All right America. Now that we've flipped our calendars to January 2003 and have already broken our New Year's resolutions and abandoned our diets, it's time to get down to real business: Who will get the Democrats' nomination to run for president in 2004?
Don't whimper that Nov. 2, 2004 is 22 months away. Politics makes our world go around, and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards' Jan. 1 announcement that he's in the race for U.S. president is a stark reminder that the presidential campaign season is here.
Of course, Senator Edwards isn't the first Democrat to make such an announcement. U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean previously announced their candidacies. Then on Thursday, House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri said he too plans to organize an exploratory committee.
And because it's still so early, others will join the race. Potential contenders include Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, and the other Democratic senator from Connecticut, Christopher Dodd.
Granted, the list so far is void of women and minorities. Did somebody say N.Y. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton? And yes, civil rights activist Al Sharpton might jump in, though he has little appeal among many minorities.
Nevertheless, the coming glut of Democrats wanting to be president is the outcome of former vice president Al Gore's announcement last month that he won't seek the presidency in 2004.
As much as he might have made at least as good - if not better - a president as the Cowboy in the White House now, Mr. Gore made the right decision, although it greatly disappointed his supporters.
Meanwhile, Senator Edwards is interesting in that he's so new to politics. Most of the other Democratic presidential contenders have some years' experience in public office. But Mr. Edwards is a freshman senator from North Carolina whose first job as an elected official is the one he has now.
He says he wants to fight for “regular people.” He's a millionaire, and nonmillionaires are suspicious when millionaires want to help “regular people.”
Mr. Edwards spent years as a personal injury attorney, convincing jurors and earning millions in the process. The South Carolina native apparently wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and he's the first person in his family who went to college. That's notable.
The senator wants to connect with voters. Judging by how smooth he must have been in courtrooms, he just may appeal to voters. His strong southern ties can't be ignored, either.
But there are concerns. Mr. Edwards has little experience in politics. He was only elected to the Senate in 1998. Mr. Gore considered him for a running mate, but Mr. Edwards' lack of experience was a hindrance.
And, as the New York Times reported, Mr. Edwards only voted in seven of the 13 elections prior to his own race. The Times asks whether the nation wants such a candidate. Probably not, but stranger things have happened.
Plus, with terrorism an ongoing concern, it doesn't matter how cute or charismatic Mr. Edwards and the others are. Americans want to know if the Democrats will produce a candidate who can successfully handle domestic and international affairs.
Mr. Edwards is not intimidated by President Bush's approval ratings. No serious contender should be. “I believe we can beat him if we lay out a clear alternative for the country,” the senator said.
Evidently, he learned from the Democrats' failed 2002 elections. That's a good sign.