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Who aims at the presidency?

Part I: The Democratic presidential hopefuls

27.04.2007 · Mirela Isic

Hillary Clinton

"I’m in". With these words, Hillary Clinton, Senator of New York, announced on January 20, 2007, her intentions to follow in the steps of her husband, Bill Clinton, as president of the United States, and the media as well as the population have long anticipated her candidacy for the presidential race. Admittedly, being the first woman with real chances for the presidential office, she splits the nation. In Washington, insider point out her charm and her ambitiousness, but Hillary also has the reputation of being a real “tear-stopper”. Observers of the electoral campaign characterize Hillary as frosty and say that she acts like a machine in the political everyday life. Many are missing warmth and empathy from her. Democratic peer groups demand Hillary to become someone everyone can relate to. Someone like her husband Bill. They contend that would be the only way for her to win the votes of the swing voters. Those are said to let their feelings decide when it comes to the point for whom they going to vote. Of course, “Mister Peace and Prosperity”, as people remember Bill Clinton, supports his wife as much as he can. Successfully - as can be seen in the Gallup panel survey, conducted February 22-25, 2007, which has shown that 70% of the Americans asked, believe Bill Clinton would be helpful to his wife’s presidency and be an asset as “First Spouse”.

Besides the excitement about Hillary Clinton’s private life, her new political program convinces the skeptics. She has noticed the confusion her former political course about Iraq has caused because it was not recognizable what point of view she had. Moreover, sometimes she is said not to be liberal enough for the democratic constituents. Her new strategy shows that reaching a broader part of voters is in the sustained interest of her presidential campaign. During the last years, Clinton tried to position her program among the center ground and abandon the extreme left-wing policy. By supporting the death penalty for example, Clinton wanted to respond to a part of the traditional Republican voters. But in some issues such as the U.S. health care reform, not only did she become moderate, but also changed her opinion entirely.

During the announcement of her candidacy, Hillary Clinton said in a Web-Video: “I'm not just starting a campaign, though, I am beginning a conversation with you, with America.” But what America wants to hear from Hillary is not what Hillary wants to talk about with America. Clinton voted in favor of the resolution authorizing the use of U.S. military force in Iraq. The Democratic voters want Hillary to apologize for this. So far, Hillary just defended herself by saying: “If I had known then what I know now, I would never have voted to give this president that authority”. Her argumentation closely resembles her political message by which she wants to distance herself from being capricious in her political statements. But some people say this was not enough. Clinton risks to be branded as a flip-flopper, which means suddenly reversing one’s viewpoints to fit changing circumstances. This may cost her the presidential nomination.

Fact is, Hillary Clinton is an expert in national security issues and she seems to have a concept of how to go on in Iraq in times after George W. Bush. In an interview with The New York times on March 13, 2007, Clinton said that if elected president, she foresees a remaining military and political mission in Iraq. She gave the readers the impression that she has a realistic overview about the situation in Iraq when admitting that the fighting among the Iraqis would continue for some time, as would an American presence in Iraq. This, however, is no longer her concept. On her campaign trail, Hillary has backed out from her previous stance vowing to bring all troops home. Maybe a few Democratic voters will not be amused with Hillary’s decision. But the Iraq question will remain paramount during the whole campaign. Hillary Clinton is still the front-runner for the Democratic Party, leading among Democrats with 44% in the latest USA Today / Gallup presidential nomination preference poll. The interview with Clinton is the first in a series The New York Times is conducting with presidential candidates on Iraq. The Democratic voters wait with bated breath for the proposals the other candidates will put forward.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama is a media star because he has charisma and he is good-looking. His biography is adventuresome, his mixed-race parentage and his youthful lapses, for example his confession about taking drugs during the identity crisis in his adolescent years, make him an ambivalent character - a character many people can sympathize and eventually identify with. The fact that he is successful in his position as Senator of Illinois, despite being of African American heritage and having had a troubled childhood, arouses admiration for his person. Obama Barack is the answer to all the questions Hillary Clinton let unanswered. According to the latest USA Today / Gallup presidential nomination preference poll, Obama is the runner-up after Hillary Clinton with 27% support in the Democrats´ Preferences for party presidential nominee in 2008.

In his book “The Audacity of Hope”, Obama illustrates his political agenda and appeals to all topics American voters regard as essential: the importance of the Christian belief, the necessity of the community and the change of course in Iraq. Obama demonstrates his subconscious support for the lower and middle class while accusing the government to privilege the rich and powerful while the majority of the population does not even have health insurance coverage. He is a first-class speaker in a country where public speech still matters and he is more liberal than Hillary Clinton, which may secure him the votes of the American Federation of Labor.

But being Hillary Clintons major competitor entails being part of the mudslinging a presidential race implicates. This is what Barack Obama realized after the primarily cheers. Conservative press revolted against the fact that he was a Moslem like his father, before he converted to Christianity and became part of the Trinity United Church of Christ. Furthermore, the New York Times published a story about insider deals with sponsors. And Barack Obama is said to be untested in national security issues. The lack of political experience in foreign policy is the first of two big obstacles on his way for the presidential nomination.

Moreover, the second one is his inconclusiveness in some important political issues. He was not in the Senate during the debate about the Iraq war and he was not forced to vote for or against the military mission of President Bush. His current statements about the situation in Iraq are conflicting. On the one side, Obama declared that he was against the war from the beginning and that he encourages bringing all U.S. troops home while conceding more autonomy to Iraq. But he has sided with conservatives on several anti-terrorism issues, including a vote authorizing the construction of a new prison at Guantanamo Bay and supporting the USA Patriot Act. Sooner or later, Barack Obama has to take in unequivocal stand on the essential issues like the Iraq war and show his colors.

John Edwards

John Edwards’ prospects to get the presidential nomination seem not to be the best. The latest poll shows just 10% of Democrats choosing the smart Senator of North Carolina. But the “Third man” has spent the past two years to improve his image and to turn his political message into a political campaign. He has, a few times more than Clinton and Obama, visited Iowa and Nevada - the key states where the primaries will take place at the beginning of 2008. In the presidential primaries, each political party nominates its candidate for the upcoming presidential election. Traditionally, the primary elections in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada are considered predictors of presidential nominees. Edwards’ huge engagement in these states enabled him to convince the Democratic voters of his political course and reassures that the Democratic Party stands behind him.

John Edwards’ political profile is unblemished so far. He apologized for his vote in favor of the Iraq war and pointed out the difference between “flip-flopping” and admitting a mistake. In Edwards’ point of view, flip-flopping leaves a mark of attempting to take political advantage. Admitting a mistake permits the people to consider Edwards as being honest. Edwards’ biggest advantage is his engagement for America’s middle class. Fighting poverty, establishing a health insurance system accessible to and affordable for everyone, and fulminating against the free trade are the landmarks of his policy program. That is why he also addresses the social classes affected by the process of globalization. With that, he tries to portray Hillary Clinton as huge supporter of the free trade regardless of the consequences. Furthermore, he is from the South, a region the support of which is necessary for any candidate to have realistic prospects of getting into the White House. But his position as the “white man” between the front-runners could harm Edwards’ prospects for the presidential nomination. The major body of electors of the Democratic Party is multicultural. Just a quarter of the constituents are considered to be white and male.

Nevertheless, being the son of a pious Baptist, he is the only candidate who can likely count on the backup of America’s Christian churches. This is an important advantage and not to be underestimated. Since the end of the 1970s, Christian churches have gained influence in American politics. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, headmen of the “New Religious Right” (NRR), were engaged in the Presidential election by supporting Ronald Reagan. They tried to mobilize the conservative, evangelical and anti-liberal part of the population to vote for the Republicans. With success: Reagan was elected as President of the United States. Since then, political parties respect the influence of the “New Religious Right” and the Churches in general. With their program, the representatives of the NRR and other Christian churches can unite a large percentage of American voters because they deal with issues, which appeal to the conscience of many religious people. Besides their commitment to conservatism and anti-communism, the NRR fights against abortion and divorce rights and tries to increase the implementation of the bible’s fundamentals to everyday life. Having the backing of the churches means eventually one step further on the way into the White House. Additionally, the churches are big donors for the candidates’ campaigns. And Money may finally decide the presidential race (to read on, see also “Fundraising and ostentation in the race for the presidency”).

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