by Nitya Venkataraman, ABC News
With the 2006 midterms nearly signed, sealed and delivered, the buzz around 2008 presidential hopefuls is likely to reach a dull roar in the coming weeks as potentials posture and pose against a changed political landscape.
For Democrats, it is a center-stage chance to ride party momentum into the limelight. For Republicans, it means the opportunity to recast themselves as political visionaries ready to take the GOP in new directions.
Republican strategist Mark McKinnon described the close of polls Tuesday as "the official starting gun of the race for 2008."
"There is an enormous premium on organization, on money, on talent," McKinnon told ABC News. "All those things require enormous preplanning in order to get a head start."
"Democrats are going on a shopping spree," Democratic strategist Donna Brazile said. "They're looking for a candidate who can take advantage of the new political environment for Democrats."
For both parties, that shopping spree has already begun.
In the 2008 campaign trail mix, more than two dozen candidates will be defining -- some redefining -- themselves in the political spotlight that has shifted both power and public perception.
Republican front-runner Sen. John McCain of Arizona has visited 21 states in the last 30 days. Leading up to the midterms, he stumped for GOP candidates, certainly, but also used the time to build his stock as a party favorite for the 2008 presidential bid, though he has not yet declared his candidacy.
Sources close to the McCain camp say the senator has been at his Arizona ranch since Tuesday -- in meetings and making calls. They also mentioned strong numbers in New Hampshire and the parallel organization he's built to prepare for a presidential run.
Democrat Sen. Hillary Clinton isn't talking about 2008 either, though her numbers -- a landslide victory in the New York Senate race and the highest fundraising of any other Senate candidate this cycle -- indicate presidential horizons.
Exit polls reflected that six in 10 New Yorkers thought she'd make a "good president," but Clinton still remains a divisive figure in national politics and an easy target for Republicans to use to galvanize their base.
Dubbed "America's Mayor" post-9/11, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has no public appearances scheduled for the rest of the week, but it would be hard to deny he could be a major player on the campaign circuit this cycle.
His appeal as a GOP presidential contender is evidenced by cheering crowds at nationwide rallies, as well as on voter preference surveys, where he consistently finishes first. What remains debatable is if those same crowds would take their enthusiasm to the polls given Giuliani's liberal views on issues like gay marriage and abortion.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney also holds a hit-or-miss factor in the national Republican spectrum. Republicans lost governorships under Romney's leadership of the Republican Governorships Association in the midterm elections, and Massachusetts voted for Democrat Deval Patrick to succeed him.
Romney's health care plan passed in Massachusetts earlier this year and appeals to moderates and independents; Romney has stood to the right of McCain on immigration and national security, but his Mormon faith still makes him a difficult candidate for the GOP's religious conservatives to swallow.
Something of a rock star on the campaign trail, Sen. Barack Obama has zigzagged the nation in recent months promoting his latest book of political musings, "Audacity of Hope," and lending his glitter to Democratic campaign events. A relative newcomer to national politics, those close to the junior senator from Illinois said he would have few problems raising money.
Fresh off a summer tour of his global warming documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," and making international headlines as an environmental crusader, former Vice President Al Gore has re-emerged as a name to be included on the list of Democratic nominees. Gore has repeatedly denied future presidential aspirations but has yet to formally take himself out of the running.
Sen. John Edwards, the 2004 Democratic vice presidential candidate, is preparing for a 16-city book tour through Dec. 6. Edwards was a powerful voice on the minimum wage circuit and all six minimum wage ballot initiatives passed. Many of the Democratic Party's big winners this election cycle have ideas similar to Edwards' in the arenas of economy, Iraq and trade.
Former presidential candidate John Kerry was once considered a serious competitor for 2008, but the Massachusetts senator's chances collapsed considerably last week under the weight of national headlines when he "botched" a joke on the campaign trail that was taken as denigrating the intelligence of U.S. troops serving in Iraq.
Another familiar face from the 2004 Democratic presidential pool is retired four-star Gen. Wesley Clark, who is rumored to be mulling a 2008 presidential bid.
International Street Cred
Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, regarded as a moderate voice within the Democratic Party and as the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, is experienced in the realm of foreign policy for a nation at war.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is another Democrat who can claim foreign policy credentials -- as a former United Nations ambassador -- but he says he won't make a decision on a presidential bid until January, though Tuesday's results leave him "encouraged" about 2008.
Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana proved to be a prodigious fundraiser for the Democrats during the midterms and is credited with wins in conservative pockets like Indiana and Iowa. No stranger to national politics, Bayh was in the running to be Al Gore's running mate in 2000 and John Kerry's in 2004.
A source close to the Bayh camp said the 50-some staffers Bayh sent to work on races in New Hampshire, Iowa, New York, South Carolina and Indiana through the midterms are gathering in Washington to debrief and talk about the future.
After Bill Frist finished first in a straw poll conducted by the Senate Republican Conference, the Tennessee senator's name was for a time synonymous with "Republican presidential contender." After Tuesday's congressional loss for the GOP, Frist's chances are considerably diminished. Significant immigration, Social Security and tax measures also did not pass under his Senate leadership.
Republicans Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Gov. George Pataki of New York, and Democrats Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin are also in the mix for the 2008 presidency, each of them coming in and out of the headlines as they make appearances in various national and political arenas.
Michael Bloomberg, Republican mayor of New York City, is in the unofficial mix to launch an independent campaign -- and he has billions in the bank to finance it. He has denied interest, but his recent stumping for Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman and appeal as a potential third-party candidate have opened speculation.
The Ideas Man
Former House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich is a self-proclaimed ideas man of the GOP, having masterminded the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress. Depending on what the next two years look like, he has some of the professional credentials to stand out with a Democratic majority in the House and Senate.
But his damaged reputation makes many question whether or not he has the ability to raise money in what is sure to be a financially competitive campaign cycle.
On the Issues
Earlier this year Colorado Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo told Terry Moran of "Nightline" that he'd like to "influence the debate" on immigration, though never ruled out a bid for the presidency. In the evolution of that debate, he's made himself nationally known as an ultraconservative voice against illegal immigration.
His firebrand views on immigration reform will most definitely face an uphill battle in a Democratic Congress.
Fall From Grace
After coming in first in February presidential balloting at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Virginia Sen. George Allen had signed on major political advisers and appeared on the covers of numerous conservative magazines hoping to establish himself as a national political force in the Republican Party.
A series of offensive gaffes along the campaign trail dashed not only his 2008 presidential aspirations, but also his Senate re-election. Allen conceded to Democratic Senator-elect Jim Webb today.
Hats in the Ring
Iowa's two-term Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack announced his candidacy today, opening a campaign office and publicizing a multistate tour beginning at the end of November.
At the end of October, pro-life California Rep. Duncan Hunter, considered one of the 2008's "later entries" already, announced his intention to form a presidential exploratory committee to look into the Republican bid.
Vilsack and Hunter are, so far, the only two candidates to officially declare intent.
Of 2008 -- the first presidential race in decades without an incumbent vice president in the running -- strategist Mark McKinnon said, "It will be exciting for the American people and a brand new beginning on both sides."
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