Sunday, 31 August 2008

Palin Into Significance ?

It's been another extraordinary week in the US presidential election. Both the Democrats and Republicans now have Vice-Presidential candidates while the Democrats held their National Convention (what we would call a Party Conference though more a rally than an occasion for debate) in Denver, Colorado.

Let's start with the Democrats. Depite the pitiful outpourings of the conservative blogsphere and their British fellow-travellers, the Democrats had a hugely successful week. I listened to Barack Obama's keynote address and there wasn't a word in it that couldn't have been said with equal panache with either David Cameron or Tony Blair. I don't know why some British conservatives have such an antipathy toward Obama - he is far closer to their views than might be imagined and I suspect that, if he wins (and David Cameron wins), the Anglo-American relationship will be renewed after the summer of 2010.

The Democrat Vice-Presidential candidate is long-time Senator Joseph Biden from Delaware. The choice of Biden was a surprise to some (and a painful betting experience too) but is a recognition of the re-emergence of foreign policy on the agenda. Biden's strength is in foreign policy and as America sees its hegemony being challenged by a more assertive Russia and a China growing in economic strength, Biden is seen as a valauable source of counsel for Obama and it may be that as VP, he will be a more active part of the administration than, for example, Dick Cheney has been in the Bush Administration.

Biden is no orator, certainly not in the Clinton/Obama mould but he is competent and brings depth to an area Obama seemed weak in, certainly in comparison to the Republican candidate, John McCain.

And so to the Republicans..

Their convention in St Paul, Minnesota, has already been overshadowed by the imminent arrival of Hurricane Gustav and the probable widespread damage to New Orleans and surrounding areas of Louisiana. Inevitably, McCain's supporters in the British blogsphere have been frantically spinning the storm as a good thing for McCain and it's typical of them to try and score cheap political points (while berating liberals and left-wingers for trying to do the same) at this time.

John McCain has many fine qualities - no doubt- and he is proving a far more formidable opponent than some in the Democrat side might have hoped. This was always going to be a difficult election for the GOP. After eight years of a Bush Administration now deeply mired in unpopularity (as most western Governments have been since the onset of the "credit crunch"), any Republican associated with Bush would be a complete non-starter. The "obvious" GOP candidate was former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani, whose actions in the immediate aftermath of the September 2001 attacks won him huge praise. However, Giuliani fluffed his lines in Florida and opened the door for McCain. John McCain had run against George W. Bush in 2000 and although seemingly a maverick, Barack Obama made the not unreasonable point that McCain had voted with the GOP caucus 90% of the time in the Senate.

McCain's choice of VP has caused much discussion. The Alaskan Governor, Sarah Palin, wasn't on most people's lists a few weeks ago. Of course, the British pro-McCain bloggers have hailed her selection as a triumph and a vindication of a McCain victory - what are these people on ?

That is, of course, nonsense. My suspicion is that Palin was a very long way down McCain's list and she was simply the first person to say "yes" when asked to be on the ticket. The Republicans fully expect to lose this election and the serious GOP players don't want to be associated with a losing ticket. They will bide their time, wait for Obama to screw up and roar back in 2010 (mid terms) and 2012 as serious contenders. Palin will try hard but she is the sacrifice for this election. This is McCain's last chance and he knows it - for Palin this is an opportunity to put down a marker for the 2012 campaign in what will be an open GOP field.

Palin does of course appeal to GOP conservatives who have "doubts" about McCain. Palin is pro-life and pro- gun control and that will play well in some states but she is little known outside Alaska and her home state is solid GOP and has been since the 1960s. It has been suggested that she has been put on the ticket in order to draw away some anti-Obama Clintonites. I thought last week HIllary Clinton did everything possible to rally her forces behind Obama and he could have asked for no stronger endorsement than he got from Senator Clinton.

Again, I just wonder why some British conservative bloggers would prefer McCain-Palin to Obama-Biden. I can only assume they've heard Obama called a "liberal" and that's set them off. In terms of serious debate, they will be a nuisance for the next ten weeks but can be ignored.

So, who will win ? There's a long way to go and the debates between the Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates will be significant as they always are. Obama has been through an exhausting primary campaign but he has learnt a lot as has his team. They have galvanised a core of younger voters and have huge financial reserves to pour into key districts in the weeks to come.

I believe that unless anything dramatic happens (and that's a big IF), Obama will win and possibly win decisively. The Democrats look set to increase their majorities in both the Senate and Congress and there will be nowhere for President Obama to hide if the American public feel their expectations (and his promises) have not been met.

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