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Democrats' presidential campaigning overshadows governing

WASHINGTON—Maybe they didn't get the news that they won the last election.

Democrats such as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York are talking about what they'll do to fix problems such as health care—AFTER they win the White House in nearly two years.

Here's what Clinton told union members at a forum of presidential candidates in Nevada:

"As president, we will finally have universal health-care coverage that will be provided to every single American."

But hold on. She's not just asking supporters to wait until after the NEXT election. She wants people to wait until after the 2012 election. Maybe even until they're within sight of the 2016 election.

"I want to have universal health-care coverage by the end of my second term, and with everybody working on that I think we can do it," she said to cheers and applause. That put the deadline at noon Jan. 20, 2017.

She's not alone.

Gerald McEntee, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the host of the presidential forum, acknowledged that the Democrats won control of Congress last November. But he, too, said America must wait for results.

"Next year, we will take back the White House," he said. "And when we do, we're going to make affordable health care available to each and every American. We're going to make it possible for families to send their kids to college and retire with dignity. We are going to support and expand America's middle class."

Funny, I don't remember the Democrats seeking control of Congress last year—Clinton among them—by saying, "Elect us, give us power and we'll get to work immediately running for the next election so we can get to work eventually on all those issues we talked about last year."

Still, they've launched the earliest presidential campaign in history.

That says three things about their party.

_The need to raise tens of millions of dollars is forcing a premature campaign. Candidates say they'll abandon voluntary spending limits, and anyone who wants a real shot is already dialing for dollars.

_Campaigning and the prospect of winning tomorrow are overshadowing governing and the chance of accomplishing anything today.

_Democrats plan to govern as Republicans did the last few years, with proposals endorsed only by a narrow partisan majority and no hope of forging the kind of consensus that would attract enough bipartisan support either to win a presidential signature or override his veto.

One potential candidate who's sitting it out, Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, told me that the early campaign is bad for the country.

"There's no question that it's had an impact on governing," Bredesen said during a break from the National Governors Association meeting in Washington. "There are certain kinds of decisions that won't be made during this period."

For those candidates who want to debate ideas that can't be accomplished before the next election, the early money chase threatens to squeeze them out if they don't have access to ready millions. Just last week, former Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa dropped out.

"It puts all the premium on raising early money and gives a lot of excellent candidates little opportunity," Bredesen said. "I don't think that's a good way to pick a president. There's so much talent. In this country, to be already narrowing down to a small handful of people is a bad way to pick a president. We can do better."


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(Steven Thomma is chief political correspondent for the McClatchy Washington bureau. Write to him at: McClatchy Newspapers, 700 12th St. N.W., Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20005-3994, or e-mail