Bill Emmott - International Author & Adviser

Article

Betting on America´s election
Corriere della Sera - January 5th 2008

It is a little comical to make judgments about who will be the next president of the United States on the basis of voting by just a few hundred thousand residents of the single state of Iowa. Anyone concluding that the clear victories by Barack Obama in the Democratic caucuses and Mike Huckabee for the Republicans means that these will be the candidates in November would be foolish. Even so, one clear message can be divined from Iowa, which will be carried forward in New Hampshire on January 8th, and then at four other states before the race essentially finishes with votes in 19 states on “Super Tuesday”, February 5th. That message is that the theme of the 2008 election is change.

            Hillary Clinton must win or come a close second in New Hampshire if she is to remain viable in the race against Mr Obama. Most of all though, in the few days left before New Hampshire and in the rest of January, she needs to change her basic pitch from an offer of  “experience” to an offer of change. The trouble was that it looked too easy for too long simply to represent a change compared with George W. Bush; her strong national opinion-poll lead may have led her to underestimate Mr Obama’s appeal and overestimate the importance of his inexperience and vagueness on policies.

            Perhaps Mr Obama will make some serious mistakes in his campaign and in televised debates, and that will save Mrs Clinton. But she cannot rely on that happening. He has already made plenty of mistakes, but his appeal remains intact. He generates enthusiasm. His optimism is infectious. The idea of electing the country’s first black president offers Americans with some chance of looking honourable, proud and idealistic once again. The national polls in which Mrs Clinton still holds a lead may be misleading, for most Americans naturally do not really start thinking hard about the presidential election until the voting truly begins.

            Although the vote in Iowa is a frail basis for a prediction, Mr Obama looks to have a very good chance of winning the Democratic nomination if he can avoid scaring voters and can retain his optimistic image. The Republican race is far harder to judge. Mike Huckabee, who is a former governor of Arkansas, is similar to Mr Obama in that he is likeable, optimistic and can stand for change. He is also the candidate of protectionism, the one who complains most about supposedly unfair trading competition from China and elsewhere, which is a populist message that may well prove appealing as America slides into recession. But other candidates, too, can stand for change.

            Senator John McCain did well to come fourth in Iowa despite having done little campaigning there. He is a Washington insider, and the oldest (at 71) of the candidates, but his maverick stances on campaign finance and other reforms give him a strong anti-establishment appeal. The same is true of Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, who stands for tough, no-nonsense leadership and who leads the national polls, perhaps just because he is better known than any of the others.

Meanwhile, Mr Giuliani’s successor as mayor, the media tycoon Michael Bloomberg, is waiting in the wings ready to exploit divisions in the Republican camp by running for the presidency as an independent, promising to be a change from all the party animals. If he does so, he would take more votes in November away from the Republican side than the Democratic one, though he could steal a few from both.

            Right now, my prediction would be a victory for Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. My hope, as I wrote on January 2nd, is for John McCain to win for the Republicans, but somehow I doubt that he will; my betting would be on Mr Giuliani or Mr Huckabee to win through, but if either does win it will tempt Mr Bloomberg into the November race. But let’s see how things look after January 8th, in New Hampshire.


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