Leading article: After the phoney war, the real battles begin


In one way, the 2008 US presidential election seems to have been in progress for 12 or more tedious months. The skirmishing began almost as soon as the Democrats prevailed in last year's mid-term Congressional elections. Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been tracking each other across the country in pursuit of the Democratic nomination ever since.

In another way, though, it is only now that the first battles are being joined. In three weeks' time, at the Iowa caucuses, we will know the results of the first encounters with the voters and there is nothing like real voters to bring a contest to life.

This election has its peculiarities. The primaries are being held earlier than ever. Any earlier, and the Iowa caucuses would have crashed into New Year. New Hampshire follows the next week. If there are clear-cut results, the nominations for both major parties could be known before the end of the first week in February.

The 2008 election is also an election of firsts. We are watching the first woman, the first black contender and the first Mormon ever to have had a serious chance of winning a major party nomination. These "firsts" are tests of character, for the candidates and for US voters. How far will gender, race or religion dictate America's choice? The election is also the most open for decades both for the nominations and between the parties. George Bush cannot seek re-election and his Vice-President, Dick Cheney, will not run. The competition for the Republican nomination is wide open. How open is illustrated by the fluctuating fortunes of half a dozen distinctive characters, with Mike Huckabee from Arkansas, and the veteran campaigner John McCain now coming up strongly on the outside.

Almost as open, despite all the predictions, is the race in the Democratic Party. Mrs Clinton, whose success has been taken pretty much for granted since she threw her hat into the ring, has been losing ground, slowly but surely, to Mr Obama. He leads in Iowa, and some polls now have him fractionally ahead in New Hampshire, a small, predominantly white, north-eastern state that should be Mrs Clinton's natural territory.

Once upon a time, it seemed as though the 2008 election might pit Mrs Clinton against the former Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, so providing the duel that American voters were deprived of when Mr Giuliani decided not to run against Mrs Clinton for the Senate in 2000. That would make for an exciting, absorbing and combative campaign. But with both favourites now stalling, this may not be the choice that confronts America in a little less than 11 months' time.

From this side of the Atlantic, with our four-week campaigns and our pencil-and-paper ballots, it is easy to be condescending and dismissive about the political marathon that precedes a US presidential election. The indecent amount of money that an individual must raise even to be a plausible candidate raises its own questions, as does the soundness of US voting procedures after the tied election of 2000. We might also ask why the Mid-west and the north-east should always set the tone for the primaries.

All that said, however, the rigours of the campaign remain as valid a preparation as there can be for the exigencies of the Oval Office. The voters have ample time to consider the merits of the candidates, even as the vices of the outgoing president remain fresh in their minds. Eight years ago, Bill Clinton's character was the dark shadow that dogged the campaign. This time around it will be George Bush's ideological rigidity and his misguided war. Whoever becomes president, Republican or Democrat, we can be sure of one thing: it will not be anyone who professes Mr Bush's legacy.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Process Improvement Analyst (Testing)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Service Delivery Manager - Derivatives, Support,

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Delivery Manager - (Derivatives, Support...

Technical Account Manager - Java, FIX Protocol, FIX 5.0, C++

£30000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Technical Account Manager - Java,...

WPF .NET Developer

£300 - £350 per day: Harrington Starr: WPF Analyst Programmer NET, WPF, C#, M...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The daily catch-up: heatwave update; duck tape and market socialism

John Rentoul
David Cameron's 'compassionate conservatism' is now lying on its back  

Tory modernisation has failed under David Cameron

Michael Dugher
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform