From left: Dan Rather, anchor and managing editor, Dan Rather Reports; Newsweek senior editor and columnist Jonathan Alter; and Mark Halperin, Time editor-at-large and senior political analyst
“Let’s get to it,” said Dan Rather, anchor and managing editor of Dan Rather Reports, kicking off the panel discussion he moderated today at AMC with Newsweek senior editor and columnist Jonathan Alter and Time senior political analyst and editor-at-large Mark Halperin. “Handicapping the 2008 Election” had Rather at his TV-inspired best, calmly informing the audience of approximately 500 magazine professionals, “more on that later” and “we’ll get back to that,” whenever conversation veered away from an interesting subject. Envisioning the ideal shakeout of presidential candidates for Election ’08, Alter asserted, “The best possibility is a subway series,” acknowledging with both Rather and Halperin that Hillary Clinton had clearly emerged as a frontrunner for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination. “She has to make some mistakes to blow it,” he said.
“Senator Clinton and her staff are trying to create an aura of inevitability” among both voters and journalists to suggest that she’s the Democratic frontrunner, Rather pointed out, and “you’d better get on board,” he said. Still, he cautioned AMC attendees to “beware of the inevitability.” But how does the conference’s hottest topic — new media — play into it all?
“Social networking — it’s huge [in the presidential race],” said Alter. “If [Barack] Obama were to win in Iowa … it’d be because they figured out how to use social networking on the ground there.” As for the Republican contenders, Alter pointed out, “you have to look at events — oftentimes there are election-year events that change things. [Rudy] Giuliani is not a good candidate because he is a dark candidate of fear, and we tend to elect light candidates of hope. However, should there be a terrorist attack in next 12 months, then that would change everything.”
Halperin nodded to possible pendulum shifts, too, noting that for the parties, “the races are not symmetrical. Iowa [primaries are] important for Republicans, but critical for the Democrats. If [John] Edwards wins Iowa, he lives to fight another day.” In closing, it was Rather’s journalist emeritus status that sealed the session, with the seasoned vet offering advice to those covering the presidential race. “Don’t forget February 5 — unless there’s a cataclysmic event, that’s the ballgame,” he asserted, reminding the audience that “not a single vote has been cast” and to “follow the dollar. Read the analytical stories about who is giving money and what they expect to get with the money.”
—Rebecca L. Fox