resorted to begging for applause on the campaign trail, and the “lazy like a fox” line that Newsweek fed us has proven to be just that – a line. Yet until last week, on’s “Politics” page, the box on the right featuring the candidate profiles had four republican candidates on the left (including Thompson), and three Dems on the right. This week, with the sensible inclusion of Huckabee, the Republican list has grown to five, while the Dems remain at three, and there’s Thompson, still smiling on the bottom left. Based on the criteria discussed in these two posts, he has no business being there. But the MSM just can’t let go of their darling.And among the, what is it now, 8 percent, of polled Iowan GOP voters who would support Thompson, how many can name even three stands of his on any of the major issues? Maybe a few, but I can’t believe that Thompson would even be on anyone’s radar in Iowa without the significant “help” he got from the Nagourney-Halperin Society. Meanwhile, agree with him on the issues or not, Paul has run a substantive campaign and given direct answers on the trail and at all the debates, but is still ignored by the press. And when asked why, they’ll say, “Oh, look at his poll numbers.”How the heck is he supposed to poll if the press refused to cover him from the beginning?

  8. Dan Kennedy

    Bob: McCain is old and there are some serious questions about his health. I think he needs to do three things to address that: (1) remain healthy and vigorous throughout the campaign, which obviously he has no control over; (2) pick an absolutely first-class running mate whom people would actually like to see as president; (3) talk frankly about what he’ll do if his health prevents him from continuing to serve as president. If he can accomplish those three things, he’ll be fine.

  9. Tony Schinella

    Tony: Ohio, Iowa, New Mexico. What states that Bush lost do you think Huckabee will carry?To Anon949: Huckabee doesn’t need any of the states Bush lost. If he keeps the states Bush WON, he wins too! Bush won Ohio, Iowa, and New Mexico. Huckabee is a populist and he will win over blue collar, lunch bucket Reagan Democrats in states like Ohio, especially against a free trader like Hillary. The Dems need a populist at the top of the ticket or they will be doomed. Hillary will doom them.

  10. Anonymous

    Tony: You asked what states Hillary would win that Kerry didn’t. I posited that Hillary would win Ohio, New Mexico and Iowa, then asked whether you thought Huckabee would win any states that Bush lost that would mitigate those losses. I disagree about Huckabee winning Ohio. Those lunchbucket Reagan Democrats are often Roman Catholic, and won’t be inclined to support Huckabee.Bob in Peabody

  11. Larz

    The 54 candidates are those on the Calif. ballot. If you count them, there are a couple more in the list, as they’ve listed Nader and another twice, under different parties.I recognize that all these candidates can’t expect to draw equal coverage. But how about some, any coverage? Why is it so hard to find a comprehensive list of people who are running? There’s news value in giving a quick summary of who these people are and what they think and stand for. Simply being marginal does not mean they’re unworthy or unclean. They should not be invisible.— Larz

  12. O-FISH-L

    Dan, you’re not supposed to agree with me, dammit! Kidding. Happy New Year to you and yours, and all residents of Media Nation.

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