Thursday, April 17, 2008

Primary Season Strangest One Yet

Presidential elections seem to be getting stranger and stranger with each new election. It started in 2000 with President George Bush becoming only the fourth man in history to win the presidency without having won the popular vote [John Adams (1824), Rutherford Hayes (1876), and Benjamin Harrison (1888)]. To add to that, the mess in Florida would have made that a notable election by itself. You wouldn’t think punching a hole in a paper ballet would be so confusing but it appeared to be complicated for a surprising number of people. Recall the “Hanging Chad’s” and the “Pregnant Chad’s” leading to recounts and cries of “count my vote.” All this culminating in the Supreme Court decision and President Bush taking office.

Fast forward four years and you had the “four hour Kerry presidency” as early polls had him winning by a safe margin. Instead, with one of the greatest voter turnouts in history, President Bush was reelected this time, winning both the Electoral College and the popular vote.

This year, we don’t even have to wait for the presidential race to see some “bizarreties” commence. On the Republican side you have the amazing comeback of presumed Republican nominee John McCain. McCain at his lowest point was flying commercial coach carrying his own luggage. Now, not only is he the presumed Republican nominee for president, but he is leading in polls against both of the two front runners in the Democratic Party. If John McCain wins, he would break the record of oldest person to ascend to the presidency. Ronald Regan, the current record holder for the oldest president, was 73 when he won reelection.

As interesting as the Republican side is, it doesn’t hold a candle to the Democratic side. Either of the Democratic candidates would also be a first. Hillary Clinton would be the first female president and along the same lines the first spouse of a former president to become president. Barack Obama would be the first African-American elected president.

Barack Obama is campaigning on a message of change. What that means no one seems to know. A lot of people have decided that they want change, whatever it is. Hillary Clinton also tried to be the candidate of change. Unlike Obama, who is a third-year senator, she has more history to contend with. It is hard to be the candidate for change when the progression of recent presidents has gone Bush (senior, 1988), Clinton (Bill, 1992), Clinton (Bill, 1996), Bush (current, 2000), Bush (current, 2004). To say that adding another Clinton onto that list is change sounds a bit far fetched. After failing to be the candidate for change, Hillary Clinton switched tactics and started campaigning with the message of experience.

This primary has become one marked by controversy and screw-ups. It seems the only time John McCain gets any air time is when he makes a mistake. On a recent trip to the Middle East, McCain’s most televised moment was when he misspoke, confusing the names and locations of some of the terrorist groups; he promptly self-corrected. This lack of press for McCain is understandable in the context of McCain being the presumed Republican nominee while the Democrats are still fighting it out.

While the Democrats inevitably get more air time, recently their mistakes or slips of the tongue are dominating the coverage. Hillary Clinton’s snafus tend to be fewer and farther between but with more impact. For example, Hillary has commented on her experience in negotiating various deals in foreign countries. It appears now that she had little to nothing to do with the deals struck. Most recently, she claimed to have been under sniper fire while landing in Bosnia, reiterating the story more than once. Video from the landing shows that there was no sniper fire and the atmosphere seemed quite relaxed. These mistakes have some people questioning if Hillary Clinton will say anything to get reelected; is it possible she has such a skewed memory of what happened in favor of herself, or is she just making all this up?

Barack Obama has had more than his fair share of snafus, not all of which were even his. Comments from a speech his wife made along with excerpts from one of her writings led people to think that she has never been proud of this country until now. Obama has come under fire for statements his pastor made while Obama has been a member of the church. Barack Obama’s slips of the tongue include threatening to bomb Pakistan, talking about “typical white” people, and most recently calling a baby a punishment for a mistake.

When you combine these mistakes with the candidates arguing about the tiny differences in their health care plans (which seems to be the only substantive issue that gets any coverage) and the incessant “3 a.m. phone calls,” too many people are left shaking their heads every time they turn on the news if they even bother to do so at all.

Beyond the individual candidate’s mistakes, there is a bigger storm brewing with the Democratic nomination—two separate ones, at that. The first is in regards to Florida and Michigan. Both states were stripped of their delegates for moving their primaries to an earlier date. Hillary Clinton won both, though in Michigan, Obama’s name didn’t appear on the ballot. In Florida, where Obama’s name did appear on the ballot (he didn’t campaign there), the state had its highest turnout ever. As of now, officially their votes don’t count; if it wasn’t so sad it might be funny having Floridian votes not counting again.

Hillary Clinton is strongly in favor of counting the votes or having reelections. This is not surprising, considering that she won both states and is behind in the overall election. Also not surprisingly, Barack Obama is not in favor of counting the votes (often citing his absence from the Michigan ballot) and is content with the status quo of the votes not counting. Besides a seeming disregard for the democratic notion, the Democrats risk alienating their base in two key states if nothing is done.

The second proverbial storm has to do with superdelegates. Superdelegates are just like their elected counterparts, with one important exception: they can vote however they want to. The Democratic candidate needs 2,025 delegates to secure the nomination. There are roughly 800 superdelegates, or about one-fifth of the total delegates. As it stands now, Obama has more elected delegates and Clinton has more superdelegates. Obama has an overall lead of about 150 delegates, and leads in the popular vote as well.

These storms come together at the Democratic National Convention in two different doomsday scenarios for the Democrats. While Hillary will likely close the gap a little by the convention, Obama will almost certainly still have a lead in both the delegate count and the popular vote. In the first scenario, Michigan and Florida are both told that since they held their primaries early, their votes don’t count. The Democratic base in both states are disenfranchised, which gives the Republican Party a leg up before the presidential election begins. Some Hillary supporters get fed up with the political games and are also disenfranchised. This gives the Republicans another nice boost to put John McCain in the White House in 2008.

The second doomsday scenario starts with Florida’s and Michigan’s votes counting (at lease in part). While Hillary Clinton would still be losing to Obama, she would be closer—close enough to try to persuade the superdelegates to vote for her. Clinton would say that she had won most of the big states, and that Obama’s victories have come from small states, many of which will almost certainly go Republican. She will say that Obama is unelectable and it is the superdelegates’ responsibility to vote for the person with the best chance of winning the presidency. Clinton succeeds and wins the Democratic primary. This victory could literally fracture the Democratic Party in half. Her victory would be perceived by many as old rich white men and women stealing the nomination from a black man and giving it to a white person.

It seems the only way the Democrats can get out of this mess is if they find a way to count Michigan’s and Florida’s votes while ensuring the superdelegates don’t overrule the will of the people. This will likely mean an Obama victory in the Democratic primary. No matter what happens, it will certainly be interesting to watch. Just think; if the primaries are like this, what will the presidential election be like?

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