Mark Halperin Tells Audience of Political Junkies What Non-Experts Need to Know About the Candidates

Last night, Time and ABC News political analyst Mark Halperin was talking to an audience at the at Barnes & Noble on West 82nd Street about his new book, The Undecided Voter’s Guide to the Next President.

He said that his new book is geared toward people who "aren’t particularly political," focusing less on the campaigns themselves than on "who can do the best job."

"I tried to say, with the information we have about the candidates, who would be the best," he told the audience of about 60 people. "I did what I thought a conscientious voter should do."

Unfortunately for Mr. Halperin, the audience did indeed seem like "political people," most of them retirees who admitted to having lots and lots of time to absorb political coverage. And most of the crowd seemed to be decided indeed, in favor of Hillary Clinton.

During a question-and-answer session, one woman who appeared to be in her late 60′s shook her head and wagged her finger as she spoke on the topic of Hillary Clinton as a modern-day Eleanor Roosevelt. A petite, grey haired woman seated behind her turned to her neighbor and said, rather audibly, "she does this every time!"

Mr. Halperin’s research as a "conscientious voter" did not lead him to very different conclusions from those of his C-Span addicted crowd: Hillary is the woman for the job.

"I think that today, this is not a prediction, it’s not an endorsement, it’s not saying that the other Democrats couldn’t win," he said. "I think today she’ll be the nominee, and she is the strongest candidate because she knows the way to win. She has taken what she has learned about how her husband has won two elections and how George Bush won two elections, and she’s taken a la carte the best of what they have, of what they have to do."

He did cite her refusal to apologize for her initial endorsement of the Iraq War, which has angered lots of antiwar Democrats but which Mr. Halperin ticked off in her plus column.

"She is trying to do not just what she thinks is right and not just what will make her electable in a general election but to be able to govern as president," he said, "and I think it’s one of the more admirable things about how she’s conducted herself as a senator and as a presidential candidate."

Anyone who claims they know who the Republican nominee will be should be "committed," he said, but he gave Rudolph Giuliani a 35 percent chance of winning his party’s vote.

"It’s about three things, and he’s successfully kept the press and the public focused on them: fighting terrorism, beating Hillary Clinton, and being the most electable person in a general election."

But in a general election, responding to pressure from the audience, he gave Mitt Romney the nod.

"I don’t know who the strongest republican would be, it’s related to the fact that I don’t know who the nominee is going to be," he cautioned helpfully. "I think whoever the parties nominate…you’re gonna see most of the red states stay red and most of the blue states stay blue."

The Upper West Side is also a sort-of Bloombergville, and Mr. Halperin was not above throwing out a bit of chum on the topic of a hypothetical Michael Bloomberg independent run.

"If the nominees are unpopular, if the country seems open to an independent candidate, and if the country seems open to, as he himself describes himself, ‘a short, Jewish, divorced billionaire,’ if all those conditions are met and he runs, I think he’d have a chance to win."

Hmm. He’d have a chance to win–if he had a chance to win!

Actually, Mr. Halperin was more restrictive than that. The only combination of major-party rivals that would suit a Bloomberg candidacy, he said, were Clinton v. Giuliani or Edwards v. Romney.

Mr. Halperin had four words to distinguish Mr. Bloomberg from the last serious independent candidate, Ross Perot: "more money, less crazy."