We're a long way from the 2008 presidential election-- indeed, we're still a good ways off from many primaries. Right now, it's anyone's guess who will emerge as the final set of candidates a little under a year from now. Based on the way things appear now, I wouldn't be surprised if something like Montgomery Brewster's "None of the Above" campaign could gain some serious momentum over the next 11 months.
That said, here's an early read on the status of the current leaders. [Disclaimer: This is IN NO WAY an endorsement of any candidate, personally or as an organization. I certainly do NOT speak on behalf of Hickory Withe Presbyterian Church in this assessment, and even personally this is not a claim of how I will vote or even my inclinations. This is merely an assessment of how I see the race taking shape.]
The candidate that will win the 2008 election must find a way to appeal to the all-important middle-ground moderates-- a growing segment of our population. At the same time, they must strike certain chords with either politically conservative or progressive voters on certain issues; ideally, the candidate would be able to appeal to both extremes on some issues. I think it's safe to say that no Americans (or at least, very few) want to see the country divided as strongly as the 2000 Bush vs. Gore race.
Right now, the front-runners of the Democratic Party-- Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, and John Edwards-- are not leaning enough toward the center to woo as many moderates as they will eventually need to court. This is probably because they are (smartly) thinking primarily about the next vote only: they realize that they must win the nomination of their party in order to move ahead. (I recall hearing President Bill Clinton making this argument at some point-- maybe on David Letterman?)
But many voters from all points on the political spectrum are paying attention to both sides. Perhaps more than ever, the claims made during Primary campaigns will matter throughout the general election. Thus, any of these Democratic front-runners are in danger of marginalizing themselves with general election voters, or appearing to waffle on important issues down the line.
On the Republican side, many of the candidates are doing the same thing, in a slightly different way: some are following the same path and skewing too far to the right for a lot of moderates (I think Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson fit this category), while others (Rudy Giuliani and John McCain?) have moved to the middle so much that they have made a lot of the "far-right" conservatives uncomfortable.
Mike Huckabee, however, seems to have found a bit of balance here: he resonates with the conservatives on a handful of key issues, but appeals to moderates (and even some of the more "liberal" voters) on others.
Huckabee still has a long way to go. If he continues to succeed in his campaign, however, it may prove interesting to see if my read on this is accurate. Back in 2000, I thought a really interesting race would have been John McCain vs. Bill Bradley-- both were moderate enough to pose a significant "threat" to the other in the middle-ground. Will we see the same thing this year? Maybe Mike Huckabee vs. Bill Richardson...
Keep in mind, I'm not talking who should win, but who could. Often, "should" and "could" are different, at least in politics. Why? Because "should" is inherently subjective; my idea of "should" is inevitably different from yours. So the only way that "should" will win (or become "could") is if enough people generally agree with me (of course, that may mean that "should" doesn't win from your vantage point).
So why does this matter? To begin with, Americans-- and especially Christians-- tend to think far too individualistically about the world, including politics. I've heard too many times from Christians, "if so-and-so is elected President, I'm moving to Canada." Why is that? Aside from the fact that these Christians may not like Canada's leadership any more than the U.S.'s, perhaps they need to ask why they believe the election is all about them.
In fact, elections aren't about anyone in particular-- they are about all of us together. Sometimes what is best for a community is not what is necessarily best for any particular individual member of that community. So it is with a nation, as well. I'm all for contributing to the costs of paving roads I'll never use, and police and fire services I hope I won't have to use, because those roads, policemen, and fire fighters keep other people safe. And I need to realize that the best man-- or woman-- for President of the United States may not be the one among all candidates who will "benefit" me the most.
So "could" matters, even if the pundits tell us that we shouldn't vote based on electability. Rather than a "take my marbles and go home" attitude, Christians should lead the charge in supporting electable candidates who are good for the nation, state, and local community-- even if their worldviews differ somewhat from ours.