Mike Lawrence: Quick draws in Denver

Democrats' 2008 convention a time for gunslingers

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Mike Lawrence

Call Mike Lawrence at 871-4203 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com.

— Get the tumbleweeds rolling, saddle up the horses and, while you're at it, cue the theme music from "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."

When the Democratic National Convention rides into Denver in August 2008, the Wild West comparisons will flow as thick as cowboy coffee and as fast as a scared stallion.

And with good reason - the convention could darn well be a real shoot-out. Same goes for the Republican convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

The last time there was a presidential race without an incumbent or vice presidential candidate was 1928, when Herbert Hoover ran after serving as Secretary of Commerce for Calvin Coolidge. (Skip ahead if you've heard the infamous "Silent Cal" joke: Supposedly, a young woman once approached Coolidge and said she had bet a friend that she could get the president to say more than two words. "You lose," Coolidge replied.)

But even Hoover was arguably as much of a sure-thing candidate as an incumbent or vice president would have been; he was riding widespread public acclaim for his direction of a Red Cross relief effort after massive flooding of the Mississippi River in 1927.

Silent Cal did not fare so well after the floods.

"Flooding in Louisiana and elsewhere along the Mississippi required a major relief effort and prompted angry criticism of Washington's half-hearted response," read a Jan. 27 Washington Post article relating Coolidge's presidency to that of the current President Bush.

So, as several pundits have pointed out lately, Hoover's sure-thing status could mean the last presidential race as wide-open as 2008 occurred way back in 1920.

Democrats held their convention in San Francisco that year and nominated Ohio governor and former U.S. Rep. James M. Cox as their candidate. Cox's vice president was a little-known lawyer and state senator from New York, a fella by the name of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The pair would lose the general election by a landslide to Republican President Warren G. Harding and Vice President Coolidge, who would take over in the Oval Office after Harding died in a San Francisco hotel room in 1923.

According to "The Political Graveyard" Web site, a wide range of candidates representing numerous parties vied for the presidency in 1920. In addition to Cox and FDR, Eugene Debs of the Socialist Party, Parley P. Christensen of the Farmer-Labor Party and Aaron S. Watkins of the Prohibition Party were some of the many who lost to Harding and Cal.

The field for '08 is just as diverse - and far more so when it comes to ethnicity and gender.

The next presidential election - and conventions - will be a litmus test for American tolerance, as female and minority candidates are not just in the fold, but frontrunners.

Democratic Delaware Sen. Joe Biden got a taste of the tolerance apple last week when he told the New York Observer - on the same day he announced his candidacy for president and appeared on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" - that Illinois Sen. Barack Obama is "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."

The implications of Biden's comment aside, the media storm that followed it shows how early and how fast the latest race to the White House is starting. The International Herald-Tribune recently noted that former President Bill Clinton announced his candidacy for the 1992 race in October 1991 - that relates to current candidates announcing in October of this year. Bush began campaigning for the 2000 race in June 1999.

In 2007, the horses are already fast out of the gates.

Get ready for 20 months of ropin' and gunslingin', topped off by a front row seat in Colorado for a Shoot-out at the Convention Corral.

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