One of the intriguing things about presidential elections is that you never know what will happen. Despite the millions of dollars that are invested in polls, regardless of the preponderance of evidence, and although political pundits spew out opinions 24 hours a day, nobody really knows who the American people will elect until the ballots are counted. And no matter how much time, effort, and money candidates, political parties, lobbyists, canvassers, volunteers, and special interest groups put in to try to earn votes, they never can be fully sure how people will vote until after Election Day. The American presidential race — despite its flaws (and there are many) — is one of the best examples of democracy in the world. And last week’s Iowa caucus and this week’s New Hampshire primary started the 2008 election off with a bang.
Of the dramatic events that characterized the first few weeks of the Democrat’s race, one wonders what makes the bigger story. Is it the fact that Hillary Clinton, with a huge war chest and pristine establishment credentials failed to even come close to winning Iowa? Or the fact that Barack Obama, a man who happens to be black, won over an overwhelmingly white electorate? John Edwards must be congratulated on running a spirited campaign in the final moments, but his come from behind tactics may make him appear to be too much of an attack dog to maintain a Presidential demeanor. We’ll know for sure about his electability after South Carolina, his home state.
One thing is for sure: Obama’s message of positive change has resonated with Democrats. After Iowa, I figured he was home free if he continued to be the “positive change” candidate. After all, I figured if he can carry a somewhat conservative state like Iowa, there is no telling what he’d be able to do in more liberal territory. However, after New Hampshire — which is becoming bluer each year — and the Clinton comeback, I have to admit that this is still a race. My research and gut feeling tell me that Obama will get the nod in the end, but Clinton will not back down now that she has New Hampshire on her resume. The interesting thing about this race is how an Al Gore appearance could shake things up. Don’t forget about him and how his entering the race could knock off just about everyone. Most democrats would love the idea of a Gore/Clinton or Gore/Obama ticket, but obviously it’s a long shot.
The Republican situation is a bit more tenuous. Mike Huckabee’s win in Iowa and John McCain’s win in New Hampshire were not runaways, so the other candidates are still in the race. Mitt Romney, a close finisher in each of those races, and the winner in the Wyoming caucus still has a shot, although the idea of American electing a flip-flopping Mormon is doubtful. His seemingly plastic veneer, elite status, and personal wealth seem to eliminate him as a true people’s pick. Until Romney realizes that money and politics will not win the election alone and he lets his hair down, shows his true self, and connects to the people, he will continue to suffer defeats.
A year ago I never would have thought I’d say this, but I think Rudy Giuliani is finished. His campaign was mismanaged from the beginning and his decision to start the race off slow was a bad one. This is a huge benefit to all the other candidates who figured that Giuliani, with his strong background and popularity amongst independents, figured to be a front runner.
Huckabee’s evangelical surge worked in Iowa, but the ‘awe shucks preacher boy gambit will be much harder to sell in other parts of the country, and we witnessed that immediately in New Hampshire where the stronger, more credentialed McCain took the gold. Huckabee might be a victim of his own spin, in that he will cause a backlash against his campaign if evangelicals see him as bending to other segments of the Republican constituency who do not wear their religious affiliation on their sleeves.
Whatever happens in the Republican race (and don’t count out a run from billionaire Mike Bloomberg just yet), I expect a hotly contested race until the very end. None of the Republican candidates are superb, and considering the state of the country and the dislike of the sitting President, they have to realize that winning the nomination is only the easy part.
The upsets and comebacks in both parties clearly reveal one thing. At this stage in history, America wants a leader, not a politician or a CEO. Whoever can convey their leadership ability most convincingly will ultimately get the job of President of the United States of America.