Thursday, January 10, 2008

Wisdom and Wondering on the Campaign Trail

The past week has made for great theater both political parties. The American electorate may be in for a very rare treat: a truly interesting and competitive primary season. The result of Iowa and New Hampshire compels me to ponder the following issues: I was surprised that the pundits have not speculated what impact Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of Obama had on his victory in Iowa. Was it a factor? Interestingly, the press has not raised the subject so far.

Mitt Romney’s failure to win New Hampshire ends whatever hopes he had in capturing the G.O.P. nomination. When a candidate cannot win a primary in his own backyard then you have to question his viability as a national candidate. A question that intrigues me is that Romney belongs to the wrong political party. If Romney were a Democrat his Mormonism would never have been as huge a factor for Democratic voters as it has for Christian conservative G.O.P. voters; also his moderate policies as Governor of Massachusetts would have stood him in better stead among Democrats than it has for Republicans. His flip-flopping on his past gave his opponents ample ammunition to destroy him.

John McCain’s victory in New Hampshire provides a wicked flashback to 2000 when McCain beat George W. Bush and, for a brief shining moment, seemed poised to capture the G.O.P. nomination (and the Presidency. Don’t laugh: if McCain had won the G.O.P. nomination in 2000 he would have won the popular vote against Al Gore. I remember being sorely tempted to change my party registration from Democrat to Republican just so I could vote for McCain). The problem for McCain is he doesn’t want to repeat what happened to him in 2000 where he was buried by George W. Bush in the South Carolina and Super Tuesday primaries. Yes, McCain won the New Hampshire and the Michigan primaries in 2000 and he has a solid chance to win Michigan in 2008 but McCain’s real challenge are the South Carolina and Florida primaries later this month. If McCain is to attain the G.O.P. nomination then he must win both primaries. He has to win the votes of Christian conservatives who form the vanguard of G.O.P. southern voters. If he fails then it’s déjà vu all over again.

And that’s where Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee comes in. Huckabee fascinates me and he seems to intrigue conservative pundits as well. Despite his lack of experience in foreign policy Huckabee has, so far, been the stealth candidate of the Republicans and his method of campaigning intrigues me greatly. He has avoided using the predictable tactics that other G.O.P. candidates have used. His decision not to air an attack on Romney was seen as a gamble but it paid off brilliantly for him. I watched an interview of Huckabee basking in the glow of his Iowa victory where he explained his reasons for not going negative on Romney and I sensed a great shrewdness and an intuitive feel for what G.O.P. voters want from their candidates. Huckabee articulates Christian conservative values without the muscular bellicosity that typecasts the Pat Robertsons, the Ralph Reeds, and the James Dobsons of the world. Huckabee, drawing from his Baptist faith, has the ability to calm the waters and in my mind, that quality can take him very far. If anything, it is my belief that the American people are tired of the partisan shouting and screaming from both sides; they are tired of the crescendo of chaos; they are tired of constantly living in the atmosphere of fear brought on by 9/11 and the war in Iraq. The American people want peace and quiet and a chance to breathe and reconstitute themselves after a long, exhaustive war.

Huckabee has the potential to offer the healing balm for that need—if he makes the right moves—which I believe he can do. The South Carolina, Florida, and Super Tuesday primaries are the vehicles for Mike Huckabee to make his statement in American politics and if he wins big in those primaries then he will be well on his way to attaining the G.O.P. nomination.

And now for Hillary Rodham Clinton: like so many others, I thought Hillary was finished after losing in Iowa but her comeback win in New Hampshire shows that she, like her husband, has the ability to re-invent herself when faced with adversity. The famous emotional display can be interpreted in many ways (depending on one’s political views). Was it calculated? Who knows and who cares? What is certain is that any display of emotional vulnerability on the campaign trail is always a crap-shoot. There is only a thin membrane of triumph and disaster when a candidate’s emotional state stands naked in the unblinking stare of the TV cameras. Hillary, gambling for her very political survival, stood emotionally naked, was shriven by the press, and emerged victorious to campaign anew.

Presidencies past have been won because of lesser gambles.

Interestingly, Hillary has outdone her own husband with regards to Presidential campaigning. People forget that Bill Clinton finished third in New Hampshire (losing to the late Paul Tsongas) only to win big in the South and attaining the Democratic nomination because Tsongas lacked Clinton’s financial resources to run a sustained and successful Presidential campaign. Bill Clinton won because he outlasted the opposition. Hillary won in New Hampshire because she triumphed over her public image of cool, ruthless efficiency—but don’t forget it was that cool, ruthless efficiency that helped Bill Clinton win in 1992 and 1996 and Hillary win in 2000 her Senate seat. Cool, ruthless efficiency can be a great asset if harnessed correctly.

As for me, I am left with an interesting dilemma. The New Jersey primary is coming up on February 5 and I still haven’t decided between Obama and Clinton! If Obama had won New Hampshire I was going to go for him but now the race has become interested and I still have to make a choice. Used to be by the time the New Jersey primary came around the primary campaign was already resolved by then. Not this time!

The best is yet to come.

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