On a Tuesday morning right before the Christmas break, I sat mesmerized at a breakfast held at one of Washington’s toniest hotels as the leading guru of political prognostication, Charlie Cook, spun his tale of politics 101. Cook, a native Louisianan, has made his name in Washington as the go-to guy for playing the odds on Presidential politics, U.S. Senate, House and state races. Cook’s considered by many as the best there is for political predictions.
Among his “bon mots” from last year’s breakfast – I wasn’t there but my table mates recounted it – Cook told the audience that Rudy Guliani has “as much chance of winning the Republican nomination as I have of winning the Tour de France.” In order to appreciate that comment, you have to see the man- he’s, well, chubby, very chubby. He probably wouldn’t make it more than a kilometer or two on the straightaway, let alone into the Alps.
Cook’s reasoning? In order to win the republican nomination you have to be at least two of these three: anti-abortion (Guiliani’s pro-choice); anti-gun control (Guiliani’s pro-control, at least he was as mayor of New York City); and anti-gay rights (Guiliani backs civil unions and was considered very gay-friendly while mayor of NYC).
So who does Cook think has the best chance of winning the Republican nomination? He’s giving the odds to Mitt Romney, Massachusetts’ former governor. What about the Huckabee surge ? Cook says he has no money and no organization. And Fred Thompson –“they use the term ‘running’ for a reason. He’s not running, he’s sauntering.” As for Senator John McCain, he doesn’t have any money left either – he blew through a lot of his campaign war chest early on - and he’s made serious tactical mistakes, like backing a compromise on immigration that is inimical to the beliefs of his republican base. Cook doesn’t think McCain can do it.
On the democratic side, Cook says that if Hillary Clinton loses Iowa – the candidates are neck-and-neck there – and New Hampshire, she’s dead. If Obama wins one of these two and Clinton the other, Cooks says it’s a horserace. Cook told the audience that the democrats have a 60-40 chance of winning, but neither “Clinton nor Obama wins big.”
If dems could run a “placebo – you know, your generic boring white male ticket, say former Virginia governor Mark Warner and Indiana Senator Evan Bayh - that might guarantee them the top elected official slot.” But, as Cook noted, that’s not happening this year. So, if Cook is right, we’re looking at a Clinton-Romney race come spring, when all the dust has settled and the presidential race at full tilt. If not, well, Cook won’t be the first Washington pundit to get it wrong, but he’ll always be one of the most entertaining.