Looking much like baseball cards and first devised by the New Hampshire secretary of state’s office in the late 1990s, the cards feature presidential candidates who braved the frigid New England weather every four years for the state’s first-in-the-nation primary election. Just like baseball cards, some of the politicians were big-time players while others were obscure, single-issue oddballs who never had a chance.
Your faithful correspondent picked up a set 12 years ago while reporting from the 2000 presidential primary in New Hampshire. Those were the days of John McCain’s “Straight Talk Express,” the maverick-fueled rolling caravan employed by the Republican senator from Arizona as his campaign crisscrossed the state. George W. Bush, the Texas governor and son of the former president, was running as a “compassionate conservative,” a friendly label intended to attract moderates. Al Gore was gingerly walking between two competing legacies — yes, he would keep the economic boom times going but minus the ugly baggage of the sexual scandal that had wounded the Clinton administration.
Twenty-one months after the 2000 New Hampshire presidential primary, members of al-Qaida killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11. Yet, very little energy was spent discussing the issue that would dominate the administration of the 43rd president — global jihadists intent on committing terrorism in the West.
When President George W. Bush ran for a second term in 2004, the dominant issues were gay marriage, Bush’s policies in Iraq, which were rapidly turning into disaster, and the Vietnam service record of his opponent, John Kerry. Yet, as much as anything, Bush’s second term was defined by the economic disaster in the weeks before the 2008 General Election. More specifically, it will likely be defined by the government policies and lack of rigorous oversight over large financial institutions that led to the dismal crash. The country is still working its way through the aftermath of the Great Recession.
In two days, Iowans will mark the opening of the 2012 presidential voting when they gather for Tuesday’s Iowa Caucus townhall-style elections. A week later — on Jan. 10 — New Hampshire voters head to the polls to cast their ballots for the Republican they want to face Barack Obama in November’s General Election.
Several topics emerged during 2011’s Republican debates; by my count, there were at least 15 presidential debates last year. One was the perennial strategy for the party out of the White House — attack the incumbent. A variation on that theme has been derailing Obama’s Affordable Care Act of 2010, derided by all Republican candidates as “Obamacare.” Cutting taxes, deporting illegal immigrants and shrinking the size of government are all topics that have had their moment in the sun during GOP debates.
From Obama we can expect his campaign to prominently mention the capture of Osama bin Laden. Without significant improvement in the economy, the president will be left to argue that things would be worse under any of his Republican opponents. Both Republicans and Democrats will likely sell their strategies for reducing the nation’s enormous debt.
If history is our guide, something else will matter more for the president who begins his term in January 2013. The passions and hot topics that arise between now and the election will likely matter less. Judging a president on controversies of the moment is like predicting the most valuable player of the World Series based on the appearance of big-leaguers’ baseball cards.
Bob Davis is editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at: twitter.com/EditorBobDavis.