will be immigration. And whether or not we want to build a wall around the country.
At least that's what it's looking like now. Of course the election is far away and maybe immigration won't be quite the burning issue that is whipping millions of people into a frenzy, but chances are the debate will be just as intense, and will only be stirred up more by the '08 race.
Conservatives want to build a wall, liberals and moderates (Republican, Democrat and Independent) are either opposed or hesitant to support such an extreme measure. The symbolism alone is enough to scare off lots of people.
It's such a contentious issue that there is a very good chance a third party candidate, completely devoted to extreme immigration restrictions, can cause all sorts of havoc. 2008 might be ripe for a strong independent for a number of reason (to be explored more later) but this is clearly the issue most likely to spark someone to step up.
Buchannan did it in 2004, but he's not going to try it again. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) is very likely to run as an independent, but there are lots of other guys out there who could give it a shot. We might even see someone start off in the Republican primary and then split off once he or she realizes that he can.
But what happens then? Say we have Hillary and Warner battling it out on the Dem side. And on the GOP side we have Rudy and John getting most of the press and money, but then comes Tancredo or someone equally vociferous. What happens? Tancredo goes hard hard right on immigration. Rudy and John are stuck. If they go equally hard right then they lose a lot of the moderates and independents that both need to make up for their lack of support amongst the evangelicals. If they stay in the middle then they lose a lot of the conservatives who flock to Tancredo.
Fastforward a few weeks and McCain emerges as the GOP nominee, but Tancredo announces that he's still running but this time as an Independent/Some other Party. We'll also assume that Hillary has the nod on the Dem side. Clinton stays where she is and says a wall is not an answer, but blah blah blah, so she keeps all those moderates and liberals. McCain has the same problem he had during the primary (chances are many of those independents supporting him aren't going to have too much of a problem switching to Hillary), so he goes moderate right. He says that we should build a mini-wall along the few most porous parts.
Tancredo says that isn't enough and that anything less than a full wall isn't going to do anything. Why do anything half-assed right?
What happens on election day?
Well a new poll released by Rasmussen gives us a very early, but very interesting look.
In a generic match-up between a Dem and a Repub the numbers are:
A clear win for the good guys.
But if there is a third party candidate who "promised to build a barrier along the Mexican border and make enforcement of immigration law his top priority." Then the whole thing goes to hell.
A tie between the Democrats and the Independent! And the Republicans in THIRD PLACE.
It's early, but this is a plausible scenario. All the Democrats have to do is hold the center and let the Repub and the Immigration candidate destroy each other. It will be scary, and it will be close, but that kind of ideological skirmish can only benefit the Democrats.