TAMIL NADU

No one is counting them out

AT LEAST for the next 12 months, there will be all kinds of speculation, especially within the Democratic Party and in the media, on last-minute entrants, or last-minute forced draftees. And the more vehement the denials, the stronger will be the stories.

Watch out for Al Gore, the former Vice-President and presidential candidate in November 2000, and for the former First Lady and currently a junior Senator from the State of New York, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Of the two Democrats, political pundits are more likely to talk about Ms. Clinton. Many in the Democratic Party were disturbed that Mr. Gore simply disappeared after the troubled elections of November 2000. The political hibernation has led to the belief that the former Vice-President will have to pay a very heavy price if he comes back on the campaign trail. But for all the reservations the Democrats have about Mr. Gore and Ms. Clinton, why are the two constantly making news in the context of November 2004?

First, the Democrats — especially the leaders — are worried about the present nine or ten in the field and their ability to defeat the well-oiled money machine of George W. Bush.That apart, the party is also genuinely worried about the prospect of a sniping match that can further alienate the rank and file.

No one is counting them out

For example, there are some in the Pack of Nine who are opposed to Howard Dean rising rapidly; and are toying with the idea of launching a frontal attack on him. The thinking is that when things start falling apart, the party leadership and elders will step in. Imagine this happening especially after the zillions of dollars the existing candidates have spent!

Secondly, the Democratic leadership is concerned about name recognition. In a recent poll, 65 per cent could not name any of those running for the Democratic Party ticket. Nationally and within the Democratic Party, whether people like them or not, Mr. Gore and Ms. Clinton are recognised by name.

Mr. Gore has emphatically ruled out his return to the nomination process. Recently in New York, he said that he would endorse a candidate somewhere down the line. Yet he has not been counted out.

But there is a greater degree of attention on Ms. Clinton even if she has been equally emphatic in saying that she is not a candidate for the 2004 elections. "I am absolutely ruling it out," she said in upstate New York recently. But Clinton supporters, on seeing the dwindling numbers of George Bush and the so-called fumbling Pack of Nine or Ten, believe the junior Senator from New York is the best bet.

Ms. Clinton's "no" has faced its share of scepticism. There are those who say she has been very careful in not saying that she will turn down the party nomination; or that she will not serve if elected. In part, she has based her decision on the promise she made to her voters that she would serve her full term, which ends in 2007. But then, Bill Clinton also `promised' to serve out his full term as Governor of Arkansas only to break it and enter the presidential race in 1992.

The speculation about Ms. Clinton's candidacy has also to do with another calculation: what if some Democrat actually gets to beat Mr. Bush in 2004? Her 2008 plans will fizzle out, as she will not be inclined to challenge a Democratic President. This will effectively leave her unable to take a shot at the presidency until 2012.

Is she willing to wait that long? While it is still unclear whether or not Ms. Clinton is a factor to be reckoned with, one thing is clear: if she does enter the fray, she will keep her consummate politician-husband and brilliant campaigner as an essential part of her team. — S.K.

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