by Casey MacLeod

Many Canadians are not particularly interested in the long and rather drawn out process that is the United States election, most are simply interested in the results.  However this year seems to have a little more going for it in the interest department.

This is in part thanks to a colourful cast of candidates in both the Republican and the Democratic parties.  And for many the most important race will not be run after the presidential candidates are chose, it is being run right now, between Democratic candidates Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

 

For many the question is not will the next president of the United States be a Republican or a Democratic, but a black man or a woman?  In spite of this the election has managed to steer relatively clear of being a debate about race and gender. 

“It’s certainly a subtext, but it’s already decided that the Democratic candidate will be either an African American or a woman,” said Dr. Ken Rasmussen, Director and Associate Dean of the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy here at the university.

The question is: are the American people ready to elect a political minority into the Whitehouse?

Head of the U of R’s Department of Political Science, Dr. Jeremy Rayner said that this year is likely the best opportunity because of the dissatisfaction with the Republican Party.  This is due to the Bush years, as well as the “speed at which the Republican field thinned down.”

“I think enough Americans are going to be ready that [race and gender] are not going to be a problem,” said Rayner.

But which first will be first?

A race that was very tight to begin with has begun to open up.  Obama has won 11 straight primaries going into the crucial Texas and Ohio primaries on March 4th.

“We do now see begin to see that Obama is pulling away and the question now becomes how long will Hillary Clinton continue the campaign,” stated Rayner.

The reason for Clinton’s struggles appears to lie not within inadequacies in her campaign but in the strength of her opponent’s.

“I don’t think she’s done anything that’s been a detriment to her campaign,” said Rayner.  Rasmussen agrees.

“If you run into a juggernaut like the ‘Obama-mania’ it’s pretty hard not to appear to be struggling.”

The reason Obama has been gaining in strength is due in large part to his winning over of the black vote.  Rayner pointed out that the “politics of race in America are very complex.” 

“The fact that Obama’s family had never been slaves in the United States lead many black voters to argue that he really wasn’t a black candidate,” explained Rayner.  Adding that he feels Obama has gone a long way to address those issues.

Where does the famous, or infamous, Bill Clinton fit into the equation?  Is including him in her campaign and advantage or disadvantage for Hillary Clinton?

“It’s a huge advantage to have somebody like Bill Clinton, who still remains extremely popular, for her fundraising and all the rest,” said Rasmussen.

Rayner feels otherwise, “I don’t think many contemporary Americans want to be reminded too much of the last years of the Clinton presidency.”  Adding however, that he would like to see some analysis on the subject that’s done after the primaries have been completed before saying whether it was a disadvantage or not.

As if this election didn’t have enough drama with Republicans dropping like flies, the often fiery debates between Clinton and Obama, and the presence of Bill Clinton.  On Feb. 24 the often controversial Ralph Nader threw his hat into the ring. 

Many Democrats blamed Nader for Al Gore’s defeat in the 2000 election, saying he took valuable votes away from the Democratic candidate.  Will this be the case again in this election? 

Rasmussen thinks not.  Crediting Nader’s disruption of the 2000 election to the dissatisfaction Americans had with both the Democratic and Republican parties. 

“I think certainly democrats are not going to abandon the Democratic Party this time,” said Rasmussen.  He feels Nader will be lucky to get three or four per cent of the vote this time.

“Now that being said, American presidential elections have been classically close.  But I still don’t think it’s enough to swing the election for the Republicans,” he added.

In Rasmussen’s opinion it is going to be a Barack Obama – John McCain presidential election.  Rasmussen is putting his money on Obama, “the youthful candidate for change.”

“I think that if all indications are true the democrats will come out in huge numbers and they will ensure that Barack Obama wins the election,” Rasmussen predicted.

With the odds in favour of a Democratic president it appears that this election will be one of firsts – a black president or a female president.  With Clinton’s recent close victories in Rhode Island, Texas and Ohio, the question again becomes which first will be first?

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