If you ask Americans how many political parties are contesting the presidential race this year, most will say two. They are wrong. Right now there are five parties in play—two on the Democratic side, and three in the Republican arena.
On the Democratic front, the establishment candidate is Hillary Clinton. That means the old guard Dems who supported Bill Clinton are now using their organizational capacities to help his wife become president. New Hampshire was a great example: Clinton "people" from all over the country poured into the Granite State, making sure traditional Democratic voters got to the polls. That effort made the difference for Senator Clinton.
The other Democratic party-within-the-party is the far-left element, the "give peace a chance" crowd. I call them Yoko Ono Democrats. They are adamantly against the Iraq war and aggressively challenging worldwide terrorism. These people feel Hillary Clinton is too nuanced in her Iraq posture and don't trust her to set up the "new" America they desperately want.
By the way, the Yoko Ono people are split between John Edwards and Barack Obama.
On the GOP side, there is no establishment candidate, which is why we are seeing a virtual free-for-all in the voting. The social conservative choice is Mike Huckabee, who is ardently pro-life and pro-traditional marriage. The economic conservatives like Mitt Romney, who is a big business guy. And the moderate Republicans support either John McCain or Rudy Giuliani.
So there are really three separate and distinct Grand Old Party voting blocs.
If the big issue is "values," then Huckabee wins as he did in Iowa. If the primary concern is security and cutting waste, then McCain and Giuliani score. But if it's the economy, stupid, Mitt Romney comes out on top.
Of course, nobody knows how all of this will shake down in the general election, and that's why the campaign of 2008 is so interesting. I suspect the Clinton machine will prevail on the Democratic side, but, at this point, Barack Obama has come too far to be dismissed. So expect him to be the vice presidential nominee.
On the Republican side of the court, it is still a jump ball, with Romney and McCain having the best position. Traditional Republicans realize Governor Huckabee would have big trouble in the general election, not being able to compete in big states like California and New York.
Rudy Guiliani could compete in those states, but got clobbered in the initial voting, so Florida is his last stand. But remember, the mayor is one terror incident away from re-igniting. And if he does well in the Sunshine State, he's back in contention.
So there you have it—a great presidential campaign so far. No spin.