Politics and International Affairs and the quest for the ulterior motive.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Caucus Kickoff - Obama, Huckabee first movers
Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mike Huckabee registered big victories in the debut caucuses in the state of Iowa. The margin of victory for both candidates was handsome considering the poll predications envisaging a tight race. Barack Obama, the first serious African-American candidate in the race for decades, proved too good for the frontrunner Hillary Clinton and contender John Edwards. The predictions had held that Clinton would just scrape through Iowa and Obama would finish second. However, in a dramatic turnaround Obama beat both Clinton and Edwards to claim top spot and rather poignantly said “they said this day would never come”. The fact that Obama is on top of the heap is no surprise. An engaging speaker with a good network of volunteers, supporters and money, Obama has harped craftily on being the agent for change. The Iowa vote will ensure that he carries that momentum for change into New Hampshire where the primaries will be held on Wednesday.
The loss was indeed a setback for Clinton, who claims to be the best prepared, experienced and pedigreed for the top job. A third place finish will surely invigorate her campaign to ensure victories in the upcoming state primaries in New Hampshire, Florida and South Carolina. The New Hampshire vote should go to the Clinton kitty given the fact the East Coast liberal establishment would want the sailing is smooth after the Iowa jolt. The Iowa loss meant that two democratic candidates dropped out of the race. Foreign policy heavyweight Joe Biden and Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd declared the end of their bid for the White House. That leaves only four serious candidates in the fray – Clinton, Obama, Edwards and Richardson. The rest will eventually drop out in the course of the month or latest by February 5th or the adequately titled “super duper Tuesday” when 24 states go to select their candidates.

The Republican race is open with Mike Huckabee winning in Iowa but not enjoying much approval across the country. The assumed frontrunner former New York Governor, Rudy Giuliani did not even take part in the contest, expecting a defeat, he finished a dismal sixth. Mitt Romney continues to remain at number two with 25% of the vote. He should go on to win New Hampshire on his fiscal conservative, pro-business policy approach. Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, carried Iowa based on the Christian evangelical vote which forms a large majority in the mostly rural state. How he fairs in the rest of the country is debatable. He would like to see the victory’s momentum help him pick up the coming states especially South Carolina, where the religious vote forms an important constituent. Giuliani meanwhile is targeting Florida, which carries a huge chunk of votes to gain momentum for super-duper Tuesday and ultimately get the candidature. However, his strategy may rebound, by not taking the Iowa and New Hampshire states seriously and thereby losing out on the first mover advantage. Romney for all his drawbacks on policy flip-flops and his Mormon religious beliefs appears to be a strong candidate and could just pip the rest to get the nomination. At worst he remains a strong vice-presidential running mate for the man who ultimately gets the nomination. The Iowa vote will also end the lackluster campaign of former “Law and Order” star and Senator Fred Thompson’s campaign. The much touted savior of the republicans fell flat with policy gaffes and a clear lack of depth to stand for the top job. So the Republican race narrows down to three realistic candidates – Romney, Giuliani and McCain. The Republican race, though, is wide open.

The X-factor in these elections remains former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. A seasoned Democrat, he quit the party to become the Republican candidate for mayor in 2001. Bloomberg has the money, pedigree and political experience to turn the presidential race on its head. If he does join the fray as an independent, he will cut into the Republican and Democrat votes given his centrist position. He could become the Ralph Nader of 2008 and that prospect will ring fear into strategists on both sides. However, as recently as a couple of days ago, he has ruled out his candidature. But the lack of a clear frontrunner in both or either party’s may just tempt him to jump into the race.

Too much hype has been surrounded on the Iowa vote, it must be pointed out that neither Bill Clinton nor George H.W. Bush won Iowa yet they went on to the win the White House. The ultimate date to watch out for is February 5th. The results of the day will more or less decide who wins the nomination and from then onwards it will become a Democratic versus Republican battle. The election fever has only just begun.


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