Joe Biden?

“Biden voted in favor of the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.”
(Wikipedia)

Biden’s also been in Washington longer than John McCain has. Is that really “change”?

Obama campaign’s headscarf flap

Just a short post today — this from CNN caught my eye. Not the best way to go about proclaiming “change” if his campaign are alienating and sidelining Muslims. Worth noting they apologised pretty quickly once the issue was brought to light, although I think the “photos of women in Muslim head scarves attending Obama rallies and standing behind the candidate on stage” cited by CNN to be in the email is overkill.

Random rant: Primary season ends

I wrote part of this for something else, but I figure it’s worth posting here as a rant. Just remember, I’m not American, but I follow U.S. politics fairly closely and this is how I do feel about things. Oh, and I’d like John McCain to win. Not that that’s important in my arguments below.

As Democratic primary season draws to a close with voting today in South Dakota and Montana — two states which surely would not have believed you if you told them on January 3, when the first contest was held, that they would factor into the final equation. But such is the electoral system in the U.S. that this is the situation we find ourselves in:

Before the actual election in November (which, again, isn’t technically for President but for electoral college voters), there is still this long and drawn-out series of elections in all 50 U.S. states (plus the overseas U.S. territories of Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and for the Democrats, one for ‘Democrats Abroad’) to decide who actually goes head-to-head in the “final”, so to speak.

To be fair, it is this series of contests — primaries and caucuses, held internally by the two main parties that elect delegates which are pledged to a candidate – which has given us the most riveting election in years, with the Democratic Party still having yet to decide between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. With 2,118 of these delegates needed to win the party’s nomination, neither candidate has reached that target yet – although Mr Obama looks set to achieve that number soon.

Between the two main American parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, their 50-odd primaries and caucuses are run in different ways, just to add confusion to the layman observer somewhere else in the world. On the Republican side — an argument Senator Clinton has made many times — some states award delegates on a ‘winner-takes-all’ basis (and Senator John McCain won most of these states). On the Democratic side, delegates in all states are allocated proportionately, sometimes at state level, sometimes at county level, or sometimes at district level.

It is not hard to imagine a person somewhere in the world who isn’t well-versed in American politics wondering why there’s such a confusing system and why they don’t use the popular vote (another Senator Clinton argument) rather than the delegate system, as the method of distributing the delegates can mean that even when one candidate wins more votes, the other wins more delegates (Mrs Clinton won the popular vote in Texas; Mr Obama won more delegates there).

But let’s face it, the popular vote doesn’t do anything, even at federal level — remember how Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000? Look who’s in office right now.

Even then, delegates aside, the DNC finally resolved (or at least one hopes so, seeing as how Mrs Clinton is considering an appeal to the Credentials Committee) the issue of Florida and Michigan delegates — originally penalised because the two states held their primaries too early.

Why have it staggered in the first place? Is it really such a bad thing to hold all 50 states’ primaries on the same day? Wouldn’t that resolve everything so much quicker? That might force superdelegates to endorse in advance of primary day if they don’t want their endorsement to slip by unnoticed if one candidate secures the nomination purely through pledged delegates. Or perhaps, as a more radical idea, put a deadline on superdelegate endorsements before beginning the primary season. But I digress.

Let’s get on to the “final”, if you will, then. What exactly is the use of the electoral college? As far as I understand it personally, the number of electoral college votes per state is based on the state’s population. If this is true, allow me to raise a hypothetical scenario. Let’s say state X has 4 million people and 40 EC votes and state Y has 5 million people and 50 EC votes. It doesn’t mean state Y has more registered voters than state X, nor does it mean that more people in state Y will vote compared to people in state X. Is that really a fair way of deciding a president? We’ve seen where it’s gotten us with President Bush.

Thoughts welcome.

Richardson gives Obama backing

The long-awaited Bill Richardson endorsement has gone to Senator Barack Obama. Governor Richardson (NM), who himself was in the race early on but withdrew following the New Hampshire primary, is expected to make a statement in Portland, OR later today, according to the BBC.

The timing of this appears crucial; it comes nearly exactly one month to the crucial Pennsylvania primary and in the same week as Sen Obama’s dramatic speech about race in the United States, following comments his pastor made in 2001 about the September 11 attacks which were publicised once again this week.

With Sen Obama’s deficit in Pennsylvania to Sen Hillary Clinton having grown since late-February — he now trails by an average of 13 percentage points — this endorsement can only come as a boost.

Another interesting thing of note is a recent Franklin and Marshall poll, which suggests that among Democratic voters in Pennsylvania, 19–20% of them would vote for Republican nominee John McCain in the presidential election in November should their preferred candidate lose to the other Democrat in the race.

This RealClearPolitics aggregation of polls from this past week is really telling of that fact — John McCain has, for the first time, surged past both Sen Clinton and Sen Obama in opinion polls for the presidential election.

Will he be able to hang on to that lead, though?

Pew study: If Obama is candidate, some Dems may vote McCain

Was reading Justin Webb‘s latest blog post today, and he links to a National Journal article which in turn cites a recent Pew Research Center study, dated February 28, 2008:

Summary of Findings: Obama Has The Lead, But Potential Problems Too

I found this bit particularly interesting:

Although attention has been focused on McCain’s problems with the GOP base, there are indications that some Democrats might defect if Obama is the party’s nominee. Overall, 20% of white Democratic voters say they would vote for McCain if Obama is the Democratic nominee. That is twice the percentage of white Democrats who say they would support McCain in a Clinton-McCain matchup. Older Democrats (ages 65 and older), lower-income and less educated Democrats also would support McCain at higher levels if Obama rather than Clinton is the party’s nominee.

Justin Webb asks if this is “Racism or educationism?”

It’s a good question and tough to call. I would, personally, argue that less-educated people (not just Democrats) would be more susceptible to making racially-based judgements, so it’s probably a little bit of both. Then again, is it really a surprise? What the study does not consider (or at least, was not considered in the published report) is the widespread concern (yes, there is one) that Sen Obama, with his flawless poise, could go the way of two people he has been compared to – Dr Martin Luther King Jr and former President John F. Kennedy. It is still possible that out of concern for him, some people would rather vote Sen McCain over Sen Obama.

Other interesting findings include one about Sen McCain’s age:

Nearly a third of all voters (32%) believe that, at 71 years old, McCain is too old to be president, while 66% say that being 71 does not make him too old. Opinions about whether McCain is too old to be president are comparable with views about Bob Dole during the 1996 campaign. In March 1996, 34% said Dole, who would have been 73 upon inauguration, was too old, while 63% said he was not.

Arguably Sen McCain would be a single-term president at his age. However, surely you should be judging people based on whether they’re qualified for the job or not? My personal opinion is that Sen McCain is more qualified than Sen Obama, and I would hope his age doesn’t count against him. Even a single-term presidency for Sen McCain would be better than a half-term for Sen Obama, especially when we start talking about foreign affairs and the War in Iraq – which I will get to now.

Pew findings about War in Iraq
(Graphic: Pew Research Center)

This certainly suggests that the American public do feel that things are improving in Iraq. Since the military troop surge, security and safety in Iraq has improved slightly. Although suicide bombings and kidnappings continue, they certainly are not at the rate as they were in 2004.

If you ask most Iraqis, many of them want the Americans to stay put. Some of them, including the government in Baghdad, want the Americans to help with Iraq’s development. Others say the U.S. should finish what it started in a “you came here and wrecked this place, you stay here and clean it up” kind of way.

On last week’s BBC Radio 4 From Our Own Correspondent programme, the BBC’s Hugh Sykes in Baghdad interviewed Baghdad residents over the electricity issue – there is just not enough power in the country. And, as with any report about Iraq, the story touched on terrorism. One respondent told him, “If America leaves, there will be a massacre.”

That’s where the American Presidential race comes back into play. As we all know, both Sens Obama and Clinton want troops out of Iraq and have promised to start withdrawing troops if elected. Sen McCain backed the troop surge and would likely keep a fairly sizeable number of forces stationed in the country.

It’s the United States that is maintaining security in the region right now, not Iraq. If the U.S. withdraw, widespread violence could easily spill over into neighbouring countries, and the price of oil – already at a record high $109 – could easily spike further. It appears to me Sen Obama and Sen Clinton are oblivious to this.

Back to the Pew study. Sen Obama, very obviously, has the lead; the report says “70% of Democratic voters — including 52% of those who support Clinton — say that Obama is most likely to win the Democratic presidential nomination.” Unfortunately for the Democrats, with Florida and Michigan both making noise now and senior leaders unlikely to want to alienate voters in both states, this contest is, in truth, far from over…

No way, José – Obama rejects Clinton joint-ticket as VP

Sen Barack Obama, ahead of yesterday’s primaries in Mississippi which he won, effectively ended speculation he might drop out of the race to join rival Sen Hillary Clinton on a joint Presidential ticket as Sen Clinton’s Vice-President, stating clearly that he was in the lead in the delegate count and would therefore not consider the proposal, recently widely discussed by Sen Clinton’s supporters and campaign.

Speaking at a rally in Mississippi (Sen Clinton was out campaigning in Pennsylvania, the next big delegate-rich state), Mr Obama told the crowd, “I’m not running for vice president. I am running for president of the United States of America; I am running to be commander-in-chief.”

Obama quote

He also attacked the Clinton campaign over its consistent line that he is not ready to be president due to his lack of foreign policy experience (not helped by the fact a key foreign policy aide had to quit over remarks made), asking “I’m not ready, how is it that you think I would be such a great vice president?”

Sen Clinton’s campaign has hit back, saying Obama has yet to meet “the national security threshold”, but a spokesman said that the idea of a joint ticket “is not something that she would rule out at this point.”

Times Online article
BBC News article

He ended up winning nearly 61% of the popular vote in the state to Sen Clinton’s 37%, although Mississippi has the largest African-American population in the union and so this result was perhaps to be expected. Of the 33 delegates available, I’ve seen at least one projection that gives Sen Obama 19 and Sen Clinton 14.

Also: AP reports that the Texas Democratic caucus results will only be known on March 29.

Elections in Malaysia, Spain, France, U.S. and Iran

Quite a weekend this has turned out to be, and the week ahead bears more elections to come. There’s been elections in Malaysia, Spain, France, and in the U.S. state of Wyoming, while tomorrow there will be primaries in Mississippi and Iran will hold parliamentary elections on Friday.

In Malaysia, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s ruling coalition, the Barisan Nasional, won the general elections but suffered a major setback as they lost their parliamentary majority for the first time since independence in 1957, leading to his predecessor, Tun Dr Mahatir Mohamad, to call on Mr Badawi to resign. However, Mr Badawi has since been sworn in for a new term as PM.

BBC News: Malaysian prime minister sworn in

His Spanish counterpart, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, fared similarly in Spanish polls. Despite his Socialist Party hanging on to power, Mr Zapatero’s team failed to gain enough seats in Parliament for an absolute parliamentary majority. Across the border in France, however, there was a different story in local elections. President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP has taken a hit from the opposition Socialists and is currently trailing in the first round of elections. This vote is the first real chance for the French people to judge Mr Sarkozy, and it appears that his constant appearances in the press about his private life has lost his party support and votes.

BBC News: Socialists win Spanish elections
BBC News: Poll setback for Sarkozy’s party

On to the continuing race for the Democratic nomination for the United States Presidency. On March 8, Democratic caucuses were held in Wyoming. Senator Barack Obama convincingly won the vote, by 23 percentage points, picking up seven delegates in the process to Sen Hillary Clinton’s five. This win is crucial for Sen Obama as it takes some wind out of Sen Clinton’s three wins on March 4. Also, this was his first real test following the departure of a key foreign policy adviser, Samantha Power, over comments she made calling Sen Clinton a “monster”. He appears to have survived his aide’s outburst.

BBC News: Obama defeats Clinton in Wyoming

Tomorrow, the two candidates will once again go head-to-head in the Mississippi primaries, which will provide 33 pledged delegates. The Republicans will also hold a primary, although that will (excuse the poor pun) primarily be a voting exercise, as Sen John McCain has already won his party’s nomination and has no real challengers left in the race. Mrs Clinton will be looking to win tomorrow to avoid Sen Obama picking up new steam.

And finally, to Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be looking for a strong mandate in parliamentary elections this Friday, ahead of next year’s presidential elections. As always, this election will be a fight between the hardliners and the reformists. If Mr Ahmadinejad’s hardliners win well, as they are expected to do (many reformist candidates have been disqualified), it will be a sign that the nuclear issue is nowhere close to being solved.

Iran vote may strengthen Ahmadinejad