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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Searching for Dem stars amid cloudy skies

Re-election is far from assured for President Obama. But his chances are notably higher by dint of incumbency and glimmers of the magic woven so perfectly in 2008. If Democrats refrain from their usual posture of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and rally behind the notably battered and all-too human president, 2012 could be a lock, with voter registration ratios alone.

Whatever way it shapes up, one thing is abundantly clear: there’s a vast void for Dems for 2016.  

Unlike on the GOP side, the spotlight has been scant for up-and-coming Dems during the Age of Obama. His shadow so all encompassing, it’s been hard for the public to focus on a pipeline. Worse, there are fears among activists that a bench of any depth may not truly exist.

This is the flip side of incumbency, as it provides an easy and open platform for dissent – voices that are most resonant when the other side appears solidly sewn up. It’s the space that is occupied by the Chris Christies, Nikki Haleys and Paul Ryans, among others. They’ve not only drawn national spotlight, but they’ve invited viewers in for close-ups with actions that tease higher aspirations.

Even if Obama is not returned to the White House, his presence indicated a national appetite for younger leadership, more prone to innovation and not chained to the Boomer-based culture wars and pathos. That will be one of many factors voters will explore in the coming years, on both sides of the aisle.

Unless something drastic occurs, 2016 will probably produce a field and a candidate from nowhere, a la Bill Clinton circa 1992. And Dems have to hope that diamond in the rough can outshine the crew from the other side already glossing their lips, hair and talking points. 

That said, here’s a quick glance at the constellations and a few younger Dem stars – shooting and falling:

Harold Ford Jr.
The former congressman’s worked hard for most of his career to establish himself as a centrist, and presented himself in ways that would have most ignore his hint of color – including hanging at the Playboy mansion. He was savaged in a U.S. Senate race in his home state of Tennessee despite his hawkish and socially conservative Blue Dog Democrat credentials. Flirtations for a run in his adopted New York never materialized, yet despite that stumble, the 41-year-old has remained a player on the scene and handles his media appearances with confidence. But it’s been a minute since his 2000 address before the Democratic National Convention – a platform that Obama used far more effectively in 2004.

Jennifer Granholm
As a former governor of a hard-scrabble, hard-hit state, she has plenty of supporters and detractors based on her two terms of service and her earlier bid as Michigan’s attorney general. Sharp-witted and fun on the stump, she’s won over legion and continues pushing for the party. Being a woman and raised in blue-leaning California are pluses, but as she was born outside the United States (a native Canadian whose family roots trace to Norway and Sweden), this blonde’s ambition is Constitutionally short-circuited.

Amy Klobuchar
Claiming her place in the stuffy boys’ club known as the U.S. Senate, the Minnesota lawmaker routinely brings wit, humor and thoughtfulness to the table on behalf of Democrats. Part hip teacher, part subversive, her personality matches her policy and she’s been a loyal and fierce party stalwart. Her Midwest roots and authenticity give the 51-year-old a boost. Her liberal following poses to be as much of a hindrance as a benefit.

Marty O’Malley
Maryland has laid goose eggs in sending lawmakers south to occupy the White House, but this former Baltimore mayor and current governor combines urban grit with suburban language – a winning combination for him to date. His risen from assistant state attorney through the muck that is Baltimore City Council to Annapolis to chair of the Democratic Governors Association. Plus, he has his own Irish jam band for extra cool points. At 48, he has youth and the Catholic Church on his side, even if his national profile is still fairly muted.

Deval Patrick
Having run a liberal state in the Northeast for two terms, though his re-election was tight, gives the 54-year-old Massachusetts governor the executive leadership bonafides voters crave. While Obama bust open the color barrier, it’s not clear the country is ready for another black man to take the helm quite yet (despite any best-case-scenario dreams of the GOP’s Herman Cain). Still, being tight with Obama, having the requisite autobiography selling and retaining a neat public profile gives him a platform for consideration.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz
This is one woman who doesn’t mind being a pit bull in the political arena. Her command of talking points and fearlessness in tearing into an opponent’s argument won her fans. Her tenacity – and the milquetoast tenure of Tim Kaine – won her the post of Democratic National Committee chair. That she is a woman and from voter-rich Florida adds to her arsenal. Her biggest detractions would be a perception that she skews too far to the left and may have scrambled Middle East priorities. One 44-year-old to watch.

Anthony Weiner
So much has been said about the former New York congressman whose hubris overtook his common sense. Shame. His vicious, vitriolic attacks on the more ridiculous, hypocritical aspects of GOP policy served his party well. Youthful enough to eventually mount a comeback in the public arena, his dreams of occupying NYC’s City Hall anytime soon vanished overnight with mounting tabloid coverage of his “sexting” affairs – much less 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

And for the wildest of wildcards . . .

George Clooney
Okay, why not? The GOP had Reagan. The Dems could recruit one the foremost Hollywood humanitarian actor/director/thinkers for a White House run. No one would take him seriously at first, much like Reagan. Then he could dazzle with his command of the topics and his eloquence. His skills would be formidable; consider all the scripts he’s had to memorize and the benefit of his relative ease in front of a camera in this media-driven age. In a populist-leaning year, he could be what ails the party – beefcake factor aside. Besides Michelle Obama, this would be the dream candidate that no one would imagine knocking on a voter's door.

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