Protracted Democratic Presidential race over
By By Steve Flowers
The protracted Democratic Presidential Race is finally over. Freshman Illinois Senator Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee. The 46 year old will be the first African American to be the presidential nominee of one of the two major parties.
Obama and Hillary Clinton fought a six month long battle that basically ended in a virtual dead heat. Both received about the same number of votes, but Obama’s campaign realized the importance of caucuses in red states and mustered an edge in delegates. Clinton carried most, if not all, of the important Democratic and swing states. She would most likely have been a more electable general election candidate because of her dominance over Obama in the pivotal swing states. However, Obama brought large numbers of African American and young voters into the process. He also has shown an amazing prowess at raising money. It will be interesting to see if Obama selects Hillary as his running mate.
John McCain’s choice of a running mate will also be very interesting and important. Vice presidential choices are generally not decisive factors in a presidential race, but many experts believe they are more relevant this year. The two candidates’ selection of running mates is the most exciting thing on the summer agenda, as we await their coronations at their conventions in late August and early September.
Some of you may be confused by the political nomenclature being used by the pundits referring to “red states” and “blue states.” Red states are states that are safe Republican states, while blue states are safely Democratic. Basically about 36 states are placed in these categories. Although there are more red states, they are generally smaller. The two biggest states, California and New York, are blue and will vote Democratic.
We in Alabama are considered a safe Republican state. We have voted for the GOP candidate for the last 7 presidential races. The last time a Democrat carried Alabama was 32 years ago when our neighbor from Georgia, Jimmy Carter, eked out a victory in 1976. Therefore, it is a safe bet that John McCain, the Republican nominee, will carry Alabama.
This leaves the all important swing states. There are about 14 that swing back and forth and can go either way. This is where the candidates will spend most of their time and money. These states are mostly in the industrial Midwest and more recently in the West. The Midwestern battlegrounds include Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota. In the West, the pivotal swing states are New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado.
It is not by accident that the two parties have chosen sites located in importance swing states for their conventions in late summer. The Democrats will meet in Denver, Colorado. The Republicans have chosen St. Paul, Minnesota. When all is said and done, the most important swing state is still Florida.
This election has gotten Americans revved up and ready to vote. The primaries have brought out more voters than ever before. In many states the turnout has doubled the participation of four years ago. Sadly for Republicans most of the excitement and increased participation has occurred in the Democratic primaries. In important states, where in the past the numbers were the same in both the GOP and Democratic primaries, this year the Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1.
The fact that most voters cite the need for change does not bode well for the GOP, considering it probably means that voters want a change from George W. Bush, a very unpopular sitting Republican President. This change mentality should portend a Democratic victory. However, head-to-head match-ups with the two apparent nominees reveal a close race in the fall.
Besides the word change being the pervasive maxim, the other optimum word is momentum. The old bandwagon effect has truly played itself out this year. The “big mo” has moved races weekly. People have always wanted to vote for a winner. The old master of Alabama politics, George Wallace, understood this political reality. Wallace told me one time that he would rather have someone say he was going to win than that they were for him.
Our two most popular political figures, Senator Richard Shelby and Gov. Bob Riley, stayed above the fray and refused to endorse any candidate in the primaries. This was a wise and prudent move on their parts. That is why they are the two most popular GOP figures in Alabama. The highest ranking and most popular Democrat in the state, Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom, Jr., took the same course in the Democratic primaries.
It will be fun to watch the Presidential race as it plays out this year. However, we will have to watch it without Tim Russert. It will not be the same. Tim was without a doubt the best political commentator on the scene. He definitely was my favorite, as he was to many Americans. The unexpected loss of Tim Russert has left a void in the Presidential year. He will be hard to replace. NBC will certainly miss him.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.