Gergen to Symposium attendees: Democrats likely to win White House

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Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton may win the White House in 2008, political adviser and journalist David Gergen told attendees Tuesday, June 5, at the CCJ Spring Symposium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

An adviser to presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, Gergen was the keynote speaker at the 18th annual gathering of truck industry leaders at the home of Randall-Reilly Publishing. With in-party political debates dominating this week’s headlines, Gergen made his own political forecasts.

Gergen called the Democratic Party’s bid for the presidency fascinating. He called it a two-way fight between Sens. Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.). “Democrats like to fall in love, they like to have someone who really moves their heart strings,” he said. “The issue right now for them is they’re falling in love, but not with their front-runner. Hillary Clinton is the front-runner, but they love Obama.”

Gergen likes Obama’s youth — a reminder of Bobby Kennedy’s energy — but said the 45-year-old may be too inexperienced. He called Clinton forceful. “She is very experienced, she’s a take-charge person,” he said. “She’s going to be hard to stop.”

Having worked for Bill Clinton during his term in office, Gergen said he regularly talked with the current New York senator. “She told me that when she goes out, a lot of the guys my age tell her that ‘I sure would like my daughter to be like you, but you know something, I’m glad my wife isn’t.’ ”

Baggage from her husband’s presidency might hurt Clinton’s chances with Southern conservatives, though, Gergen said. Bill Clinton’s administration had its firestorms – the Whitewater scandal and the Monica Lewinsky affair, among them. Voters from northern and West Coast states could trump that deficit.

“Democrats are likely to win,” Gergen said of the White House bid, referring to deep voter and political dissatisfaction with George W. Bush’s handling of the Iraq war. Gergen said some polls show Bush’s approval rating at 20 percent.

No Republican front-runners are evident as of yet, Gergen said. Rudolph Giuliani is leading in polls, and Gergen said he admires the former New York mayor’s leadership after the 9/11 attacks. Yet, baggage from an extra-marital affair and his controversial views could doom him. “I don’t see Giuliani getting the nomination of this party,” Gergen said.

Former stronghold Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) also is lagging. Gergen blames McCain’s imprisonment by Viet Cong forces for “taking its toll on his body.” Likewise, Mitt Romney may prove unpopular with Christian evangelicals because of his Mormon beliefs, and Sen.-tuned-actor Fred Dalton Thompson may not have the political strength to win party favor.

When pressed to choose a Republican candidate, though, Gergen said he put his money on the former New York mayor. But Gergen repeated his reservations, adding simply, “I don’t know” who will win the Republican nomination.

Yet, not all is set in stone. Despite media hoopla over a collapse within Republican leadership circles, Gergen quipped that “Democrats have a history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”

With issues such as the war in Iraq, a nuclear-powered Iran, climate change, skyrocketing health care costs, Social Security and Medicare, and economic globalization, Gergen said the eventual winner faces numerous challenges.

“Whoever wins this thing, it’s going to be tough,” Gergen said. “So many of these problems we let accumulate, and they are all going to come down on the desk of the next president. It’s going to be darn hard to get it all done. The next president is going to inherit the toughest set of problems of any president since Franklin Roosevelt took office in ’33.”

Gergen’s address centered on those same problems. He said a growing disconnect between politics and the economy could worsen a “gathering storm” that could stifle American life unless they are solved by joint Republican and Democrat leadership.

“Are we going to get ready to deal with what’s coming or not? Because if we don’t deal with it, we’re going to be faced with a lot of serious, serious restraints, and you’re going to find that our economy is not going to prosper as well as it should,” Gergen said.

“There are three billion people now that have come into the workplace around the world, through India and China and Russia,” Gergen said. “And those people are competing with us not just to buy our goods, but they are also competing with us to take our jobs, and that process of trying to keep American educated well enough to compete in the 21st century is a big, big threat to a lot of them.”

Further, jobs that are being created within America don’t compete with those from just a few years ago. “On average, the jobs we’ve created since 2000 are paying 20 percent less than the jobs we lost since 2000,” Gergen said. “That’s what we face in global competition.”

Yet, Gergen told attendees not to fret over Americas’ current problems. “We’re not going to let the greatness of this country slip away from us,” he said. “We’re going to turn over an America to our children and our grandchildren that is as strong and as proud and has as much of the future as the America we inherited from our World War II generation.”

He added that Americans should emulate the World War II generation’s unity, formed after the great bloodshed and sacrifices made during the 1940s. “I think that’s going to come back in the next few years.”