With 53 weeks until the 2008 Iowa caucuses, voters could be forgiven for thinking they had plenty of time to enjoy life before the start of another bruising and expensive presidential campaign. But MSNBC is rushing to raise the curtain: Yesterday the cable network announced it would broadcast the first debate of the 2008 presidential season on April 26, 2007—a full 278 days before South Carolina’s Democratic presidential primary.
Presidential campaigns have always been drawn-out affairs—for the candidates. A serious candidacy usually takes at least a couple years of assembling staff, raising money, and trying out the stump speech on the rubber chicken circuit. What’s different in the current era of blogs and 24-cable news is that the news-absorbing public is privy to an increasingly long portion of the pre-campaign. MSNBC isn’t even breaking new ground: In the last election cycle, 59 ABC News affiliates carried the May 3, 2003 South Carolina Democratic debate.
And yes, Bob Graham was there! Who? You probably don’t remember Graham’s candidacy, he of the daily diaries who dropped out in October 2003. You might have a slightly better recollection of Carol Mosely Braun and Dick Gephardt having run, even though they didn’t make it out of Iowa. They were also at the first debate. But Wesley Clark wasn’t. He jumped in late (and stayed in long enough to allow this reporter the ironic thrill of bellying up to the same bar as Ted “Sam Malone” Danson).
So who’ll show up this April, and will it have any bearing on the choices primary voters face the following year? (“And who cares?” comes the heckling from many readers, I’m sure.) Beats this blogger. One thing you can bet on is that the dais in South Carolina will feature a few of the same folks who sat there four years earlier: Kerry, Edwards, Kucinich. They’ll all just look a little older—well, everyone except Edwards.