Twenty-seven months from now, the two dominant parties in American politics will hold their nominating conventions somewhere in our country. The broken primary election system will have allowed a small minority of the people to decide who will ascend to the top rung of each party, eventually to compete on November 4th, 2008, for the governments top job.
When the 44th President of the United States is sworn into office in January of 2009, the past 132 years will have seen the White House dominated by Republican Presidents by a near two-to-one margin. Democrats will be running hard to to begin a new trend of their own, while Republicans will be fighting just as hard to keep their current eight year streak from coming to an abrupt halt.
While the field of Presidential hopefuls may be looming with big names from both sides, few have shown any actual interest in running this early in the election cycle.
Joseph Biden Jr., one of two Democrats who have announced their intention to seek the Democratic nomination, is a veteran Senator representing the State of Delaware, and no stranger to the arduous nature of presidential campaigns. Having made a run for the nomination in 1988, his campaign faltered when accusations of speech plagiarism -- later attributed to a single mistake in accreditation by a staffer -- damaged his reputation in the hottest of political climates, and was more than enough to derail his efforts.
Another attempt in 2003 was considered and dismissed due to such a late entry, making it difficult if not impossible to raise enough funds to compete with other established candidates. With over two years to go, Biden officially announced his intention to again run for President of the United States in 2008, marking the earliest entry of any candidate so far. Biden has enjoyed a streak of five consecutive victories ever since he won his Senate seat from Republican J. Caleb Boggs in 1972, often with a comfortable margin or 20% or more, but will presumably vacate that seat for the 2008 election.
Biden has a strong history in the Senate as a leader in creating forward-thinking initiatives improving education, Internet access, and tax break incentives for higher education. His experience in foreign policy is substantial. Together with law enforcement, technology, and civil liberties, they enable him to campaign on issues that are typically considered weak spots for most presidential candidates. His stance on abortion has varied; on the one hand he has voted to ban partial birth abortions, and voted no on a bill that would create additional criminal penalties for inflicting harm on an unborn fetus during the commission of another crime. On the other hand, he has in the past supported federal funding aiming to extend health care services to reduce teen pregnancy through education and contraceptives, and also supported a bill amendment that would have repealed a law banning privately funded abortions at military installations outside the United States.
Biden has sided firmly with civil rights, environmentalists, expanded health care, tax reform, gun control, and union rights. He has sided against corporate America, loosening federal regulation of communications, and the USA Patriot Act. He appears as a moderate on the majority of issues, taking a common sense approach to right and wrong, but always erring on the side of liberal caution. As an example, he voted against a bill to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, against a bill in 1999 that would have stopped an increase in the minimum at that time. He voted against President Bush's marque tax cuts, but supported the elimination of the 'marriage penalty' tax, and increasing deductions for education tuition.
Joe Biden is a very well respected 34 year veteran of Senate politics, making any personal attacks on his character difficult, and his professional accomplishments over the years mean attacking the credibility of his stances on issues could be even more difficult.
This early in the process, it remains to be seen if Biden can raise enough funds to compete for the nomination, and whether or not his solid history in the Senate can translate into a strong popular turnout is anything but clear.
Though Biden has been the first person to declare their candidacy from either party, he has so far not been alone. Another Democrat, a former two-term Senator from Alaska, Mike Gravel, has also announced his intention to run for the Democratic nomination.
Gravel has stated that two of his primary issues he intends to run on for the 2008 elections are replacing virtually all taxes in the United States with a single national sales tax, and instituting a change in federal law that would allow people to vote directly on potential laws, as many are already allowed to do at the state level with referendums.
Some have said that the direct democracy issue is far from the minds of mainstream voters, and is of little concern compared to the big ticket issues such as the Iraq war, and social security. Others believe that such a radical restructuring of tax law like that of what Gravel is proposing may be impossible, or at the very least incredibly difficult without the active participation of the majority of Congress. While being bold and holding merit, these issues may pale in comparison to popular ones that other candidates are no doubt going to run on.
Gravel has not been shy about speaking his mind after being linked to a journal which advocates the belief that the holocaust did not occur. "Anyone who denies the Holocaust is patently off their rocker -- it's a ridiculous position ... and the idea that the [documentary] films were a hoax is just bullshit" he has said. Gravel's pro-citizen stances extend to a guaranteed annual income, and a book called Citizen Power.
Gravel is perhaps most famous for placing over half of the Pentagon Papers -- a highly classified study created for the United States government by the RAND corporation over the war in Vietnam -- into the official record of the subcommittee on Buildings and Grounds in 1971 in an attempt to circumvent their classification. Though much information on the study was written about in the press, the study remains classified even today. The only pages circulating in the public are those that Mike Gravel entered into the record himself.
His issues lacking popular support, Gravel faces an uphill battle in the campaign to come, and it is currently unknown how much -- if any -- funding he has managed to raise.
As the weeks and months pass by, it is expected that more high profile Senators will announce that they too will be shooting for the ultimate seat in politics, and for the time being, nobody knows who will land the governments top job.