Race to the Oval Office throwing up surprises

Business Times - 08 Jan 2008

The success of Obama also marks the decline of the older generation of the Baby Boomers


IF A YEAR ago while at a party in Washington, you had contemplated over dinner that a Kenyan man's son whose middle name happened to be 'Hussein' and who had spent his early childhood in Indonesia would win the Democratic party's first presidential primary in Iowa - and with the help of white rural voters would beat a former First Lady and the choice of the party's establishment - the guests would probably respond to your prediction by urging you to stop drinking that strong stuff in your glass.

And if you had also suggested that the Republicans would select in Iowa as their presidential candidate a Baptist Minister and a unknown governor of a small southern state, whose only claim to fame is that he had lost more than 100 pounds instead of a former governor of Massachusetts, a former mayor of New York city and a senator who is considered a Vietnam war hero, the host of the party would have made sure to designate one of the guests to drive you later back home.

Indeed, while it's too early to describe the outcome of last Thursday's presidential caucuses in Iowa as a 'revolution' or a 'political earthquake', it's becoming clear that the 2008 presidential election is creating the conditions for an historic change in American politics, very much like the presidential contest that led to the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932. That in turn could bring about a major realignment in the two major political parties and make it more likely that the next occupant of the White House would end up changing the course of US domestic and foreign policies.

For the last two years, the members of the Democratic Party's establishment and its cheerleaders in the mainstream media - Members of Congress, former Clinton Administration officials, and the leading pollsters, assorted pundits - seemed to have placed almost all of their political eggs and financial support in Senator Hillary Clinton's basket.

In their eyes, nothing would stand in the way of the former First Lady back into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

But in the small, Midwestern state of Iowa, the son of a Kenyan father and a white American woman, Senator Barack Hussein Obama has been leading a political insurgency that transformed all the earlier expectations among the Democrats that Hillary Clinton would become the inevitable presidential candidate.

Mr Obama's victory in Iowa marks the first time in the history of the US - a nation divided since its inception by race - that an African-American has a small, but real, chance of becoming the president.

The success of the 46-year-old Obama also marks the decline of the older generation of the Baby Boomers represented by Bill Clinton and George W Bush and the emergence of a younger generation of voters that the Obama campaign has succeeded in energising in recent months.

In fact, Mr Obama seemed to have won the votes of most of the major demographic groups among the Democrats in Iowa with the exception of older women voters, most of whom voted for Mrs Clinton.

This outcome has raised new and major doubts about the electability of Mrs Clinton who came in third in Iowa, after former senator John Edwards, and provides Mr Obama, the senator from Illinois, with the political momentum that he needs in order to win in this week's primary in New Hampshire and in the other races that will take place in January and February.

Mr Obama faces the very powerful and effective Clinton political machine and most political experts agree that at the end of the race this year, Mrs Clinton could still win the Democratic nomination.

But if the Democratic presidential race seems to have become a Clinton vs Obama contest, the results of the Republican vote in Iowa has helped to produce a political chaos among the Republicans whose leaders had expected that the nomination would fall into the hands of one of the four leading candidates: former Massachusetts governor and billionaire, Mitt Romney; former New York mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, who succeeded in raising million of dollars for his campaign; the popular Senator John McCain, who last year was regarded as the party's inevitable presidential candidate; and the late comer, Senator Fred Thompson, a popular figure who also happened to be a well-known television actor.

That Mr Romney, who for all practical purposes had spent most of the last year in Iowa and New Hampshire and injected his own money into the campaign, had lost to Mr Huckabee, who until a few weeks ago was flying economy to and from his campaign events, was a major blow to the Establishment of the Republican Party.

In addition to challenging the party's elders, Mr Huckabee's populist message with its anti-Wall-Street emphasis, poses a threat to the interests of the corporate elite who hold great sway over the party.

Most of Mr Huckabee's support in Iowa came from the devout Christian voters in the state and reflect its populist political tradition. But the majority of the Republican primary voters in New Hampshire and other states are not that religious and it's not clear that Mr Huckabee would be able to count on their support.

Some political experts predict that Senator McCain could become the leader of the 'anti-Huckabee' forces in the party and eventually win the nomination. But that would be nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of the 'insiders' in Washington who are threatened by the leaders of the political insurgencies in the two parties.

Copyright © 2007 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.


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