When will the US presidential race really begin?

Business Times - 24 Apr 2008

When will the US presidential race really begin?


SENATOR Hillary Clinton has won the Democratic presidential primary in Pennsylvania - a crucial 'swing' state in the general presidential election - on Tuesday. Apparently, the margin of victory over her rival, Senator Barack Obama, about 10 per cent, is a number that seemed to have played well in the media-driven game of expectations.

Indeed, most pundits had argued on the eve of the primary that Mrs Clinton would need to win by more than 8 per cent in order to gain the momentum she needed in order to continue in her fight for her party's presidential nomination. And she did very well among important demographic groups: women, blue collar workers, Catholics, Jews and older voters.

Mrs Clinton achieved her victory in Pennsylvania after facing a younger and more charismatic figure who had enough resources to outspend her during the month-long campaign in a state that the Democrats would have to win in November if they want to achieve their goal of capturing the White House.

She did have certain advantages in this race - the powerful governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, the mayor of Philadelphia and other top politicians in the state had backed her. And Pennsylvania seemed to be tailored to her electoral strengths: It is a state with one of the largest concentration of senior citizens and a relatively small African-American community.

But then, Senator Obama has also won the support of critical voting blocs in Pennsylvania: African-Americans, white men, college-educated professionals and voters under the age of 44, including students. He did very well in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and other urban centres while Mrs Clinton's main electoral strength seemed to be in rural areas.

And notwithstanding Mrs Clinton's electoral victory in Pennsylvania, it is Mr Obama who remains the front runner in the Democratic presidential race. The African-American senator has now the support of 1,683 delegates to Mrs Clinton's 1,548 delegates. Mr Obama is also leading in the popular vote in the combined Democratic primary races and has a huge war chest of about more than US$42 million while Mrs Clinton is in debt.

Opinion polls suggest that Mr Obama should win in the next Democratic primary in the north-west state of Oregon and that he has a good chance of also winning in North Carolina - which has a large African-American community - on May 6. At the same time, Mrs Clinton is likely to win the coming primaries in Indiana and West Virginia. She could also do well in Kentucky and Montana, states that have large concentrations of white blue collar workers and rural voters. She may also do well in the last primaries in Guam and Puerto Rico.

But most analysts have concluded that even under the best case scenario, Mrs Clinton has almost no chance of overcoming Mr Obama's lead in the number of delegates to the Democratic convention in Denver in August. That means that the outcome of the race will have to be decided by the so-called Super-delegates, which include about 800 delegates nominated by the Democratic party and include lawmakers, governors, mayors and other party 'elders'. Mrs Clinton has maintained a slim lead among these delegates that has been shrinking since the start of the campaign.

Hence, the main struggle between the two candidates is going to be over the votes of these Super-delegates. Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton need to convince them that he or she would have a better chance of beating the Republican presumptive presidential candidate in November.

Mrs Clinton is going to argue that while Mr Obama has an advantage over her in the number of pledged delegates and the popular vote, she was able to win in all the large states, including New York, Massachusetts, California, Ohio, and now Pennsylvania. And that unlike Mr Obama, she succeeded in getting the votes of important constituencies whose support the Democrats will need in November: white women, rural voters, blue collar workers and senior citizens.

Mr Obama's supporters, on the other hand, point out that the senator from Illinois has succeeded in mobilising hundreds of thousands of new young voters into the campaign and that they will probably not go out to vote for Mrs Clinton in November. Moreover, opinion polls also indicate that Mr Obama will do better than Mrs Clinton in running against John McCain.

In fact, Mr Obama's youth and futuristic message of 'change' poses a challenge to the status quo in Washington and could be an important electoral asset in a campaign against Senator McCain, a 72-year-old Washington insider. But the Clintonites insist that their candidate has had more experience in running against the Republicans and in responding to their hard-hitting campaign tactics - that she is the tough one, the Real Man in this race, while Mr Obama is too much of a 'metrosexual' yuppie. But Democratic leaders are hoping that the race between the two Democratic candidates - the first woman and the first African-American in American history who have a chance of occupying the White House - will end sooner than later.

A long and bitter campaign during which the two will continue attacking each other plays directly into the hands of the Republicans who are well aware that against the backdrop of the mess in Iraq and an economic recession, and with a very unpopular Republican president sitting in the White House, their candidate will face a tough challenge from any Democratic candidate.

But with Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton fighting each other, Mr McCain could be enjoying a long free ride directly into the White House.

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


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