Veteran political columnist Robert Novak said Tuesday that this is the most wide open presidential race since 1952 and that it may be the Democrats' to lose.
But Novak cautioned that public opinion polls six months before the first primaries and caucuses should not be given a lot of credence.
"Don't pay any attention to the polls," Novak told a luncheon of the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh. "It's way too much in advance."
"Wasn't Howard Dean a great president?" Novak quipped, referring to the former Vermont governor who was an early leader in the Democratic primary in the 2004 race before quickly fading.
Novak said the 2008 election figures to be a difficult one for Republicans to win because of an unpopular war, an unpopular president and the feeling that the country is going in the wrong direction.
"It makes it almost impossible to win," Novak said. "But the Democrats want to make it as hard as possible for themselves by nominating Hillary Clinton -- not because she is a woman, but because she is unlikable. Richard Nixon proved you could be unlikable and still be president of the United States, but nobody else has done it recently."
Novak called Illinois Sen. Barack Obama "very inexperienced." He did not mention former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.
On the Republican side, Novak said he was skeptical of the chances of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He said it was hard to believe that the GOP would "nominate somebody who is pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-gay marriage, and pro-gun control." But he said Giuliani looks as though he would be tough on terrorism.
Novak said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is in the best position of any of the GOP candidates in the early primaries, but could be hurt by his Mormon religion. Novak said he doubted that Sen. John McCain of Arizona could resurrect his struggling campaign.
He said former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson has some possibilities. "A lot of people think he deserves to be president because he did such a good job as district attorney of New York," Novak quipped, referring to Thompson's role on the television crime drama "Law and Order."
He was in Raleigh to plug his book, "Prince of Darkness."
Staff writer Rob Christensen can be reached at 829-4532 or firstname.lastname@example.org.