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Fall of the retreads

| Sunday, July 22, 2007

Running for president is not easy. Running four years after a failed bid is even tougher.

Ronald Reagan did it successfully. So did Richard Nixon. Teddy Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson tried but failed.

The 2008 presidential race has three retreads -- Sens. John McCain and Joe Biden and former Sen. John Edwards. All are struggling.

McCain's campaign is on life-support. Biden's never took wing. And as Edwards' lead sags in Iowa, even New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, considered the darkest of dark horses, is surpassing him in New Hampshire.

One of the most difficult things for presidential candidates to understand is how difficult it is to sustain momentum. They risk becoming old news or being crushed by their baggage, personal and political.

Deciding to run depends a great deal on what a candidate does in the off-season. John Kerry's prospects ended with a "botched joke" that offended just about everybody; weeks later, his campaign folded.

Surely, McCain and Edwards knew the odds were against them. And you would have thought their campaigns would have been executed flawlessly. But that hasn't been the case.

Take McCain, for example. The Arizona senator tried and failed to reinvent himself. He "worked" in 2000 because he was John McCain, straight shooter and maverick. But McCain doesn't "work" today because he tried to become George W. Bush.

And given his anemic fundraising and nearly empty campaign coffers, one has to question if political consultants took advantage of him.

John Edwards miscalculated Iowa. He established himself there four years ago and caught fire. But with the now-frontloaded primaries a marathon instead of a sprint, Iowa's impact has been lessened. With Super Duper Tuesday now nipping at its heels, Iowa perhaps no longer can take anyone from no place to someplace.

And with all the talk of his highfalutin lifestyle, Edwards has faced even greater scrutiny; voters seem to expect better of the retreads. Ronald Reagan was able to run and win a do-over campaign mainly because he had an unchanged core message. If McCain and Edwards are to stay in this race, they'll have to shake the perception they are yesterday's news.

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