Friday, 4 January 2008

U.S. Elections 2008 - up to Iowa

This is probably going to be the first of a few posts covering the presidential race in the United States. I've been following it very closely because I have an interest in US politics and something like this is internationally important.

First of all, below is a list of the candidates form the Democrat and Republican parties at the start of the whole process:

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (New York)
Senator Barack Obama(Illinois)
John Edwards (former Senator)
Governor Bill Richardson (New Mexico)
Congressman Dennis Kucinich (Ohio)
Senator Joe Biden (Delaware)
Senator Chris Dodd (Connecticut)
Mike Gravel (former Senator)

GOP (the Republicans)
Mike Huckabee (former governor)
Mitt Romney (former governor)
Senator John McCain (Arizona)
Fred Thompson (former Senator)
Congressman Ron Paul (Texas)
Rudy Giuliani(former Mayor of New York)
Congressman Duncan Hunter (San Diego)
Congressman Tom Tancredo (Colorado)
Tommy Thompson (former governor)
Senator Sam Brownback (Kansas)

N.B. - There are other candidates, such as independents. However, under the current US system, they hardly get a chance to compete with the GOP and the Democrats. Typically, they have to have significant funds to get any sort of presence (notable non-GOP/Democrat candidates in previous elections include Ross Perot and Ralph Nader).

There can be numerous reasons for a candidate dropping out of the race to become the nominee for their respective party. For example, the candidate might have failed to raise enough funds to campaign effectively. Another reason is that they have had poor ratings in opinion polls and they feel that there would be no point going any further. Early dropouts from this campaign are Tommy Thompson, Sam Brownback and Tom Tancredo.

One reason for all of the early dropouts being Republicans could be that GOP approve most applications to be a presidential candidate. With the Democrats, they have a stricter system and don't approve an application unless they consider the person to have a realistic chance.

The campaigning has been relentless and I've noticed there seems to be a significant focus on funding (this link shows you the current funding levels for each candidate). I can understand this - more funding means you can afford more campaigning resources. However, the chosen GOP and Democrat candidates should not be decided on the money that they raise. It should be about policies.

That's why I was pleased to see Mike Huckabee finish top of the GOP caucus poll in Iowa as he isn't the biggest Republican fundraiser by quite a large margin. People have said this some of his success could be because of his religious beliefs and the fact that there is a highly influencial evangelical section of the US population (that point is mentioned in this article and also notes that Huckabee is a Southern Baptist minister).

One of the other GOP candidates, Mitt Romney, has a much larger amount of funding and finished second in the poll - 9% behind Huckabee which is quite a substantial difference. The former governor of Massachusetts (left the position on January 4th, 2007) was considered by many to be the front runner.

Another candidate who was supposed to be one of the favourites is Rudy Giuliani, the former Mayor of New York. He only got 3% of the vote and finished second bottom (ahead of Duncan Hunter). One problem I have with Giuliani's campaign is that he focuses on 9/11 too much. One person described it as '9/11 Tourettes'! It might have been an incredibly significant moment in modern US history, but it happened 6 1/2 years ago. He needs to comment more on other important issues, such as healthcare and the national debt. Yes, there should be talk about getting the US troops out of Iraq (how Bush linked Iraq to 9/11 is still beyond me), but it shouldn't be his only issue.

As for the Democrats, a few different prospects were offered. You could have the first woman President or the first black President. While it is good to see women and people from the black community entering the race, I don't think their gender or colour shouldn't be commented on so much or be the deciding factor. It should be about policies. However, in politics this is not always the case.

The Democrats seemed to be more focused on getting the troops out of Iraq, which will definitely please a lot of people - especially those families who have relatives that are in that particular country.

In the Iowa caucuses, it became clear that it's a three horse race to become the democrat candidate:
  1. Barack Obama: 929 (38%)
  2. John Edwards: 738 (30%)
  3. Hillary Clinton: 728 (29%)
  4. Bill Richardson: 52 (2%)
  5. Joe Biden: 23 (1%)
  6. Uncommited: 3 (0%)
  7. Chris Dodd: 1 (0%)
  8. Mike Gravel : 0 (0%)
  9. Dennis Kucinich: 0 (0%)
The only shock with the top three is that Hillary Clinton finished third - previous polls suggested she'd be one of the top two. The doesn't seem to be much coverage of Bill Richardson's campaign at the moment. If the results from this caucus are repeated in the New Hampshire primary, I doubt he'll continue campaigning for much longer.

I thought Biden and Dodd would have got larger percentages of the vote, but as they haven't I can understand why they've ceased campaigning (see this and this). I don't think that Gravel and Kucinich will stay around for much longer either.

When events such as this take place, I am thankful for the internet's existence. The BBC TV news and other news organisations in Britain only mention the big/recognisable names, so you don't get a complete picture of what's going on. They never seem to cover things such as the remarkable funding successes of Ron Paul, or his unique policies.

Without the internet, I wouldn't have heard about Paul, Brownback, both Thompsons, Hunter, Tancredo, Kucinich, Richardson, Biden, Dodd or Gravel. Even after the Iowa caucus result, they barely mentioned John Edwards despite him finishing ahead of Hillary Clinton. I think they might have even mentioned Clinton more than the winner of the caucus - Barack Obama!

There also seems to be much more coverage of the Democrats. Maybe the people making the TV news think they have a greater chance of getting a candidate into the Whitehouse. That is not for them to decide though - they should give balanced coverage of both parties and allow the viewers to make up their own opinions. The internet might also have it's fair share of opinions and bias, but you can always look at multiple resources to get a more balanced view.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: USA, Politics, Election, Republicans, Democrats


Alfred Thompson said...

I live in New Hampshire so I get to have my say at the polls next week. Like many residents of my area I have been watching this election cycle closely for a while. I have seen a number of the candidates in person - some several times - and read about them a lot. The public opinion polls from the candidates and the news media call my house several times a week so when you read about polls of likely voters it is me they are talking about. :-)
I hope things are still unsettled after New Hampshire though. I think that the things get interesting if they are still up in the air longer. Though in the end I think New Hampshire generally does a very good job of picking the right candidates. That is because we do take it so seriously here.
The results in Iowa will make New Hampshire more important in many ways. For Clinton she really needs to beat Obama here. If not she has to come a close second. If Edwards wins (unlikely but who knows) or comes in a strong second (no matter who is first) he moves on with an air that he could win it all. Second for Obama is fine although if he comes in first it will be difficult to beat him later.
On the Republican side Romney really needs a big win. While he was not that popular in Massachusetts NH is a more Republican state. If he can't win here where can he win? Huckabee needs to show that Iowa was not a fluke. There are not as many evangelical Christians here to boost him though so he has an uphill fight. It is probably enough for him to be in the top three to continue into the next round. He will have to win somewhere else though and soon.
McCain just might win in NH. If he does that gives him a huge push going forward. Rudy really needs to do well in NH. Top three at least. I think he is betting on catching up in the next round but he has to have some success in NH or he will lose credibililty.

Oliver Drew said...

Hi David!

I'm also an interested observer of the USA Election campaign, and I have some opinions - though not observations and not as valid as Mr Thompson who, quite obviously, is better placed than me!!!

I think that Clinton will end up as the leading Democrat candidate - I just think that it's a long year and from what I've heard, Obama reminds me a bit of early David Cameron and definitely Tony Blair - a bit of a spinner with not much policy beneath; all Clinton has to do is keep calm and win the argument.

The most amazing difference between the UK and the USA is the acceptance of Religion in politics - you just don't get that over here; and that's why I think that Huckabee will end up the main Republican candidate - he's got a lot of natural conviction about what he belives in (though I disagree with some of his more...what to say....'hard line' beliefs.).

As a Conservative in this country, it is not unreasonable to expect me to be a Republican 'supporter' in the American elections but that's not the case, I'm more of a Democrat and I think that Hilary Clinton will end up as the next President of the USA. Unless Barack Obama surprises me; but I think that with a Democrat Senate and House of Representatives, I think we'll see a swing further away from the Republicans in November and they will inaugurate a Democrat President.