Campaigns/Elections

Presidential Scouting Reports

A libertarian fan's guide to the World Series of politics

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If the 2008 presidential election is a baseball season, we're still in that early, delusional phase when even Tampa Bay Devil Rays fans can dream of a World Series ring. The race for the White House is chock full of hopeless players destined to be sent down to the minors before mid-season—and full of superstars who will unexpectedly bust a knee long before the All-Star break and spend the rest of the season muttering in the showers. At a time when candidates have already raised record amounts of money, the polls show tight bunching among upper-division candidates, and the Middle East shudders under daily car bomb attacks, it isn't at all clear who will win the Democratic and Republican nominations, much less the general election in 2008.

Like another cellar-dwelling season for the Devil Rays, only this much is certain: Whoever comes out on top will give libertarians plenty of reasons to complain. Whether or not most Americans reflexively embrace "Free Minds and Free Markets," various polls and analyses suggest that between 10 percent and 15 percent of voters reliably try to cast their ballots for candidates who are both fiscally conservative and socially liberal. In an era in which presidential elections are routinely decided by percentages smaller than the rounding errors in Barry Bonds' monthly BALCO delivery bill, that creates a serious opening for candidates who recognize that being, say, both pro-gun and pro-gay might just grab more votes than trying to squeeze one more win out of the worn-out liberal and conservative playbooks.

We've scouted the players in both major leagues—er, parties—including a few figures who have yet to decide whether they're going to suit up this election season. We've looked at their backgrounds, we've weighed their chances of winning, and we've figured out their biggest pros and cons for voters who care about liberty. From a libertarian perspective, there are damned few franchise players out there, but scratching out a policy win is often a matter of stealing a base or a sign here and there, and working deep through a roster filled with prima donnas, hot dogs, and the occasional bum who hits one out of the park. If none of the candidates below quite brings you to your feet, it's still worth sorting out the strengths and weaknesses of the field from which the 44th president will likely emerge.


DEMOCRATS

Hillary Clinton

Vitals: Entering politics as a Goldwater Girl from Illinois, Hillary Rodham turned left in college. In 1975 she married a Yale Law School classmate, William Jefferson Clinton, future Arkansas governor, U.S. president, and (almost certainly) Surreal Life cast member. A powerhouse corporate lawyer at Little Rock's notorious Rose Law Firm, Clinton became the most controversial first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt then cruised to a carpetbagging victory in the 2000 New York Senate race. She was re-elected with 67 percent of the vote in 2006.

Pros: If you discount John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and Ahmed Chalabi, no one has benefited more from the Bush II presidency than Clinton II. Bush's blunders have made Hillary's promise of a Clinton Restoration, with many of the same advisers hauled out of deep freeze, look appealing. It's a given that a Clinton II presidency would lead to a GOP rebirth, and the prospect of a new Republican majority forcing another era of gridlock might be the best short-term political future that libertarians could hope for.

Cons: Reality check. Hillary wants to restore the Clinton dynasty. If she isn't battling a Republican Congress, Clinton will get most of her state-expanding projects approved, from national health care to video game censorship to revved-up food-handling regs. And don't expect the family that intervened in more countries than any other post-World War II administration to retreat from Bush's bellicose foreign policy. Indeed, until her recent flip-flop, Hillary backed the Iraq war and most of the "war on terror."

Bottom Line: Of all the major candidates, Hillary Clinton is the one whose presidency is easiest to visualize in detail. No wonder we feel sick to our stomachs.

Barack Obama

Vitals: The son of a white Kansas anthropologist and a Kenyan Ph.D. student, Obama led a job-training nonprofit in Chicago before attending Harvard Law School. He returned to Chicago, held a state Senate seat while teaching at the University of Chicago, and in 2000 made a failed run for Congress. In 2004 his campaign for one of Illinois' U.S. Senate seats seemed to be blessed by the gods of politics: His strongest Democratic opponent crumpled in a spousal abuse scandal, the Republican nominee dropped out when word leaked of his love for sex clubs, and the GOP's last-minute replacement, Alan Keyes, didn't even live in Illinois. Obama won the biggest landslide in state history.

Pros: Even his Democratic rivals will admit that Obama is articulate, bright, clean, and handy with a speech. He hasn't fought many battles in the Senate, but he's fought some of the right ones. He co-sponsored a bill with Oklahoma's Tom Coburn that created a searchable database for pork spending. He opposed the Iraq war before he got to the Senate, and while voting to continue funding the war he proposed a troop withdrawal that would wrap up at the end of March 2008.

Cons: Obama's line on Iraq was, "I don't oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war." And he means it. As a Senate candidate Obama was open to pre-emptively striking Iran if that country developed nuclear weapons, which hints that he might not be the candidate to break with the Bush/Clinton era of foreign adventures. On most economic issues he's a big-government liberal; he opposes the Bush tax cuts, supports a rollback of the capital gains tax cut, and calls efforts to kill the estate tax "the Paris Hilton tax cut."

Bottom Line: He's the most charismatic politician to seek the presidency since Reagan. But where Reagan's priorities were crystal clear, Obama's are obscured by beautiful, meaningless rhetoric. What is the "audacity of hope," anyway?

John Edwards

Vitals: The Dorian Gray of the Senate didn't actually enter politics until age 47. Before 1998, when he won a U.S. Senate seat from North Carolina, Edwards was one of the state's leading trial lawyers and a scourge of corporations that shirked on damages to injured clients. He lost the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, won the vice presidential nomination, lost the general election, then started running for president again.

Pros: Whatever Edwards could offer libertarians—and it won't be much—depends on which version of him shows up to the game. The late '90s Edwards was a bland centrist, basically a hunkier Bill Clinton. The Edwards of this campaign, so far, is the most anti–Iraq war of the leading candidates and has apologized for voting for the war in 2003.

Cons: Edwards did more than vote for the war: He co-sponsored Joe Lieberman's hawkish Iraq War Resolution, the one that empowered the president to make war without coming back to Congress. His big idea in 2004 was an expanded domestic surveillance agency within the Department of Homeland Security. He avowedly believes that government needs to combat economic inequality with redistribution, taxes, entitlement spending, and protectionism, and the extent of those beliefs has grown since his first Senate bid.

Bottom Line: The only thing connecting Edwards' policy switches has been popularity. He was for war when it was popular, against it after it became unpopular.

Bill Richardson

Vitals: A former State Department go-fer and Democratic Party hack, Richardson won a U.S. House seat from New Mexico in 1982. He held it until Bill Clinton nominated him to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; after 18 months he was promoted to secretary of energy. In 2002 he won New Mexico's governorship, winning re-election in a 2006 landslide.

Pros: The only governor in the Democratic race is also one of the country's most fiscally tightfisted executives. Richardson cut New Mexico's income tax from 8.2 percent to 4.9 percent, halved the capital gains tax, and eliminated the gross receipts tax. He frequently and explicitly draws a link between lower taxes and economic growth, something rare in a national Democratic politician. He not only supports the right to carry a concealed weapon but holds a concealed-carry permit himself. He sometimes skirts close to libertarianism on other issues, endorsing charter schools (but not vouchers) and medical marijuana (but not decriminalization).

Cons: Richardson has signed a smoking ban and is warming to the idea of a drug offender registry. There's also the lingering issue of his behavior during the espionage investigation of Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee, when he may have leaked damaging information about Lee, using his power as a cabinet secretary to try an innocent man in the press.

Bottom Line: Of all the Democratic candidates, Richardson would be most likely to cut taxes. And after Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), he's the most open to reforming drug laws. If the party really wants to make a play for the "libertarian West," it'll nominate Richardson.

Joe Biden

Vitals: Biden is one of that elite club of politicians who have spent more of their lives inside the Senate than outside it. Since being elected in 1972 he has chaired two committees (Judiciary and Foreign Relations), shot down one Supreme Court nominee (Robert Bork), and installed pioneering hair plugs that, by 2005, started to look almost life-like. His 1988 run for president hit the reef after he cribbed a speech from British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock, turning "Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to go to university?" into the slightly less evocative "Why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family to go to a university?"

Pros: He was an early and eloquent critic of torture in the war on terror, delivering a strong defense of the Geneva Conventions: "We have these treaties so when Americans are captured they are not tortured. That's the reason in case anybody forgets it." He has entertainment value too,
with the loosest lips of any 2008 candidate, whether talking about his enemies ("Every single person out there that is of any consequence knows the vice president doesn't know what he's talking about") or his friends (Barack Obama is "articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy").

Cons: Before he ran for president in 1988, Biden made his bones as one of the Senate's most rabid drug warriors. He sponsored a 1979 bill allowing prosecutors to use RICO statutes to go after drug dealers and requested a General Accounting Office report in the early 1980s that gave federal prosecutors the leeway they needed to use sweeping asset forfeiture laws in drug cases. He also was chief sponsor of the 1982 Senate drug bill that gave essentially limitless powers to the Department of Justice. And he sponsored the 2004 RAVE Act, which turned bottled water and glow sticks into "drug paraphernalia."

Bottom Line: If—make that when—Biden loses badly, he could start hosting his own talk show. There'd be no need for guests!

Chris Dodd

Vitals: A New England liberal lion who looks like he'd be happier debating Daniel Webster than Dennis Kucinich, Dodd is the son of another longtime Connecticut senator, Thomas Joseph Dodd. He schlepped around the Dominican Republic in the Peace Corps before winning his own House seat in 1974, then in 1980 a seat in the Senate, where he has played second banana—to Lowell Weicker, then to Joe Lieberman—ever since.

Pros: As the chairman of the Banking Committee, Dodd often sides with entrepreneurs over trial lawyers. Declaring that "people shouldn't make a business out of ambulance chasing when a stock simply fluctuates on the market," he sponsored a 1995 securities bill that was so tough on lawyers that Bill Clinton vetoed it. In 2007 he co-sponsored the Restoring the Constitution Act, a response to federal abuses of habeas corpus.

Cons: He's a diehard Second Amendment foe, voting against a post-Katrina law to stop feds from seizing firearms after a natural disaster.

Bottom Line: No one in Washington is sure why Dodd is running. No one outside Washington is sure who he is.

Dennis Kucinich

Vitals: Elected mayor of Cleveland in 1977, the five foot, seven inch, 135-pound Kucinich led one of the rustiest Rust Belt city governments until the voters ousted him two years later. He made a stunning comeback in 1996, winning Ohio's 10th District U.S. House seat. In 2004 he ran for president on an anti-war platform. He came in fourth in the Democratic primaries, largely because he didn't drop out and endorse John Kerry until 72 hours before the Democratic convention.

Pros: Kucinich's anti–Iraq war credentials are impeccable. He voted against sanctions in the 1990s, voted against the 2002 force resolution, and has offered a plan to fund a troop withdrawal beginning as soon as possible. He also opposes the War on Drugs, saying bluntly that "prohibition simply doesn't work" and that it "drives up the price, it encourages violence." He voted against the PATRIOT Act and supports its complete repeal.

Cons: Well, there was that near-implosion of Cleveland under his mayoral tenure. There's the fact that he wants to reregulate TV networks and newspapers, even expressing an interest in bringing back the speech-squelching Fairness Doctrine. There's his idea for stirring up an economic boom: "The federal government can give cities and states loans for infrastructure programs to be repaid over a period of 30 years, at zero interest." Pick a rehabbed New Deal or Great Society program, and Kucinich is for it, plus more.

Bottom Line: It's a matter of how much you might enjoy peace on earth and legal marijuana while your tax rates rise to pre-Reagan levels.

Al Gore (Undeclared)

Vitals: The son of a senator, Gore served in Vietnam as a military journalist, reported for The Tennessean, and won a House seat at the tender age of 28. He ascended to the Senate in 1984, ran for president in 1988 as the candidate of the Democrats' right flank, then won the vice presidency four years later on Bill Clinton's ticket. In 2000 he became the third man to lose the White House despite winning the popular vote; more recently, he has traveled the globe to warn about climate change. A documentary based on one of his PowerPoint presentations won a 2007 Academy Award.

Pros: If the most dangerous presidents are the ones who want it the most, Gore could be harmless; the 2000 election clearly shook him deeply and changed the way he practices politics. He has allied with conservatives like Bob Barr to oppose the Bush administration's positions on civil liberties. He opposed the Iraq war before it began, arguing for engagement with so-called "terrorist states," a very different position than the one he held in the Clinton years.

Cons: Gore's instinctual embrace of central planning inspired former reason Editor Virginia Postrel to dub him "the devil." In 2000 he called for spending massive amounts of money (using the hypothetical budget surplus) to pay down Social Security and create new assistance programs. Gore is the most famous and devoted backer of the Kyoto Protocols, which if implemented as written could prove economically devastating. As vice-president (and before that) he was one of the most hawkish Democrats, and he was on board with the Clinton administration's late-'90s calls for regime change in Iraq. There's no telling if his current Iraq war opposition is a change of heart or merely disagreement with the guy who took the job he wanted.

Bottom Line: Gore today is more liberal than the candidate who almost won in 2000, both for better and for worse.


REPUBLICANS

Rudy Giuliani

Vitals: Born in Brooklyn, Giuliani earned a law degree (and deferment from Vietnam service) and went to work for the U.S. Attorney's Office. In 1983 he became U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, winning fame that propelled him into the Big Apple's mayoral mansion. Even his enemies credit him with contributing to New York City's economic turnaround from 1994 to 2002.

Pros: Giuliani offers a lot to social liberals: He's pro–civil unions, pro–gay adoption, and pro-choice. He cut dozens of taxes in New York, from personal income taxes to hotel occupancy taxes. He also sliced the city's budget, commenting later that "you can find $1 billion in a $39 billion budget without affecting a single blessed thing." In 1999 he pushed for a school voucher program, and though that crashed on the launch pad he still advocates school choice.

Cons: The power of the presidency has expanded since 9/11, and Giuliani might be the candidate least trustworthy to use that power. As a U.S. attorney he shook down Wall Street traders he accused of insider trading, going so far as to put them in handcuffs in their offices. Apart from when terrorists attacked his city, Giuliani has no real foreign policy experience; his public pronouncements on the issues sound like reheated, bullish Bush-isms. Just as his tax cuts aren't a sign of a larger pro-market impulse, his liberal views on social policy don't extend to every peaceful personal behavior; New York smut fans still gnash their teeth at his crackdowns on pornography. Mayor Giuliani opposed a local term limits law passed in the mid-'90s, and after 9/11 he speculated about changing the rules to allow him to stay in power a bit longer. He's a longtime gun control booster, and his recent efforts to show otherwise haven't been convincing. (He said on one radio show that he "supports the First Amendment right to keep and bear arms.")

Bottom Line: Giuliani might be the most socially liberal figure to make a serious run for the GOP mantle since Nelson Rockefeller. He also might be the most personally authoritarian Republican candidate since Richard Nixon.

John McCain

Vitals: McCain's exploits in Vietnam made him famous: The young Navy lieutenant's A-4 Skyhawk was shot down by a North Vietnamese missile in 1967, and he spent five years being tortured in the Hanoi Hilton. He returned home a hero, married wealthy Arizonan Cindy Hensley in 1981, followed her west, and won a Phoenix-area House seat in 1982. In 1986 he won the Senate seat of the retiring Barry Goldwater, and in 2000 he nearly snatched the Republican presidential nomination from George W. Bush.

Pros: Though he tempered it as he prepared for his 2008 run, McCain has shown a fiscally conservative streak. He is widely credited with elevating federal pork to a national issue. After the Jack Abramoff scandals broke, McCain used his power in the Senate to expose corruption in his own party.

Cons: When McCain replaced Goldwater in the Senate, he promised voters that they "wouldn't be able to tell the difference." They can. A "national greatness" conservative with an itch to regulate, McCain was the brains behind one of most anti–First Amendment laws in decades: the campaign finance reform law of 2002, which restricts what individuals and groups can say during the campaign season. He was a neocon before neoconservatism was cool, arguing early on for war in Iraq and calling way back in 2004 for a troop surge to dig us out of the muck. Even his hatred of pork isn't really about cutting government; it's about making a big, aggressive government more effective.

Bottom Line: Like Giuliani, McCain comes to public policy from an authoritarian perspective, not an individualist one. He's good on some issues, but his bias is for the executive to take the reins to ram through change and vanquish his foes. That might not be the ideal philosophy to follow eight years of George Bush.

Mitt Romney

Vitals: The son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, young Mitt rose through Harvard's law and business schools before landing at Bain & Company, the Boston turnaround firm. He is credited with rescuing the imploding 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City before getting elected governor of Massachusetts a few months later. In 2006 he passed on a second term to run for president.

Pros: Romney's Type A business personality butted up against the Democratic legislature to produce some salutary results: He junked useless state jobs and balanced the budget with few tax and fee increases. In a backhanded slap at President Bush, Romney likes to say, "I know how to use the veto. I like vetoes."

Cons: Business is one thing. In politics, Romney has a knack for leaving projects half-finished and changing his mind. He took control of Boston's failing "Big Dig," but nothing came of his appearances at troubled sites wearing a construction helmet. He signed a mandatory health insurance law, then left his liberal Democratic successor to work out the details. He campaigned as a supporter of abortion rights and gay rights in 1994 and 2002, then morphed into a pro-lifer and the nation's most vocal nemesis of gay marriage. Allies say his changes are sincere, but they seem to fit a pattern of politically-advantageous maneuvers—like calling himself a "lifelong hunter" before admitting that he'd only been hunting twice.

Bottom Line: Romney has the most impressive management experience of anyone in the race. Unfortunately, the impressive parts came before he entered politics.

Sam Brownback

Vitals: Brownback, the former president of the Kansas branch of Future Farmers of America, was a lawyer and radio host before becoming Kansas' secretary of agriculture in 1986. He won a U.S. House seat in the 1994 Republican Revolution, and when Bob Dole quit the Senate to run for president, Brownback took his job. He converted from Methodism to Catholicism in 2002, solidifying an already pretty solid reputation as one of the Senate's most pious members.

Pros: Plenty of candidates wave the cross on the campaign trail. Brownback does it all the time, even when it cuts against his party's standard positions. He supports immigration reform that would let migrant workers become citizens. He opposes not just abortion but the death penalty: "I think every life is sacred and beautiful, whether it's the unborn or whether it's Ted Kennedy."

Cons: Brownback is a major foreign interventionist, an early agitator for war in Iraq (he co-sponsored the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act), and the rare Republican who wants to intervene in Sudan's Darfur region. After 9/11 he sponsored a bill to fund biometric tracking of foreign students in the U.S. He's also, as his campaign will happily tell you, the most flamboyant social conservative in the race. He supports constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage and abortion, and has pushed for bans on stem cell research and cloning as well.

Bottom Line: Brownback represents a different shade of the "compassionate conservatism" championed by George W. Bush. But perhaps not different enough.

Mike Huckabee

Vitals: A trained pastor and theologian who headed the Arkansas Baptist Convention, Huckabee became lieutenant governor in 1993. Three years later, when Gov. Jim Guy Tucker's career was shredded in a financial scandal, Huckabee slipped into the governor's chair where he stayed until 2007. To judge from his press clippings, his greatest achievement in office has been to lose 110 pounds.

Pros: If you comb over his record carefully, Huckabee has shown the occasional flash of small-government sympathies. As a new governor he cut Arkansas' income tax and supported a property taxpayers' "bill of rights." He passed another tax cut in 1997, and in 1999 he cut capital gains taxes. He has been a friend both to homeschoolers and to charter schools.

Cons: If you're less charitable in reading the Huckabee résumé, he's probably the most profligate spender in the race. He racheted up sales taxes and "sin taxes" multiple times over 10 years, usually under the cover of supporting public schools/education/"our children." Cigarette taxes went up by more than 100 percent. He supported the 2003 expansion of Medicare, even though, as a governor, he could have stayed out of the debate in Congress. Huckabee is one of the biggest (figuratively speaking) nannies in politics; having shed all those pounds through exercise and diet, he now wants to regulate what kids eat in school and how their parents behave around them (like whether they smoke around their fat kids while driving their cars). And once those kids are whipped into shape, he wants to make sure they're not learning too much about the survival of the fittest: "I do not necessarily buy into the traditional Darwinian theory," he has said, arguing for "balance" in science classes.

Bottom Line: The vision of "compassionate conservatism" promised by George W. Bush was actually practiced by Huckabee, with all the flaws that entailed. He's the GOP candidate who'd probably get along best with a big-spending Democratic Congress.

Ron Paul

Vitals: An Air Force veteran and obstetrician working in suburban Houston, Paul turned political after President Nixon abandoned the gold standard. He won a U.S. House seat in 1976, left in 1984 for a losing Senate race, ran for president as the 1988 Libertarian Party candidate, then returned to Congress in 1996 even though the national GOP threw its weight against him. He published a political newsletter through most of that period, becoming one of the best-known self-identified libertarians in politics.

Pros: No politician in the Capitol is more libertarian than Paul; he has embraced the nickname "Dr. No," earned after scores of "nay" votes on bills he considered unconstitutional. Paul opposes nearly all foreign wars, all foreign aid spending, and all domestic surveillance, starting with the PATRIOT Act. In 2003 Reason named him one of our "35 Heroes of Freedom."

Cons: Paul's libertarianism wavers when it comes to immigration: He wants a border crackdown, stricter enforcement of visa rules, and an end to birthright citizenship. He also opposes abortion and gay marriage but would leave those issues to the states.

Bottom Line: It would be nice to live in a world where Ron Paul could actually win.

Tom Tancredo

Vitals: The grandson of Italian immigrants, Tancredo was elected in 1976 to the Colorado House of Representatives, where he slashed taxes and made many enemies before leaving in 1981 to make deep cuts at a branch of the state Education Department. He worked at the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute before making a 1998 comeback, winning a U.S. House seat in Colorado's suburban 6th District.

Pros: Before he dug his teeth into the illegal immigration issue, not much would have separated Tancredo from the libertarian mainstream or the Goldwater wing of the GOP. He's a dedicated tax cutter and government shrinker; in the state legislature he and his allies were dubbed "the Crazies" for wanting to kill the state income tax. In 2006 he allied with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) on a bill to stop the Justice Department from raiding medical marijuana patients. Karl Rove called Tancredo "a traitor to the party," which to everyone but Rove sounds like a compliment.

Cons: But Rove said that because of Tancredo's views on immigration. Tancredo is the leading opponent of open borders in either house of Congress, founding the Immigration Reform Caucus in 1999. He opposes legal immigration too; in 2003 he proposed to cap new citizens at 30,000 per year— about the same number that leaves the country annually. He doesn't like the cultural changes brought by immigration either, complaining that Miami's influx was turning it into "a Third World nation."

Bottom Line: The ascension of Tancredo to the White House might so terrify Mexican migrants that they stop coming across the border altogether. In that circumstance, forced to work on other issues, Tancredo might become a fairly libertarian president. This is an unlikely scenario.

Newt Gingrich (Undeclared)

Vitals: The former history professor made two runs for Congress before finally winning one of suburban Atlanta's U.S. House seats. He became one of the GOP minority's toughest politicians, dogging corrupt Democrats and exposing their scandals, becoming the party's whip in 1989. In 1994 he engineered the strategy (including the Contract With America) that led to the party's historic takeover of Congress. He was elected speaker for two terms but resigned in the wake of the party's 1998 losses.

Pros: It's a cliché now, but Speaker Gingrich revolutionized Washington, marshalling budget cuts, welfare reform, and still-extant congressional reforms through the House. Since leaving Congress he has been a frequent critic of the floundering, big-spending GOP majority (RIP).

Cons: Gingrich's record in the House doesn't hold up under scrutiny. His first term included some substantial successes, but he soon morphed into one of George Orwell's Animal Farm swine. He frustrated GOP budget cutters by appeasing the party's biggest earmarkers, preparing the ground for the corruption that would eventually bring down the Republican Revolution. What's more, if he gets in the race, Gingrich would become the election's biggest hawk. He considers America's greatest challenge to be the "transformational war" against the "Irreconcilable Wing of Islam," which he has dubbed "World War III." And he has a closet packed with skeletons. If the Republicans nominate Gingrich, a Democratic victory, possibly a landslide, is highly likely.

Bottom Line: Gingrich is more interested in big ideas and multipoint plans than a coherent philosophy for government.

Chuck Hagel (Undeclared)

Vitals: Hagel volunteered for service in Vietnam in 1968, surviving the war through a combination of luck and heroism. He worked in Congress, then as a lobbyist, then in the Reagan administration, before starting Vanguard Cellular Systems in 1984 and building it into a highly successful business. In 1996 he beat Nebraska's Democratic governor for a U.S. Senate seat.

Pros: Hagel is the most prominent, and perhaps the most eloquent, Republican opponent of neoconservative foreign policy. He argued against the Iraq war before it began, earning plenty of enmity from mainstream Republicans but winning the last bitter laugh. He has voted for cuts in both taxes and spending. If his anti-war insurgency catches fire, he could be the Eugene McCarthy of the election.

Cons: It's not clear whether Hagel is running for president or for maverick du jour. He's given to talking a good game on his issues, booking interviews and slots on the Sunday talk shows, then finding a stentorian way to say, "Just kidding!" Hagel spoke against the Iraq war, then voted for it. He said any senator too cowardly to debate the January 2007 "troop surge" should "go sell shoes," and then he voted against debating an anti-surge resolution. A much-hyped March 2007 press conference where Hagel merely announced he would make a decision on the race "later this year" might have defined his image as a do-nothing speechmaker.

Bottom Line: Ron Paul aside, Hagel's stances make him the strongest candidate some libertarians could dream of—especially those whose chief concern is ending the war. But his only constituency might be the media.

Fred Thompson (Undeclared)

Vitals: Thompson's C.V. reads like the résumés of two or three different people mashed together in a filing accident. He became an assistant U.S. attorney only two years out of law school, then came under the wing of Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), who put him on the Senate Watergate Committee. Back in the Volunteer State, he won a parole board case that exposed the state's governor for selling pardons. The story was adapted into the film Marie, faintly remembered now for its role in the decline of Sissy Spacek's star power and for the acting debut of Thompson, who played himself. He acted for nearly 10 years before winning Al Gore's old Senate seat in 1994, retiring in 2002 and taking a central role on NBC's popular Law and Order.

Pros: Watergate-era Thompson was a dogged investigator of a corrupt White House. Sen. Thompson was a term limits true believer who voted for tax cuts and passed a bill reforming Congress's labor laws, making legislators follow the same rules private companies have to obey.

Cons: If you go by his second-most-prominent media appearances these days—filling in for Paul Harvey's folksy radio commentary—Thompson's worldview is a combination of tough-guy thuggishness and "bomb the bastards" foreign policy. He has taken Gandhi to the woodshed and is a big fan of that musty applause line, "It is the soldier, not the journalist, who has given us freedom of speech." He has praised President Bush for refusing to negotiate with Iran and Syria and, instead, "taking them on." In office he voted for all of John McCain's campaign finance proposals. He also proudly raised money for the Scooter Libby Legal Defense Trust, surely the most ironic career move for a Law and Order prosecutor.

Bottom Line: If he runs, Thompson will be the most pro-Bush Republican in the race; he narrated Bush's bio films at the 2004 Republican convention. If you liked the Bush era but wished the president's voice had a little more bass, Thompson's the one.