Clinton vs. Warner Tuesday night (and 2012?)

There is an opportunity for one or both of the main speakers to leave a big impression on the Democratic delegates.

Published August 26, 2008 9:31PM (EDT)

DENVER -- I know, I know -- the 2008 general election season hasn’t even reached Labor Day, so I’m sure some will pitch a fit about even mentioning 2012. But consider this precious little nugget on tap Tuesday night in Denver: The two candidates giving the major speeches, Mark Warner and Hillary Clinton, could arguably be the front-runners for the party's nomination four years from now if Barack Obama loses in November. (Remember when, not long ago, Warner was viewed as the "stop-Hillary" candidate?)

Following a gauzy opening night there is discussion among Democrats and the media that this convention will suffer from Shrum-itis: too little attacking, that is, of George W. Bush, John McCain and the Republicans, at least in prime time. Moreover, nobody is expecting either Warner or Clinton to take the gloves off: Warner doesn't have a reputation for red meat rhetoric, and though Clinton is clearly capable of going negative, tonight is supposed to be her bask-in-the-glory moment.

All that said, the candidate who does the unexpected could leave the assembled delegates in the Pepsi Center in a veritable tizzy. (The crowd Monday night, in my opinion, was flat and seemed mostly unenthused by night's end; the cute stuff with the Obama daughters redeemed the program.) Imagine Warner thundering away against the Bush economy, given his facility on these subjects. Imagine Hillary surprising everyone and giving even some Obama supporters pause by debunking the suspicions that she will smile through her teeth at every mention of Obama's name.

Either performance could be a showstopper. We'll have to see what happens.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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