The Quadrennial Quandry has officially started – the candidates are duly nominated and now the mudslinging begins in earnest and it one keeps one’s wits about them and listens very carefully, President Obama and hopeful Mitt Romney might let slip some reference to the issues.
One must remember that the presidential election itself, is in golf parlance match play, not medal. Each state has delegates according to their congressional representation. It isn’t a majority of American voters the candidates seek but a majority in the Electoral College (made up in their archaic system, of electors pledged to vote in accordance with the outcome in their particular state). It’s not only possible but it’s happened that the winner does not get as many overall votes – Al Gore outpolled George W. Bush in 2000.
Before dealing with how each candidate came through the convention, it’s worth observing that unlike most democracies, there are not parties that reflect different points of view exclusively. There is not a Socialist Party or Conservative party so that voters must choose, in most cases, the lesser of two evils. This does, however, lead to 3rd Party Candidates which, depending on their supporters, can do damage to one or other party.
There are other aspects to consider which, while not unique to the US, dominate there more than elsewhere. There is the ethnic concern that means ethnic groups, be they the Jewish or, say, Irish vote, the Black vote, the Latino vote and so on. The Democrats traditionally do better than the Republicans in this area but as we'll see, times are a-changing.
Then there are two aspects to the post convention assessment; first did he get his party strongly behind him and, in the effort to do just that, did he alienate voters he might otherwise have captured?
President Obama came away the Democratic Convention with his party with him if only because there was no serious opposition to his candidacy. But he got a big boost from the immensely popular, and thus powerful, Bill Clinton who gave him very strong support. If that support had been tepid at best or non existent it would have hurt.
Mr. Romney played the vice-presidential chip by appointing Rep. Paul Ryan whose right wingism will mollify the Tea Party element yet at the same time bring abortion back as an issue, something Romney scarcely needs in seeking the support of middle America.
In looking at where each candidate will get support there is the general rule that the “right wing” will support the Republicans and the “left wing” the Democrats. This is by no means an infallible rule. Until the Nixon years the South, arch conservative in all matters, nevertheless supported the Democrats which, unbelievably, came out of the Civil War and the Souths refusal to forgive the Republicans and Abraham Lincoln. It took over a century for the South to realize that it was the Republican Party that was capitalist, religious, conservative and none too fussy about civil rights to blacks.
Big states and cities trend to be more “liberal” (a dirty word to Republicans) thus Democratic. President Obama simply must capture most of the big states such as California, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan as well as smaller yet important states like Florida and Texas. Rural America is traditionally Republican but just as urban America is not enough for Mr. Obama, neither is rural America enough for the Republicans.
Industry and the investment community will support Mr. Romney and it is here that one sees the unruliness of the voter’s mind.
The market crash and Recession surely must be laid at the feet of the Republican Party which slackened off enforcing rules yet Republicans have cast the President as the villain for bailing out investment houses (which the Republicans would surely have done).The Recession and concomitant unemployment has also been blamed on the President in the same way that George W. Bush, a draft dodger, was able to paint the much decorated hero, John Kerry, as a slacker.
The trade union movement has, mostly, supported the Democrats but its strength has been sapped by hard times. It’s interesting to note that past Union giants such as George Meany, then president of the CIO, were staunch Republicans. European readers will find it difficult to understand labour supporting the “right” but I daresay if they examine their own politics they will agree that workers don’t always do as they are told.
Ethnicity never dies so large ethnic communities can be generally marked as Democrats, except, as mentioned, times are changing as demonstrated by Massachusetts electing a Republican to replace the late and unbeatable Democrat Senator Ted Kennedy. The fast growing Latino vote will dislike Republicans who are less likely to accept illegal immigrants but then there’s Florida where Cuban emigres support the more hawkish Republicans.
There is the feminine vote which one would think would vote for the same reasons, though not necessarily the same way, as men – except what is euphemistically called the Women’s Movement which supports abortion on demand and are deeply offended by the Tea Party bunch who would challenge what is seen as an absolute right by many women. The good news for Mr. Romney is that the “WimsLibs” generally vote for Democrat anyway.
The Christian “right”, largely in the South, massively support the Republicans except Mr. Romney is a Mormon which is regarded by many Southerners as little better, if at all, than atheism. There is one overriding factor – hard as one might try, one cannot safely colour code America for as always, “middle America”, the nonaligned America will decide the winner.
There is one card the president can play, though it can be tricky – he run against a Congress. In 1948, Harry Truman, campaigned against the “do-nothing” 80th Congress. Obama might well do the same and have a similar success. The tricky part is that all the House of Representatives and 1/3 of the Senate are also up for re-election, and not all were a problem for the president.
It’s early stages there will be many defining moments not least of which will be the presidential debates which have made and broken candidates in the past. Traditionally, polls taken at this stage of the proceedings don’t mean much. During the 1988 campaign Michael Dukakis, who was slaughtered by George H.W. Bush actually led in the polls in September.
Then there are the debates where Mr. Obama will have a distinct advantage barring an accident which sometimes occurs – as when Nixon didn’t get rid of his 5 o’clock shadow or when Walter Mondale raised Ronald Reagan’s age allowing Reagan to retort that he would not make Mondale’s youth and inexperience an issue.
President Obama does have one advantage over Mr. Romney – he’s easier to like and looking back at winners like Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Reagan, that can count for a great deal. Maybe when all’s said and done, it will turn out like a Boston friend of mine hopes – the public will see Barak Obama as the kind of guy they’d like to have a beer and talk politics with on a pleasant summer’s eve…