The good news is, that person is already available. His name is John Edwards. If you have any doubt about his electability, just read the exit polls from the 2004 Democratic primaries. If you don't think he's ready to be president—if you don't think he has the right credentials, the right gravitas, the right subtlety of thought—ask yourself whether these are the same things you find wanting in George W. Bush. Because evidently a majority of the voting population of the United States doesn't share your concern. They seem to be attracted to a candidate with a simple message, a clear focus, and a human touch. You might want to consider their views, since they're the ones who will decide whether you're sitting here again four years from now, wondering what went wrong.
In 1998 and 1999, Republicans cleared the field for George W. Bush. Members of Congress and other major officeholders threw their weight behind him to make sure he got the nomination. They united because their previous presidential nominee, a clumsy veteran senator, had gone down to defeat. They were facing eight years out of power, and they were hungry.
Do what they did. Give Edwards a job that will position him to run for president again in a couple of years. Clear the field of Hillary Clinton and any other well-meaning liberal who can't connect with people outside those islands of blue on your electoral map. Because you're going to get a simple president again next time, whether you like it or not. The only question is whether that president will be from your party or the other one.
9:33 p.m. PT: That proviso about the exit polls matching the returns is looking quite a bit more important now than it did three hours ago. Bush has Florida and Colorado in the bag. All scenarios for a Kerry victory now require Ohio.
Kerry led 51-49 in the Ohio exit poll this afternoon. But he also led 51-49 in the Florida exit poll, and we've seen what happened there. Nationwide, the exit polls had Kerry up 51-48. But with 80 million votes counted already, it's Bush who has a 51-48 lead. So at this point, the exit polls are at best meaningless. Or worse, if you're a Democrat, the six-point gap between what the exit polls predicted for Kerry nationally and what the returns show so far means that in Ohio, a two-point lead for Kerry in the exit poll foreshadows a Bush win by as many as four points.
In New Mexico, two-thirds of the precincts have reported, and it doesn't look good for Kerry: He's down 51-48. So even if he takes Iowa, where he's now leading with two-thirds of the vote tallied, he'll have to win either Nevada, which has just begun counting, or Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, he's hanging on to a 14,000-vote lead—that's a single percentage point—with half the precincts reporting. If Kerry holds that lead in Wisconsin and closes what is now a 120,000-vote Bush lead in Ohio, he's the next president. Or if he holds his lead in Iowa and picks off Nevada, he can get the same result—but not without Ohio.
Three-quarters of the precincts in Ohio have now reported, and Kerry still trails by 126,000 votes, about 3 percent of the total. I don't think he can pull it off. But I've been wrong so many times now that I'd be happy—no, really, in this case I would be positively delighted—to be proved wrong again.
7:38 p.m. PT: I should have mentioned before that if Bush wins both Ohio and Florida, he needs only Colorado to get to 269. So that's just two states where he needs the exit polls to be off. But in both cases the error has to be at least two points, in each case it has to be in his direction, and the Colorado exit poll can't be off in the other direction.
Let's simplify the calculations. Bush starts with a floor of 213. He leads by one point in the exit poll in Colorado, so let's assume he takes that state, putting him at 222.
Here are the remaining states in which Bush trails in the exit polls by fewer than 6 points: Nevada (Bush down 1), Iowa (Bush down 1), Florida (Bush down 2), Ohio (Bush down 2), New Mexico (Bush down 2), and Wisconsin (Bush down 3).
That's it. Those are all the states Bush has to work with.