Over the course of a 162 game baseball season, the best teams will lose about a third of the games they play. The Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians both had the best overall records during the regular season and both lost 66 games apiece. The worst teams will also manage to win about a third of their games. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays had the worst overall record in the major leagues this year and finished 30 games out of first place in their division and yet still managed to win 66 games. The key difference between being a World Series Champion and finishing in the basement is how the team does in the other third of their games.

Presidential politics is similar in that both the Republicans and Democrats manage to each get about 40-45% of the overall votes in a given election. Unless there is a viable third party candidate capable of siphoning off large amounts of votes from one or both parties (think Ross Perot in 1992) or someone who can alter the outcome in a key state or two (Ralph Nader in Florida in 2000) someone has to be able to capture the majority of the 10 to 20% of the votes that are routinely up for grabs. These are the so-called independent or “swing” votes because they do not consistently vote for a single party regardless of the candidate that party has put forward.

Already we see the dynamic of party politics at work. For many Democrats, it doesn’t matter who their nominee is as long as the Republicans are defeated. By the same token, the priority for Republicans is holding onto the White House and has less (at least at this stage) about who the nominee will be. When the Republican┬ácandidates started focusing on Hillary Clinton as the target of criticism rather than their fellow Republicans, it was clear that this dynamic was at work.

This begs the question of what it will take to win the 2008 election. What will be the issues that will decide who is victorious next November? In reviewing all the issues that have been discussed so far (and as Michael Barone points out a debate about issues has definitely been lacking to date) it seems to me that this election will boil down to three major areas of concern.

1. The Global War on Terror

According to the Democrats, the 2006 Congressional election was about changing the direction (i.e., withdrawing) in Iraq. But after no fewer than 40 attempts to cut off funding the war, Democrats have failed to change the course. Instead, the President changed the military strategy and as a result the situation is improving. But other threats such as Iran loom on the horizon. Americans seem to have a better understandng that this war is unlike any other that we have previously fought. In order to remain safe, we have to continue to remain on the offensive. Therefore, any President is going to have to have a coherent strategy for continuing to prosecute the war on terror beyond the stabilization of Iraq.

2. Immigration

As Hillary Clinton learned the hard way, immigration is a big issue. It goes hand-in-hand with the war on terrorism as we need to know who is in the country and why. It’s also a thorny issue as voters are becoming touchy about whether to offer government benefits and services to immigrants especially if they are here illegally. Neither party has fully developed a comprehensive position on immigration and this is one area where there is tremendous opportunity to appeal to swing voters.

3. The Role and Size of Government

This has been an area where the two parties have traditionally been able to stake out differences. But recent big spending by President Bush and the Republican Congress (when they were in charge 2000 to 2006) has made Republicans as much the party of big government as Democrats. But there are still a wide range of issues (taxes, climate change regulation and government role in health insurance, to name a few) that the parties have an opportunity to stake out positions on that will provide a sense of choice for voters. With the recent debates within Republican circles over federalism it is clear that they are still trying to map out a coherent vision of what the role of government should be.

It may not be until after the nominations are sown up that we start to see a real debate over issues. But don’t be surprised if these issues aren’t at the top of the candidates’ agendas by next summer.

Filed under: DemocratsPoliticsRepublicansTom

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