Leading article: White House race could yet turn into a real cliff-hanger

Share
Related Topics

For those watching the US primary elections for their political excitement – and there are surprisingly many around the world – Super Tuesday's results came as both something of a let-down and a source of cheer. The disappointment is in what they did not do. The succession of results throughout the night failed to give John McCain the certainty of the Republican nomination that many had predicted, although it put him pretty close to it. Nor did the Democrat results give either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama the decisive lead their more optimistic supporters might have hoped for. The source of cheer comes from the fact that this race is far from over. There is plenty in the progress towards the Democratic convention to test the two main candidates, and enough competition left in the Republican ranks to keep Mr McCain from taking his course for granted.

In so far as politics has become a sporting event, that is to the good. All the surveys suggest that the public is most put off politics when the outcome seems most certain. Give voters a tight contest and they sense their power and their interest. In so far as politics is about the election of the most powerful leader in the western world, then the whole primary process may arouse more mixed feelings. The harder the struggle to gain the nomination, the more money comes into play. Supporters of Mr Obama and Mr McCain are in the odd positionof proclaiming their candidate as the voice from the outside, while notching up their success in funds raised.

Nor is a tough primary battle necessarily the best way of bringing out the policies of the would-be Presidents. As the going gets tenser and money plays a more important role, the campaigning and the advertising concentrates more on personality and image. Mr McCain is presented as a proven hero and a resolute fighter, and equally attacked for being irascible and grudge-driven. Mrs Clinton is variously presented as figure from the past and feminist pioneer for the future, Mr Obama as a breath of fresh air and an ingénue. Each is at pains to distance themselves from President Bush and his policies, a position Mr McCain has exploited particularly skilfully. But in their speeches it is difficult to determine exactly what that difference means in terms of economic policy, foreign interventions and domestic priorities.

And yet, for all that, the US primary race is proving remarkably effective in bringing out and giving expression to the differences within American politics and society. The country is almost the last democracy to keep to a two-party division. In the past, this has been broken, with usually only limited effect, by the entry of independent candidates. This time, despite the suggestions that Michael Bloomberg might enter the race, the politicking has been confined to the two parties. The primaries have thus become a means of teasing out variety in a way that the presidential contest no longer does. While Mr McCain has taken on the mantle of the Republican centre, Mike Huckabee has muscled in with the views of the religious right and Mitt Romney has come to speak for the business-oriented right. Where Mrs Clinton has picked up traditional Democrat voters among the Hispanics and the poor and added to it the women's vote, Mr Obama has seized the votes of the young and the blacks. He has traded on the desire for change, she on the need for experience and Mr McCain on the patriotic centre. Commentators may talk of a dream ticket of McCain-Huckabee and Clinton-Obama, but it is far too early for that. And quite properly so.

US politics are not being re-forged in this election. If anything, the style and structure of the politicking is quite traditional. But it is being opened up in a way that even the most cynical observers of American democracy must concede is free and open.

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

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
George Osborne appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, 5 July 2015  

George Osborne says benefits should be capped at £20,000 to meet average earnings – but working families take home £31,500

Ellie Mae O'Hagan
The BBC has agreed to fund the £650m annual cost of providing free television licences for the over-75s  

Osborne’s assault on the BBC is doing Murdoch’s dirty work

James Cusick James Cusick
Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created