The conventions are over and just two months of intense campaigning remain before election day. Michael Clark examines the state of the race between John McCain and Barack Obama.
It is now over eight long months since Democrats and Republicans braved the windswept Iowan snows on Thursday, 3rd January to caucus for their favourite Presidential candidate.
Exactly two months later, Senator John McCain secured a majority of Republican delegates while it took a further three months for Senator Barack Obama to finally put the last nail in Hillary Clinton’s Presidential coffin.
Since then, the American people have been subjected to an endless litany of attacking ads, town hall meetings and mass rallies as the two senators have vied for the affections of a fickle, often disinterested and sometimes hostile electorate.
Now that both major parties have completed their quadrennial national conventions, a two-year campaign odyssey will culminate in a desperate lunge for the finish line.
Both candidates, their running mates, their families and the thousands of campaign operatives and activists will deserve a break when the most expensive election in the history of humanity finally reaches its conclusion.
As the party of presidential opposition, the Democrats had to hold their convention first.
The city of Denver is the lynchpin of the vital swing state of Colorado; were the Democrats to win Colorado in November, victory would almost be assured. Prior to the event, legitimate doubts about party unity had yet to be properly addressed.
The bitter rifts of the primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had yet to be adequately set aside and millions of ‘Clintonistas’ had yet to be convinced by the young, charismatic black man who had destroyed the hopes of their champion.
The Obama campaign had a tough task prior to the convention. On the one hand, they had to ‘introduce’ Barack Obama to the millions of people who somehow managed to avoid the wall-to-wall coverage over the preceding months.
His wife, Michelle, was dispatched to give the ‘Barack is a wonderful family guy’ speech and performed admirably.
On this side of the Atlantic, it would be preposterous for Mary Cowen or Sarah Brown to give a keynote address extolling their husbands’ virtues. In the US however, the electorate seemingly cares about the wellbeing and sanctity of the First Family. The second day of the convention gave Hillary Clinton the chance to deliver a valedictory address to her legions of zealous supporters. In truth, many of Barack Obama’s difficulties can be traced back to Clinton’s destructive conduct throughout the primary campaign.
It was evident to all but the most deluded of her supporters that Obama had moved into an almost insurmountable delegate lead after the Wisconsin primary on 16th February.
Yet the Hill & Bill circus rumbled on until 3rd June with little hope of victory and with little regard for the well being of the Democratic Party’s chances of regaining the White House.
The Obama campaign magnanimously allowed the Clintons some input into the choreography of the convention process.
Electoral calculation also played a part; Obama desperately needs the 18 million voters Clinton secured during the primaries if he is to be successful.
Hillary endorsed Obama somewhat tepidly. Bill on the other hand, again displayed his uncanny knack of winning his detractors over.
The increasingly reviled character of the primary battle was replaced by the intoxicatingly charismatic Bill Clinton of old.
He hailed Obama without reservation and along with the Vice-Presidential nominee, Joe Biden, threw some hefty punches at John McCain.
The final showpiece of the Convention allowed Barack Obama to do what he does best. His acceptance speech toned down the lofty rhetoric and oratory but was more than adequately replaced by substantive policy proposals.
No one speech wins an election and anything can happen between now and November but when even crazed right-wing ideologues like Pat Buchanan are praising your speech, you know that you have just hit a home-run.
The Republican Convention in Minnesota began under less than propitious circumstances as Hurricane Gustav threatened to drown out the partisan pageantry that conventions are renowned for.
In the end, the apocalyptic predictions of meteorological disaster petered out but the media whirlwind that blew around John McCain’s running mate soon took hold.
The choice of the Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, as Vice-Presidential nominee created a sensation. Palin quickly sucked the oxygen out of the coverage of Obama’s speech. The state of Alaska, so often on the periphery, was thrust to the centre of the political world.
The elevation of Palin showcases the dynamics of John McCain’s campaign. The Republican is an excellent tactician, master of the news cycle, quick to discomfit his opponent to gain a short-term advantage. The passionate impetuosity and fiery temperament of McCain is in marked contrast to the cool, almost distant, strategic complexity of Obama.
John McCain has a well-known penchant for gambling; a punt on a young, attractive ‘hockey Mom’ from Alaska was risky
Obama’s pick of Joe Biden was sound, almost pedestrian while Sarah Palin is the wildcard. John McCain has a well-known penchant for gambling; a punt on a young, attractive ‘hockey Mom’ from Alaska was risky. McCain’s instincts were undoubtedly correct; he did need to do something extraordinary to energise the conservative Republican Party base and overcome Obama’s small if consistent poll lead.
Palin was perhaps a bit too extraordinary and out-of-the-blue. At time of writing, the young Governor has been linked with embarrassing revelations about a teenage pregnancy, her bizarre conduct during her own pregnancy, a dubious dismissal of her police chief, membership of an extreme party which seeks Alaskan independence and her efforts to secure federal funding for the outlandishly expensive ‘Bridge to Nowhere’.
All this after just four days of scrutiny! God knows what other skeletons are to be found in the wastes of Alaska and that is before one critically examines her undeniably extreme right-wing views.
In the final analysis however, Vice-Presidents do not decide Presidential elections. We still have two more months of the fascinating battle between the tactical McCain and strategic Obama.
At this juncture, Obama appears to be enjoying a small if consistent advantage but the tag of favourite is by no means desirable in this most wild and exciting of election years. Just ask Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton.
Michael Clark is a former Returning Officer of UCD Students’ Union