Democrats smell George Bush's blood, but which hounds will they unleash to run him to ground? Sam Nunn, Lloyd Bentsen and Mario Cuomo are the pick of the litter at this stage. But there are others putatively eager to make the run: Douglas Wilder, Albert Gore, Bill Bradley, Paul Simon, Dick Gephardt, George Mitchell, Bill Clinton, Bob Kerrey and the omnipresent Jesse Jackson.
One result of last week's election was that it produced no new Democratic presidential contenders and did little to embellish the reputations of those already considered strong contenders.
Lawton Chiles and Ann Richards, gubernatorial winners in Florida and Texas, are just not presidential. Senator Nunn won only by default. Senator Bentsen was not on the ballot and deliberately low-profile on the budget compromise he helped to shape. Governor Cuomo got only a 53 percent majority in New York and was thus reminded of the handicaps facing an Eastern liberal.
Among the longer shots, Senator Bradley was wounded in New Jersey after trying to be above it all; Senators Gore and Simon won big but trail memories of their lackluster showing in 1988; Governor Wilder remained an intriguing possibility, but realistically only for vice president.
The list goes on but the announcements do not. Not a single serious candidate has officially declared, even though Democrats now consider President Bush vulnerable. They beat him hands down in the budget battle and emerged proclaiming themselves the party of "fairness."
Republicans, having lost anti-communism and taxes as credible issues, will be striking back at Democrats on "racial quotas." That was the implicit message of the president's veto of the civil rights bill, and it hits the Democrats where they are torn between principle and prejudice.
If the domestic arena offers only limited opportunities for the Democrats, the field of foreign affairs is wide open -- depending on what happens in the Persian Gulf.
This is where Senator Nunn is already displaying his reputation as an expert on national security matters. His objections to the new offensive posture of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia and his demand for patience before there is a bloody war and American boys "brought back in body bags" have made him a leading voice in the rising clamor over Gulf policy. He is now in a position to outline the kind of post-Cold War vision that has long been absent from the Democratic agenda. Governor Cuomo also has shown inclinations to present a revitalized American world view. These two Democrats, between them, could raise the intellectual level of presidential debate to heights not scaled since Adlai Stevenson.
The first presidential primary is only 15 months away. Let the candidates announce and the campaign begin!