WASHINGTON – Even as Democrats lick their wounds and Republicans bask in President Bush's second-term victory, would-be presidential candidates for 2008 already are maneuvering for position.
"You can be disappointed, but you cannot walk away. This fight has just begun," Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards (search) told party loyalists in Boston early Wednesday in a speech that could qualify as the leadoff stump speech of the next presidential campaign.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (search) of Tennessee was first out of the box among prospective GOP candidates with a "victory tour" of the South to showcase victorious Republican Senate candidates from the region.
Almost as soon as the curtain dropped on the 2004 presidential race, one was raised on the 2008 contest — never mind that the midterm congressional elections of 2006 come first.
The next presidential cycle will be wide open on both sides
Bush is limited to two terms. And while the incumbent's vice president is usually the favored next-up nominee, Vice President Dick Cheney (search), 63 and with a history of heart disease, has ruled out a run for president.
Sen. John Kerry could run again. But Democrat Al Gore (search), the 2000 nominee, found the comeback trail a difficult one.
Kerry's defeat and concession speech Wednesday cleared the way for 2008 runs by both Edwards, now a senator from North Carolina, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (search) of New York.
Clinton, who could have been sidelined until 2012 with a Kerry-Edwards victory and re-election in 2008, is now front and center among would-be Democratic contenders. And her supporters were busy getting her name in circulation.
The former first lady has plenty of name recognition and a wide following. But some analysts suggest she could meet the same fate as Kerry — as a liberal senator from a Northeastern state, despite the years she spent in Arkansas.
"She is a person who has a lot of people wanting her to run. She'll be a strong contender. But she also motivates the base of the opposition," said James Thurber, a political scientist at American University.
Thurber said it's important for Democrats to nominate a candidate who can win at least some Southern states — as Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton had done, but which Kerry and Gore failed to accomplish.
Edwards might seem to have an advantage, being from North Carolina. The trial lawyer with a southern drawl drew high likability ratings on the campaign trail, both during the Democratic primaries and as Kerry's running mate.
But he was unable to bring his own state into the fold for Kerry.
Edwards' liabilities include lack of political and foreign policy experience. And his decision not to seek re-election to the Senate this year will make it hard for him to stay in the spotlight.
Doug Schoen, who was President Clinton's pollster, said it is too early "to talk personalities. The party's got to get repositioned first. It has to get back to the center with an aggressive assertion of traditional values."
Other Democrats who might seek the presidential nomination in four years include Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana and Govs. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois and Tom Vilsack of Iowa. And, up and coming, perhaps for a presidential bid down the road, if not in 2008, is Illinois' Barack Obama, who will be the only black member of the Senate when he is sworn in January.
There's no shortage of potential Republican candidates, either.
Besides Frist, the lineup includes Sens. John McCain of Arizona, George Allen of Virginia, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. Also, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and at least two governors — Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and George Pataki of New York.
There also is Jeb Bush, although the Florida governor has said he won't try to follow his father and brother to the White House.