Believe it or not, we are about one year away from the first votes being cast for the next President of the United States. One year that will be full of pundits and promises ad nauseum. If you like politics, the run-up to a presidential election is always fun. If you’re not into politics, this is the beginning of nearly two years of excruciating boredom and interruptions into your regularly scheduled programming.
Whatever your feelings about the political process, your political preferences, etc., the 2008 run for the White House should be an interesting one. For the first time since the election of 1960, we are coming off of back-to-back two-term Presidents. And the two of them (Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) probably couldn’t be more different. But one thing they have in common is that they helped polarize the electorate. Bush won in 2000 in large part because a lot of people were tired of the scandals and deception of the Clinton administration. Eight years later, it’s pretty much the same story, just different players. Clinton’s Democratic Party lost control of Congress before losing control of the White House. Could Bush and the Republicans be facing the same fate? How much will the Bush administration’s handling of Iraq and the Global War on Terror affect what happens 22 months from now?
What’s also interesting in this election is who is running. So far, the Democratic nomination is being pursued by a woman (New York Senator and former First Lady Hillary Clinton), an Hispanic (New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson) and an African-American (Illinois Senator Barack Obama). If any of them eventually won the White House, they would be true trailblazers breaking age-old barriers. But will it matter? For the last couple of years, Hillary Clinton has easily led all Democratic challengers in polling. But those polls have also shown that she would be in a tight fight with Republicans like Arizona Senator John McCain and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. I don’t doubt that America today is willing to have a minority as President. But I wonder if the electorate will go as far to the left as a vote for Hillary would imply.
Of course, we’ll have a much better idea of how it all turns out one year from now thanks to a state that is otherwise rather inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Under state law, New Hampshire must hold the first presidential primary of the year. The Granite State bases it’s first-in-the-nation standing on tradition. But it means that a state of about 1.3 million people holds an inordinate amount of political power. It is well known nowadays that to have a chance to be president, you must at least do well in New Hampshire. That’s why the Presidential Exploratory Committees now being formed by candidates will basically focus on New Hampshire and a few other key states like Iowa (home to the first political caucus of the election year). If a candidate doesn’t poll well in New Hampshire, you can be sure that he or she will close up shop sooner rather than later before they spend too much time, money and energy. And of the brave few who will actually go on to the election next winter there, several will likely drop out of other primaries in the days after the New Hampshire vote because of a weak showing.
Yes, my fellow Americans, we here in the greatest democracy ever conceived, the great melting-pot, the symbol of freedom and independence the world around, also have one of the most flawed political systems on the globe. We give inordinate power to a small state to play a large (though not necessarily decisive) role in who will run for the highest office in the land in November. We then scatter primaries and caucuses all over the calendar, making those later in the season typically pointless, as candidates typically wrap up their parties nomination by the beginning of spring. Most states also employ archaic voter registration deadlines that should be unncessary in this day and age. (Kudos to New Hampshire, at least, where you can register on Election Day and vote right there and then) When the general election rolls around, we use questionable voting methods (that’s a subject for a future blog) and limit the voting (with the exception of absentee ballots) to one day, whereas other countries, even democracies we’ve created ourselves like Iraq, have several days to give as many people as possible the chance to vote.
The race for the presidency is indeed a special thing. So get comfortable, America. The negative ads are surely only days away.