Business Times - 13 May 2008
Primaries have highlighted many issues that Republicans will try to use against Obama
By LEON HADAR
A NOTE to all you political junkies out there: You thought that the presidential primaries were a lot of fun and you seemed to be enjoying the many televised debates between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and having great time watching all the nasty campaign commercials on television and YouTube ('It's 3:00am . . .'). And now that we are reaching the finish of the Hillary-Obama race, you feel a certain let-down, a post-primaries depression.
Well, not to worry, folks! The Main Event - Barack Obama vs John McCain is about to start, and it would make the primaries look like a campaign for the student government in first grade. Indeed, we still have to endure a few more Democratic primaries this month, but we can already get a sense of the shape of things to come.
After a Hamas spokesman suggested that his group 'loves' Mr Obama, Mr McCain declared that: 'We need change in America, but not the kind of change that wins kind words from Hamas,' implying that the Democratic senator from Illinois was Hamas' presidential candidate.
Mr Obama responded to Mr McCain's comments by charging that the Republican senator from Arizona was trying to 'smear' him and that he was 'losing his bearings', insinuating that the 72-old Mr McCain was getting a bit, well, senile.
Both Mr Obama and Mr McCain have insisted that they want to have a 'serious' discussion on the 'issues' and have expressed interest in having a series of free-wheeling town-hall-style debates around the country. But most pundits aren't buying into these kinds of commitments to have a 'clean' campaign.
With the stakes in this historic presidential campaign so high - the first African-American presidential candidate facing the oldest candidate to run for that office, in the midst of a long and costly war and against the backdrop of a major economic crisis - the two candidates and their parties are expected to use all their resources (Mr McCain had raised about US$80 while Mr Obama has about US$240 million) to ensure a victory.
Both Mr Obama and Mr McCain are larger-than-life candidates that are trying to reach voters beyond the respective parties' traditional demographic blocs - the Republican electoral base in the 'red states' in the Midwest and the South and among rural white and religious Americans, and the Democratic constituencies of urban whites, African-Americans and Latinos in the 'blue states' on the East and West Coasts. Hence, the charismatic bi-racial Mr Obama, who describes himself as a bipartisan candidate, stresses his commitment to dramatic change in Washington and is mobilising the support of hundreds of thousands new and young voters. He hopes to win in November in traditionally Republican states like Virginia and North Carolina.
Mr McCain, a Vietnam war veteran who has acquired the reputation of a political maverick, has been able to win the backing of many moderate and independent voters by embracing a more centrist position on global warming, gay rights and abortion. He believes that he could do well in states that Democratic presidential candidates had carried in the last election, including California.
It, therefore, makes sense to the Republicans to counter Mr Obama's message by depicting him as a traditional liberal and an elitist that lacks personal and cultural ties to Middle America. At the same time, the Democrats are trying to demonstrate that Mr McCain is nothing more than a right-wing conservative who wants to continue pursuing President George W Bush's policies at home and abroad.
In a way, Ms Clinton's campaign against Mr Obama has helped to highlight many of the issues the Republicans will try to use against him - his lack of experience in foreign policy; his ties to the Rev Jeremiah Wright, a controversial black preacher; and his failure to connect with white blue-collar and rural voters. But the Democrats expect that on a certain level, through radio talk shows, television commercials and political blogging, the Republican campaign will try to play dirty by exploiting racial and religious bigotry.
With 15 per cent of Americans believing that Mr Obama is a Muslim, and with many other voters expressing uneasiness about the idea of an African-American president, no one will be surprised if the Republicans stress that Mr McCain is the American candidate, while Barack Hussein Osama . . .oops . . .sorry, Obama, is the favourite candidate of Hamas, Al-Qaeda and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The Republicans are getting ready for an onslaught of a Democratic-sponsored stream of television and Internet images that show Mr McCain hugging Mr Bush and portraying him as a 'warmonger' who wants the war in Iraq to continue for 'more than 100 years'.
In fact, Mr McCain said that US troops could spend 'maybe 100' years in Iraq, referring to a military presence similar to what the nation already has in places like Japan, Germany and South Korea.
So fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a very bumpy ride, and by the time the next US president will be elected, on the first Tuesday in November - after more than six months of mean political fighting, a hot summer dominated by mud-slinging, name-calling and innuendos that have to do (among many other things) with race, religion, and age - we'll all probably feel that we need to take a long and cold shower.
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