People's Weekly Brief: 2008 Presidential Race a Wide-Open Field, but Security a Key Issue

I'll be honest with you: When it comes to the 2008 presidential elections, I don't have a dog in the hunt.

In fact, I seem to be under the influence of some pre-election algebraic function. In math terms, it would read like this: (x = 2y × β ÷ π), where x equals my interest in the elections, y equals my ability to interpret a candidate's intentions, β equals the number of candidates piling into the race and π represents how much I really like pie.

In non-mathematical terms, none of the hundreds of candidates, either Democratic or Republican, are currently blowing my skirt up.

I suspect part of the problem may be that we are staring at what appears to be an inordinately long campaign season, and, much like an NBA basketball game, the only part that seems to count is the last five minutes.

It's hard to get jacked up this early in the race, particularly when we (and by we, I am referring to anyone who has ever witnessed an election) suspect that there is plenty of time for the front-runners to: a) say something really stupid and lose their front-runner status, b) do something really stupid and lose their front-runner status, or c) run out of money.

How entertaining would it be to see every serious candidate spend their wad before we get to the primaries? As an aside, does anyone other than the candidates themselves, lobbyists, fundraisers and wonks inside the Beltway actually understand the mechanics of funding a campaign?

As far as I can tell, campaign-financing reform died on the vine, no one bothers with matching federal funds and each candidate now relies on sacks of money from wealthy friends, celebrity fundraisers and donations of $1 each from people on the Internet. Perhaps not what the founding fathers intended.

But we need to be realistic. Those ahead on both sides have squirreled away so much jack, there is little chance of anyone's pump running dry.

And so, as painful as it may seem, it behooves us to start examining the candidates with some seriousness on the issues that will define the next several years. Given that the People's Weekly Brief tends to focus on matters related to security, homeland defense, terror and intelligence, it is logical that we try to understand what impact the election will have on the security of our nation.

In last week's PWB, I asked for readers' views on which candidate would make the best “security president.” In these unstable times, in other words, who would you be most comfortable having steer the ship?

As always, the responses ranged from thought-provoking to entertaining and even emotionally charged. And so, with our usual disregard for scientific polling, and with no assurances that our calculations are particularly accurate, we present the PWB's latest reader survey:

On the Republican side, proving that playing hard to get has its advantages, former Sen. Fred Thompson was the top vote-getter. I confess to failing to understand the psychology surrounding this choice, but there you have it. A large number of readers gave Mr. Thompson high marks for his ability to manage not only our homeland defense concerns, but also the future direction of the Iraq war. I believe his current appeal is tied to his non-candidate status, so it will be interesting to revisit the issue if he jumps into the pool.

Sen. John McCain also turned in a strong showing, coming in a close second. As you would suspect, people said they value his time in the Senate and admire him for his wartime service and experience. However, almost three quarters of those voting for the senator also expressed dissatisfaction with his stance on immigration. Interestingly, many of our readers cited immigration management as their primary concern when it comes to homeland defense.

Finally, coming in third on the Republican side was former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. For some time now, Mr. Giuliani and his team have been making a grab for the title “Guy Who Can Best Protect Us in Uncertain Times Because He Was Mayor During 9/11.” Tough to put on a campaign button, but they're working to get a catchier slogan.

As with my being somewhat curious about the pre-candidacy attraction of Mr. Thompson, I have yet to buy into the mythology surrounding America's Mayor.

Mr. Giuliani was mayor from 1994 till the end of 2001. He took office about a year after the first World Trade Center bombing, and left office a few months after 9/11. While his post-9/11 reaction was praiseworthy, I'm of the opinion that there were problems in his administration (ask New Yorkers about his second term), the emergency management infrastructure of New York City during his tenure, personnel appointments and subsequent businesses that have been glossed over in the excitement of bestowing knighthood upon him.

On the other side of the aisle, 70 percent of the readers selected Sen. Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate they would most trust with security issues. Many readers noted that she was the only Democratic candidate they believed would maintain troops in Iraq and focus sufficient energy on strengthening the military. The remaining votes were split between John Edwards and Barack Obama.

What lessons can we draw from these responses? First and foremost, I'd suggest always using an experienced pollster when conducting a survey. The addition, division and use of percentages are clearly not for the mathematically challenged. I'd say my results have a margin of error of plus or minus somewhere around 35 points. That may be considered a wide swing in some circles.

In addition, the following conclusions seem appropriate:

1. The broad issue of security encompasses a wide range of concerns that need to be examined from each candidate's perspective — everything from Iraq policy, military spending, the Patriot Act and the structure of current organizations such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to immigration policies and judicial impact on matters such as eavesdropping and interrogation.

2. The candidates, both Republicans and Democrats, have yet to clearly and specifically outline their stances on all the various matters that fall under the category of security. If security is an important concern for you as a voter, then it is too early to settle on a candidate based on what they've all revealed to date. More detail is needed before we can understand the potential impact of each candidate and their kitchen cabinet on our future security.

3. Pay serious attention to who are the closest advisers and staff for each candidate. Frankly, I spend as much time worrying about the candidate's circle of advisers and confidants as I do the actual candidate. These are the people who are going to shape the next administration. Taking the time to carry out some due diligence on these folks will serve you well in making a final selection. I can not overemphasize this point.

By the time this column lands on your computer, we will have already had the second Republican candidates' debate. I'll go out on a limb and predict that it will be more informative and dignified than the first Republican presidential debate. The first event, featuring Chris Matthews and a couple fellas from asking a range of inane questions and treating the debate like a Spring Break pub quiz, was stunningly crappy.

The second, it is hoped, will provide a forum for actual information-sharing and insight. Until we whittle the field down from however many we've currently got crowding the stage to possibly three, serious debate for public consumption is logistically difficult. However, any opportunity to listen to and compare candidate opinions and policies, particularly on matters related to our nation's security, should be eagerly consumed by everyone capable of voting.

And finally, don't be swayed by front-runner status this soon in the race. As an old colleague used to say, “The sun don't shine on the same dog's butt every day.” Keep an open mind and take the time to study each candidate's position on these issues. Your security may well depend on it.

That's just my opinion. Let me know your thoughts and concerns, send your comments to Stay safe.

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Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector, including most recently Prescience LLC, a global intelligence and strategy firm. He appears frequently in the media as an expert on such issues. Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks" as well as major motion pictures. In addition, Baker is a writer for a BBC drama to begin production in July 2007.

Mike Baker is the Co-Founder of Diligence LLC, a leading global intelligence, security and risk management firm. Prior to starting Diligence, Mike spent over a decade and half with the CIA as a covert field operations officer. He is a regular contributor in the national and international media on intelligence, security, counterterrorism and political issues. He appears regularly on Fox News, as well as other major media outlets.