Leading article: Leaner and meaner, the presidential battles go on

Share
Related Topics

It is only just February and the early primaries have already thinned the vintage field of US presidential hopefuls to just two on either side. With the graceful withdrawals this week of Rudy Giuliani and John Edwards, two initially plausible candidates acknowledged that 2008 was not to be their year. Mike Huckabee remains in the Republican race, but limps far behind the frontrunners.

Mr Giuliani, in staking everything on a late debut in Florida, made a fatal miscalculation. In any other year, his gamble might have paid off. He was unlucky that the races on both sides engaged the voters from the start. This year Iowa and New Hampshire were not provincial rehearsals, they opened the national race proper. He also misread the field. Up against the patriotic heroism of John McCain, the smooth managerialism of Mitt Romney, and the folksiness of Mr Huckabee, Mr Giuliani's claim to be the "mayor of America" did not quite cut through the competition as he had hoped.

Most of all, though, he misread the times. Fear of terrorism, even terrorism of 9/11 proportions, gave way to popular disenchantment with the Iraq war, which is in turn ceding electoral precedence to worries about the economy. This shift might give Mr Romney an edge, were he not such a bland and wooden campaigner. Today's Americans like their president to have character. Senator McCain wins here every time.

Mr McCain is also winning on endorsements. After bowing out himself, Mr Giuliani immediately put his support behind the Senator for Arizona. Yesterday Mr McCain received what could be an even more valuable vote of confidence: from the popular Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. While it would be premature even to dream of a formal alliance between the two – a foreign-born vice-president is not a variant envisaged by the Constitution – the Governor's very presence on the campaign trail is a boost to Mr McCain.

His modernity and youth-appeal would complement the Senator's age; his social liberalism would offset Mr McCain's tendency to social conservatism. On immigration and the environment, two signal post-Bush issues, the two would have no difficulty making common cause. Altogether, Mr McCain's claim to the centre ground – all-important once the nominations are decided – would be all the stronger for having the support of Mr Schwarzenegger and Mr Giuliani.

On the Democrat side, the departure of John Edwards leaves the duel between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama pretty much where it was, but with more personal animus than before. Mr Edwards' decision to withhold his endorsement suggests he may have half an eye on the second-place slot on his party's ticket. Superficially, Mr Obama's position has been strengthened by the twin endorsements of Senator Edward Kennedy and Caroline, the daughter of JFK. Of these, the latter may be more valuable than the former. The now ageing Senator still has a following on the American left, but his support could prove a liability were Mr Obama to win the nomination and essay a move to the centre.

Even so, after she comfortably won the phantom Florida primary, it is Mrs Clinton who seems the candidate to beat. The 20-plus races next Tuesday could decide the contest in her favour, or leave it open up to the Convention. A longer contest could favour Mr Obama, while also tempting the Clintons into ugly racist innuendo of the sort the former president disgracefully drew on after Mr Obama's landslide in South Carolina.

On Tuesday, these two thrilling contests go nationwide. We hanker after a McCain-Obama match in November, but our more immediate interest – and surely that of US voters – is in any result that keeps this absorbing campaign alive.

For rolling comment on the US election visit: independent.co.uk/campaign08

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nicola Sturgeon could have considerable influence over David Cameron in a hung parliament  

General Election 2015: What if Cameron were to end up in hock to the SNP?

Steve Richards
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before