Open field: The GOP lacks a solid frontrunner for 2008

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Democrats might be tempted to rejoice, but if they think it through, the absence so far of any obvious, viable Republican candidates for the White House in 2008 should be as disturbing to them as it is to the GOP.

The three leading Republican candidates for president all have problems. Sen. John McCain of Arizona appeared to be first in line for some Republicans, but lately he has had to fend off more reports about his age (70) and health and the notion that he may be a man of the past. One poll, for instance, said he was more popular in 2000 when he lost the nomination to George W. Bush.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani still sports some of the shine from having been an effective leader during the 9/11 disaster, but there remain important questions about the propriety of some of his associations -- notably, former New York Police Commissioner Bernard B. Kerik. Last week news surfaced that a client of Mr. Giuliani's law firm is Citgo, the state-owned oil company of Venezuela, which is led by a vocal anti-American president, Hugo Chavez.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is the other member of the Republicans' current big three. His Mormon faith will raise questions among some voters; he has also recently customized some of his stands on issues to try to make his views suit the tastes of Republican conservatives. In addition, he carries the curse of any candidate from Massachusetts.

One of the real problems of the Republican Party as it approaches '08 is the choice it made in 2000 and then repeated in '04 -- to choose Dick Cheney as its vice presidential candidate. Mr. Cheney's health rules him out as a candidate for president and there is thus no Republican crown prince to continue the Bush administration. There was speculation that he would step down for health reasons at some point, to enable the Republicans to plug in a new vice president who would then be a viable candidate for president in 2008. That didn't happen, perhaps because Mr. Bush needed him or Mr. Cheney refused -- and it's probably too late now.

But neither the Democrats nor anyone else should be pleased by the current situation. The United States depends on a two-party system to arrive at the consensus needed to govern a nation of this size.

The Republicans still need to find a viable candidate. So do the Democrats, for that matter. The consolation is there is still plenty of time.


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