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Friday, 8 February 2008

8 February 2008

I get some lovely emails sometimes. Like this one, which arrived a couple of days ago while I was in Chicago.

“Why are you covering the US primaries in such detail?” it asked. “They are just not relevant to a UK audience. Why do we care? I have just had to turn off The World Tonight because I simply couldn't take any more of it. It was either that or die of boredom.”

Well, excuse me. Not relevant? Why do we care? Maybe because it matters who runs the most powerful country in the world. Because we really need to understand who the next US president will be, and how he or she got to the White House. Because to understand the US, we need to understand what US voters think, about their country and the world.

Not relevant if for the first time in the country’s history the US president is a woman? Or a black man? Does anyone really not care about the politics of the country that exerts greater military and economic influence than any other power on earth?

Sorry, but to me it seems obvious. Nor do I accept the criticism that we “only” cover US elections. You may recall that I wrote about the Serbian elections last week – and Ray Furlong was in Belgrade to report on the outcome. Next month, I’ll be in Madrid to report on the Spanish elections. I reckon that I must have reported on elections in more than a dozen different countries over the past few years, from Iran to Zimbabwe, Israel to Russia.

So now I’m writing this on the plane back to London, after Super Tuesday primaries which told us quite a lot about American voters, and about the leading candidates, but which still didn’t give us a definitive answer on who the Democratic party candidate will be in November.

Mind you, as I wrote in my blog last Monday (before the Super Tuesday primaries and before his rival Mitt Romney “suspended” his campaign), John McCain is now certain to be the Republican party candidate. He’s a former Vietnam prisoner of war, tough on security, more moderate on social and economic issues. He voted against President Bush on tax cuts, and co-sponsored a proposal with arch-liberal Edward Kennedy on granting an amnesty to illegal immigrants. He is deeply distrusted by the conservative wing of his party, who call him a RINO (Republican In Name Only). Some even say they’d rather see Hillary Clinton in the White House than Senator McCain.

As for Mrs Clinton and Barack Obama, it’s neck and neck. She does better among women, the less well-off and older and Hispanic voters; he does better among the young, the educated, the better-off, and black voters. He seems to have the greater momentum and more campaign cash; but she has a formidable campaign team and either of them could still emerge as the eventual nominee.

As for what will happen in November, I’m now prepared to stick my neck out: I think the Democrats will win. It’s a little remarked upon fact that Senator McCain won most of his victories on Tuesday in states (six out of nine) where in the last three presidential elections, the Democrats have won. So they may have helped him win the nomination, but they probably won’t help him win the White House.

If I’m right, that means the next US president will be either a woman, or black. I reckon that’s pretty interesting. So is this: David Frum, a leading conservative commentator and former speech writer for George Bush, wrote in the Financial Times yesterday: “The conservative ascendancy in American politics is coming to an end … the stage has been set for the boldest and most dramatic redirection of US politics since (Ronald) Reagan’s first year in office.”

Relevant? I think so …

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