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Underdogs pursue White House beneath the radar of Obama-Clinton clamor

Underdogs pursue White House beneath the radar of Obama-Clinton clamor

Clinton, Obama. Obama, Clinton. From the TV talk shows to the political blogs, all the buzz is about the possibility that Democrats could put the first woman or first black in the White House.
Thus the public can be forgiven if they are generally unaware that there is a pack of a half dozen or more other Democrats who hope to break through during the next year to win the nomination.
These second-tier candidates may look more like the presidents who have previously occupied the White House, but know they will have to run a new kind of campaign to get there in 2008.
The emergence of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois at the top of the field _ although neither has formally announced their candidacy _ shows that the next Democratic primary will be an untraditional campaign with a new set of rules for everyone who wants to play. And that is not just because of the demographic barriers they would break.
Clinton is a former first lady with an unrivaled network of connections honed over decades in political partnership with her husband. Obama's skyrocket to top-tier contender after just two years in the Senate shows certain factions of the party are eager for a fresh face who can take her on.
Their appeal has already chased at least one other potential candidate from the race. Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh withdrew earlier this month saying he was just a David who could not win against the party's Goliaths. But many others are sticking to their plans to run, with similar strategies for rising to the top, according to interviews with several campaign strategists.
The first part of the underdog strategy counts on the dynamics of the race to shift in the coming months. The expectation is that as voters look closer at the candidates, they will focus on flaws in the top two.
Clinton is a divisive figure who is disliked by almost as many voters as those who embrace her, which could mean trouble in a general election. Obama may be charismatic, but he does not have much experience to be president.
"It's very likely to be the case that Clinton and Obama pretty much blot out the sun over the next several months," said Jim Jordan, who is advising Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, a potential candidate.
The question is how early primary voters will look at the candidates a year from now, Jordan said. "Do they see a president inside of either of those two, or do they then start taking a serious look at other candidates?"
The potential candidate best positioned to shake up the top tier is former Vice President Al Gore, whose movie about global warming and longtime opposition to the Iraq war give him a natural platform to enter the race, Democratic strategists said.
Gore has said he has no interest in running for president in 2008, but he has been careful not to completely rule out a bid.
John Edwards, the 2004 vice presidential nominee; Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio have already announced their candidacies. Other potential candidates include New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joe Biden of Delaware, and retired Gen. Wesley Clark.
Vilsack hopes that his background as an experienced executive outside Washington will appeal to voters, especially those in his home state who have the first nominating vote in January 2008.
Although "celebrity candidates" may be creating the buzz in Iowa now, public opinion tends to shift in the year before the caucus and voters will be looking for a Democrat who can win, Vilsack spokesman Josh Earnest said.
"This winnability message is going to be critically important in the Democratic primary this time around," Earnest said.
The second part of the underdog strategy is to create a buzz with big new ideas that capture the voters' attention. Edwards entered the race on Thursday with that idea in mind.
The former North Carolina senator, who has made poverty his signature issue, chose the backyard of a nearly-rebuilt house in New Orleans' hurricane-devastated Ninth Ward as the backdrop for his announcement of his candidacy. He called for a new spirit of activism on the part of all Americans to bridge the gap between rich and poor and to reassert the nation's moral leadership.
"That's why I'm in New Orleans," said Edwards, standing before student volunteers who worked to rebuild the house, "to show what's possible when we as Americans, instead of staying home and complaining about somebody else not doing what they're supposed to, we actually take responsibility and we take action."
The hope is that even if the national media is consumed with the excitement of Clinton and Obama, a candidate with different ideas will catch on with grass roots and "net roots" activists online. The netroots helped propel Howard Dean to the front of the pack in 2003 and brought in tens of millions of dollars in small donations.
Those small-dollar donations also helped Democrats take control of the Senate in the 2006 election. Democrat Jim Webb won a squeaker in Virginia with last-minute spending on television ads. Webb did not go out and raise that money himself like candidates have had to do in the past. His surge started when video that put his opponent in a bad light spread around the Internet and online donations flooded into his headquarters.
Dina Kaplan, a former Clinton White House official and veteran of television news, predicts video blogging will "turn presidential politics on its head" in 2008.
Vilsack, for example, has made video blogging an integral part of his campaign strategy, especially his effort to woo young voters.
"I think young people appreciate this," Vilsack said. "This is how young people get their information. I need to do more of it and get better at it."
Joe Trippi, who managed Howard Dean's campaign, said these underdogs have a real shot, but they must go outside normal channels and present "some boldness that makes people say, `Wait a minute, am I really going to stay with the conventional wisdom of who is going to win here?' "
"If you're going to play by the rules, let's just stick a fork in you. Hillary Clinton is the nominee," Trippi said.


Updated : 2021-03-04 01:30 GMT+08:00