It was only last year that pundits wrote off the crowded field of Democratic primary contenders as indicative of the sorry state of the future of the Democratic Party. The contenders were thought of as a mixture of nobodies (Howard Dean, John Edwards, Wesley Clark) and old-guard has-beens (John Kerry, Dick Gephardt, Bob Graham.) "Is this the best they have to offer?" seemed to be coming from talking heads' lips on an endless loop.
But in the past year, a Democratic national leadership gap has evaporated. In its place has risen a crop of dashing, likeable, and electable Democratic superstars that should keep the party faithful satisfied for years to come. A fortunate string of media coverage during the primary season "veep-stakes",
and the party convention itself have created a scenario where a Democratic presidential primary in 2008 or 2012 would likely be flush with big-name players in a way that was unimaginable only a short time ago.
First there is John Edwards. The freshman senator and long-shot Presidential contender has transformed himself from a likely one-term senator into the Vice-presidential candidate for the party - and a strong contender for the top-spot next time around. Then there is Barack Obama. As a result of a strong state primary showing, a series of divorce-related rival candidate implosions, his phenomenal speaking skills and amazing ability to handle pressure, and brilliant convention planning that gave him a primetime speaking spot, the once-obscure Illinois state senator is now a megastar.
The seemingly inevitable next U.S. senator from Illinois is now the source of much whispering around Washington as a potential front-runner in the next "veep-stakes" (party loyalists salivate at the idea of a 2012 Edwards-Obama ticket.) New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson was the beneficiary of
extensive "veep-stakes" murmuring before he took himself out of the running. This extensive positive publicity, coupled with his strong credentials as a popular swing-state governor and former Clinton-cabinet member, has positioned Richardson to compete for a spot on a future national ticket, should he want it. His Hispanic heritage doesn't hurt either.
Of course, the past year or so has seen other stars of the Democratic party that the national public has only gotten a glimpse of: Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, former
first-son Ron Reagan (should he ever muster political aspirations and leave his "independent" status behind), potential future first-stepson Chris Heinz (should he ever muster political aspirations), and, looking way ahead, Ilana Wexler, the 13-year-old founder of Kids for Kerry.
The seeds are there, and future election cycles should be very interesting to watch. Even if the Democrats can't get to the White House this November, the party should see the fruits of this election season pay off for years, if not decades to come.