By ROBERT RECTOR
IF you think Nov. 4, 2008, is a long way off, it is clear that you are not running for the office of president of the United States. If you are a candidate - and it appears that almost anyone who owns a suit is - you've already broken into a full gallop.
As of this writing, 11 Democrats, 15 Republicans and dozens of assorted aspirants from other political spectrums have either declared, formed exploratory committees or expressed enough serious interest in the office to attract some attention.
And we're just warming up.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are being raised, liaisons are being formed, strategies are being developed, platform planks are being sawed and hammered, all with the intent of grabbing and holding your attention when you walk into the polling place next year.
Election 2008 will be notable for two reasons. One, it will be the first presidential election since 1928 in which neither a sitting president nor vice president will be a candidate. Unless Dick Cheney changes his mind and decides to run - unlikely since he can't bank on the support of the Dixie Chicks.
Second, it will be a billion-dollar baby. Federal Election Commission Chairman Michael Toner has already declared it to be "the most expensive election in American history." Toner estimated that to be "taken seriously," a candidate will need to raise at least $100 million by the end of this year.
Big hitters like Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, Barack Obama, John McCain and John Edwards have that stashed in petty cash. But that price tag is going to leave a lot of aspirants stuck at the starting gate. So, as a public service, we hereby bestow awards on some presidential pretenders that won't win the grand prize.
Winner of the Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Award is Michael Charles Smith, a Republican from Oregon who describes himself as "zealous moderate." He has a wife, two kids, a house and a mortgage and a job at Hewlett-Packard. He plays the tuba in the community band. His goal, he says, is to nudge his party back toward the center from what he sees as an extremist brand of right-wing rhetoric. It seems running for president is an odd way of getting heard, but maybe that's what tuba players do.
Tonight We're Going to Party Like It's 1920 Award: To Gene Amondson, a prohibitionist whose platform is simply stated: "Prohibition was America's greatest 13 years. Drinking responsibly is like teaching a pig to eat with a spoon. Can't happen."
Don't Tread on Me Award: To the Personal Choice Party, whose candidate, Charles Jay, ran in 2004 and is contemplating another try. The party expresses the philosophy of "live and let live." Personal Choice demands that, "as long as I am not hurting anyone else, only I have the right to choose how I spend my time, my wealth, my life, my honor." Spending her time and honor as their vice presidential candidate in 2004 was porn movie star Marilyn Chambers.
The Whatever Happened To Award: To Michael Moriarity, the Emmy and Tony award- winning actor who starred as Benjamin Stone in "Law and Order" from 1990 to 1994. It seems Moriarity became disenchanted with the United States and moved to Canada, declaring himself a political exile. He, nonetheless, intends to run from afar in 2008. A passionate foe of abortion, he was quoted as saying, "Like the collaborating Vichy government in France under the Nazis, America will surrender to laws and ideologies that contradict the American Constitution and the most simple Human Rights. The Supreme Court took a once individually free nation and corrupted it by the lie of science that fetuses are, in their first two trimesters, no more than egg yolk. Ultimately, our American Intellectual Supremacists bought the `Population Problem,' in the same way Europe fell under the thrall of the so-called `Jewish Problem."'
The Maybe This Isn't Such a Bad Idea Award: To David Koch and his running mate Ken Goldstein. Despite their political differences - Koch professes to have a conservative outlook, and Goldstein balances his outlook to the left - they are longtime friends who often debate their political viewpoints. When they conceived their plans to run for president, they found these differences to be an advantage, according to their Web site. Rather than the traditional choice of running mates from similar political viewpoints, they built their campaign with a team with alternate viewpoints. Koch claims the pair has a strange ability "to argue through issues we disagree on and come to common ground." "Neither left nor right, but what is right" is their slogan.