Tuesday, January 08, 2008

My guide to the US primaries for Canadians

I'm not stupid enough to blog about my political views, but I am fascinated by this election, and as a Canadian I feel like I can share some impartial observations.

On the Dem side it's a close, hard-fought race between Clinton and Obama. On the GOP side there is much greater volatility... it will probably be "close" in the sense that voters & donors will probably rally around 2 candidates, but which 2 is still up in the air.

A month ago I would have said that Huckabee is not a serious candidate. Now it looks like he's gaining supporters but I read that as a sign that Republicans are unhappy with their other choices, rather than any enthusiasm for his rather thin political agenda. He's an SNL skit waiting to happen (of course, SNL being what it is, it wouldn't be a funny skit). He's filling a policy gap in the GOP field (i.e. he's an actual conservative, and always has been). But in terms of being prepared for the presidency, he's too flaky, and will probably get crushed in the election by whoever the Dems run. Need proof? Take a look at his response to the Bhutto assassination.

He's got great presence. And he's got an electorate, especially on the Dem side, that's been very unhappy with the last 8 years (or, maybe 6 of the last 8), and are eager to lash out at anything and anyone that had anything to do with, or anything positive to say about the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, tax cuts, or any of a number of controversial (and in some cases, possibly illegal) events. On the other hand he ran for the Senate against a complete kook after the original GOP candidate dropped out due to a sex scandal. Clintonites are trying to use this as proof that he's untested/inexperienced.

It'll be interesting to see how the race thing plays out. On the one hand he rarely mentions his race, and that probably contributes to the image of him as a uniter (especially when you compare him with past Black candidates like, say, Sharpton). That's got to play well with traditional, white Dems in the states that are most highly contested. On the other hand, this same thing might not play well with Black voters. Bill Clinton had good relations with African Americans, and Hillary could win those votes unless Obama gives them a reason to vote for him beyond his feel-good "we need a change" speeches, which tend to play better with yuppies and college Democrats.

Also, his race is probably preventing the press from being harsher in their criticism of him. (It's like that Onion article about Will Smith being "the black man the whole office can agree on.") This would be ok for the Dems as long as the press agrees to continue in this way until after November. But if they turn up the criticism once he's gotten the nomination, he could face a tough fight against someone like McCain or Romney.

Overall his strengths are particularly well suited for the current political climate: he's flashy and optimistic at a time when many Americans are feeling that their country has gone off-course. His weaknesses are his inexperience; to some extent the importance of this factor is going to depend on how much fear-of-terrorism affects voters decisions. Given the war fatigue that's swept the country, this might not be such a big deal.

I'm not sure that I have anything to say that everyone doesn't already know. One thing that stands out is that the press has been especially nasty in their coverage, and I can't help but feel that this is because she's a woman.

Also, for my Canadian buddies, sometimes conservatives will derisively refer to "Hillarycare" - a supposedly socialist health care proposal that she advanced in the 90's. In fact it falls far short of Canada's health care system in terms of comprehensiveness, and public financing.

Many Republican's distrust this "maverick", but if dissatisfied with the other options they might rally around him. He's been outspoken in his support for the Iraq war and the "troop surge," and since the surge has been getting some positive reviews, this might help him.

I have no idea what to make of this guy. Does his Mormonism turn off conservative voters? Living in Madison, WI - supposedly one of the most "liberal" cities in the States, it's pretty hard to get a good read on how religious voters will react to a Mormon - with a history of "liberal" policies as Governor of Massachusetts. Add in to the mix the fact that business interests have rallied around him and you might have the perfect situation for a working-class Evangelical candidate like Huckabee. Or maybe not, I have no idea what's going on with the whole Romney thing.

Now that he's lost the first 2 major contests, it might be that his backers will look for a new candidate to support - one who's might can actually seal the deal. Perhaps McCain?

Maybe one of the most well known candidates for Canadians. His campaign seems to have imploded. Liberals deride his "9-11 Tourette's" (which, I'm pretty sure, is not a very PC thing to say), but the strange thing is how little support he's getting from Republican voters despite having lined up a host of high profile endorsements. After having sunk a ton of money into Iowa and New Hampshire, Guiliani tried to save face by "pulling out" and focusing on later primaries. It's hard to see how this can be painted as anything less than hugely embarrassing.

I'm not sure if GOPers dislike his somewhat liberal social positions (he supports gay rights, and abortion rights), or if they just don't like his "personality". He's got a kind of weird presence, for example check out his Xmas ad:

I'm pretty sure that this didn't win him any votes.

Compare this with Huckabee's ad with a little wink-wink message for Evangelical voters:

Did you notice the floating cross? It's just a bookshelf (it's all about plausible deniability). Also: this is ripe for parody. This is ripe!

The only other "true" conservative in the race. If he were younger and showed more energy in campaigning, I'm pretty sure he would have been a leading candidate. It's probably a waste of your time and mine to think about him. He no longer has a chance at winning, and will probably not be involved in politics after dropping out. A footnote.

He's pretty much done now that he's lost both Iowa and New Hampshire. His support comes largely from the Lou Dobbs wing of the Democratic party (i.e. the xenophobes and anti-free-traders).

This guy dropped out, but he was basically only in the race to keep his name in the news - in hopes of winning the VP nomination.

Well, those are all of the important candidates. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. It's very different from Canadian political circus.

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