Tonight in Iowa the US Presidential campaigns really get underway. Everything so far – the debates, the endless pre-campaign campaigning, the breathless punditry – has been but a prelude to the Republican and Democratic Primaries, which ironically kick off not with a primary election but with a caucus.
I haven’t been commenting about US politics much lately, but I have been following things very closely. I’m not one for predictions as much as scenarios, so here goes:
Democrats: The Democratic race has already been as interesting as they come. Of course the big battle so far has been between Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards. Pundits and polls have been all over the map trying to call Iowa (and New Hampshire next week), but in a way, Americans and the Democratic Party have already won with three such interesting candidates to choose from. Clinton has been the front-runner from the get-go, and it’s very refreshing that a woman can finally be taken seriously in US Presidential politics. The same, though, holds true for Obama who is interesting because not only is he black but (perhaps more significantly) he’s of another generation of US leadership (born in 1961). Added to the mix is John Edwards, who is the most traditional-looking candidate but is running a feisty, labour-friendly campaign that doesn’t seem to pull many punches.
I have always been cautiously optimistic about Obama’s chances, and I think he could succeed very well tonight. If he does well, he will have taken his support from Clinton. For Clinton, I think she has to win and win big over the whole rest of the field – which doesn’t look to be in the cards. I don’t think it’s out of the question – polls (which suggest that it’s tight between her and Obama) underestimate the importance of organizations in Caucus situations, and I have little doubt that Clinton has a pretty great machine working for her. The deciding factor will be Edwards. There’s still a possibility that the safety factor embodied by Edwards (and the comfort caucus-goers have with him) becomes an important safe harbour for people, in which case we’ll likely have a real three-way race going forward. If not – if Edwards tanks and underperforms based on current polling – then I would lay odds on Obama coming out of tonight as the clear front-runner.
Republican: This is simply one of the most ridiculous races ever. Three very unserious candidates have emerged (Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee), plus one serious but very much past-his-prime candidate (John McCain) and a fifth – Ron Paul – who is so far outside even the Republican mainstream that he shouldn’t be taken seriously… except that he has and continues to raise TONS of money.
I think the key to handicapping this is simple: who will the Republican Party feel they have to “get past” in order to set themselves up for 2012? McCain isn’t the guy – this is likely his last Presidential campaign regardless of how well he does. Paul? Nah, not really. I think it comes down to Giuliani and Romney at the end, and whatever the result tonight, the party will find a way to put one or the other in place in the General election. I think they’d most like to get Romney out of the way – he’s such an appealing guy in such completely superficial ways that to let him fail in 2008 would clear the Republican decks for an entirely new crop of candidates in 4 years. Now or in 4 years Giuliani will shoot himself in the foot, so I doubt anyone’s too worried about him.