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And they're off! On the permanent campaign trail

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Would that we could, like some other countries, have a short, fast-paced election campaign of six weeks or so to elect our national leaders.

But alas, it is not to be, and here we are, 23 months before election day, already embarked on the campaign to elect the next US president. I shouldn't grumble, for it offers job security to journalists, and advertising salesmen, and pollsters, and caterers, and airline charter companies, and the retinues of advisers whose lives are entwined with those of the presidential hopefuls during those long months on the cross-country trail that could lead to the White House.

On the Republican side, barring unforeseen developments, we presume that President Bush will be the candidate. His ratings are slipping a bit, but he's still seen as a strong and forceful leader, and incumbent presidents are hard for challengers from within their own party to displace. We suspect that Mr. Bush yearns for less stressful days with his dog at the ranch in Crawford, Texas, but he has a strong sense of duty, and an agenda, and a wife who has brought dignity without aloofness to the White House, and will probably be supportive for a second term.

On the Democratic side we already have six declared presidential candidates, with more undoubtedly to come, who are either seeking name recognition for other roles, or who genuinely believe they have a chance to be president.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut is a veteran of the presidential campaign trail, having run for the vice presidency in Al Gore's ill-fated presidential bid. He has a couple of things going for him. He was a pleasingly warm and human contrast to Mr. Gore's impressively knowledgeable but rather officious persona. Then in the unfolding current campaign, before throwing his own hat in the ring, he maintained an awkward but gentlemanly distance until Gore had ruled himself out. Both demeanors have sat well with the public and Mr. Lieberman must be included among those who consider themselves serious prospects.

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