January 04, 2008
Electing the Next President
After months of campaigning, the first voters in Iowa will caucus on January 4 to start the process of picking a new President. The several thousand Iowans who are trudging to caucus sites will have an outsize effect on who will be America’s next President. At this point, the race in both parties is truly wide open, with at least six or possibly seven people having a legitimate chance of eventually reaching the White House.
In elections past, the campaigning would only really have started in the last few weeks, and Iowa would not be caucusing till late January, followed by New Hampshire’s first primary election in early February. But this year there was a mad rush as many states moved up their primary elections to give themselves more clout in the final process of picking a candidate, and in response New Hampshire and Iowa moved their votes sooner to keep their first in the nation status. The end result is that the primary schedule begins much sooner this year, and the voting will be very compressed into just a few weeks. After New Hampshire, South Carolina, Michigan, and Florida will have primaries in January, and on February 5, there will be massive set of primaries in many of the largest states, including California, Illinois, and New York. The candidate that does well on February 5 will almost certainly be the final nominee of the party.
Because the election cycle is compressed into just a 32-day sprint, the campaigning for this election began last Spring. It also meant that candidates had to be able to raise large sums of money early to mount a national effort, and provide the resources to compete in big states.
So of the candidates, who are most favorable on issues of concern to American Muslims? Clearly, all the Democrats have much better views on domestic civil liberties and on the role of US foreign policy than the current administration. There really isn’t that much to choose among the top three Democrats, Clinton, Obama, and Edwards. Obama may attract some affinity support from Muslims, as his grandfather was a Kenyan Muslim. On the other hand, one of Clinton’s most important aides is a Pakistani-American woman, who would likely hold a high-level spot in an eventual Clinton White House.
On the Republican side, the best candidate would be Ron Paul, but he is not likely to finish well. There are however four Republicans who each have a real chance of getting the party nomination. Of those, McCain is probably best on issues of civil liberties, torture, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is also much more secular a figure than Huckabee or Romney. Romney and Giuliani are both very hawkish on civil liberties and foreign policy, and Giuliani in particular has been supportive of Bush’s adventures. Huckabee has made some remarks distancing himself from Bush’s foreign policies, but he is such an overtly religious person that it gives many Muslims serious qualms.
Guiliani and Clinton have been well ahead for most of 2007 in nationwide polls, and Clinton has also led strongly in Iowa and New Hampshire. But as we head into the actual voting the races have tightened up considerably. Clinton is now being challenged very hard by Obama in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Is the country more ready to elect a Black man or a woman President? And how much Clinton fatigue is out there?
Guiliani staked his strategy on ignoring Iowa and New Hampshire, and instead focusing on winning Florida and Michigan, and then sealing the contest by sweeping California and New York on February 5. This strategy is now in free fall. His poll numbers are slipping nationwide, and if he loses badly in both Iowa and New Hampshire it could fatally wound his campaign. Romney is also being hampered by his Mormon background, particularly as Huckabee, a former preacher, is rallying the evangelical base of the Republicans. This leaves John McCain, whose campaign was left for dead in the fall, to rebound. If McCain wins New Hampshire, he would be instant frontrunner for the Republicans.
My own predictions are tentative as the situation is so fluid in both parties. But if forced to pick, I would lean toward Obama winning the Democratic nomination, and McCain for the Republicans. I would give Huckabee a very strong chance on the Republican side, but he would be a very weak candidate in the general election. An Obama versus McCain match-up would be very interesting, and the US would do well with either as the next President. Comments can reach me at Nali@socal.rr.com.