Dec 23, 2007

The Flux of US Presidential Politics... How Can you Not Pay Attention?

What would it take to make US politics more interesting??!!

Various polls indicate that the presidential race is in flux. There'll be no coronations, possibly a few surprises. Many voters--you know, the ones that are committed enough to show for a 2-3 hour caucus in a very cold & snowbound Iowa--will change or solidify their minds about a candidate in the last few hours before the contest begins. This means that numbers can change [and have in the past] very rapidly. A great chunk of present support is soft, and people may like one candidate but can vote for another because of other considerations.

All top three Dems are similar in policy matters--please, don't argue with this. I'm talking about perception among the Dems and the general public. If you asked American voters, including the Democrats who will vote in the selection process, about Hillary--who, we're told, has high negatives--they would not be able to tell you how her proposed policies are different than Obama's or Edwards's. Thus, it's very likely that we'll see a repeat of 2004--when Dems picked John Kerry as the strongest candidate--in Iowa and N. Hampshire in 2008.

When McCain was considered dead in the water (just floating from place to place, making no waves), I had said that he was the most reasonable choice for the Republican party. All the others probably had problems that would bring them down in the end, that is, before the polls opened. McCain, I argued, was someone who could bring together most of the party's base and have a reasonable go against the Democratic nominee. It seems this trend is emerging these days. Romney and Giuliani are spending a lot, but one is considered "phony" and the other one, "an unacceptable neo-con." Yes, I know, there's Huckabee (for whom I'd vote if I had the chance, just to see him be the Repub nominee!), but com'on now....

On the other side, I had expected the race to come down to Hillary and the "anti-Hillary" candidate. In Iowa, the top 3 are basically tied. In New Hampshire, Obama has a slight lead. Iowa will determine a great deal, influence greatly the first primary state (NH) and from then on, the dynamic will change too. OK, so there are still 3 candidates standing, and this trio may last way past Feb. 5th--the super primary date, when the majority of the delegates will be chosen.

If I had to bet today, a couple days before xmas, I'd say Edwards is positioned to win Iowa. He's also the only one of the top 3 who can not afford to lose there. But, if he wins, he can quickly become the front-runner, banking on media coverage and on his chances as a very strong candidate to face the Republican nominee in the general.

Edwards leads among the previous caucus voters (those who've done this before as compared to those who say they will probably participate in the process), and also leads in 2nd choice preference. This is extremely important because in that contest, there is a second choice. Viability means that a candidate has to get at least 15% of the initial "vote." If not, his supporters can caucus (support) with another candidate. Turnout will be critical. The lower, the better for Edwards.

I'm very comfortable with Edwards as the nominee, and I'll support the Democratic ticket that emerges from the process. It's not even close when it comes to the choices I have among the present candidates from both parties. Heck, even Dodd, Biden, and Richardson are far better than any Republican. I have my priorities, issues, and my philosophy of what the US can & should be. Only the Democrats I mentioned come close to my politics, therefore, I'm going to actively support them.

Being a political scientist and an engaged citizen in the affairs of our country, I find this process not only important but interesting too. It also has a practical component: elections have consequences. Who could really argue with this after experiencing the Bush years?...

Sadly, only a tiny fraction of eligible voters will participate in the selection of the next president of the United States. There are many choices now, in the primary season, unlike in the general. Usually only 5-7% of Iowa eligible voters turn out, despite their verdict having such a huge impact on the political process... With a few bright exceptions [like New Hampshire that can have a 30% turnout], most states have just a 5-10% turnout rate in the primaries...