The long & winding road to the White House

It’s perhaps the most important election there can be, choosing the leader of the free world: the President of the United States.  That’s why it’s not so unusual that the whole process of doing just that has begun in earnest fifteen months ahead of time.

Next November Americans will go to the polls to elect their new leader, with President Obama unable to seek a third term.  Whoever gets in to power, Democrat or Republican, man or woman – it is almost certain that the country, and indeed the Western world with it, will be headed in a new direction.  That’s why it’s important to us to be following the American election race too.

The first real campaign event takes place tonight as the Republican challengers for their party’s nomination take part in a debate on Fox News.  It’s a 20-strong field at this point, such a ridiculous number that the debate has been structured in two parts – with the real contenders on the primetime main stage.  One of these 20 will be the Republican candidate for President this time next year and will be in with almost a 50/50 shot at being the leader of the free world for the four years afterwards.

Right now the frontrunner is Donald Trump, the man known for The Apprentice.  Only in America eh?  His campaign so far has been as belligerent and fire-raising as you can imagine – calling out Mexicans, seeing business deals go up in smoke and even criticising former Presidential candidate for not being a real war-hero despite his years spent as a POW in Vietnam.  Trump is ahead because of name recognition and a very American sense of power triumphing over ignorance.  There’s very little chance of him really being elected or even nominated, as the party and the public at large would not be able to support such a firebrand candidate.

So who are the real alternatives?  Jeb Bush, the brother and son of two previous Bush Presidents, is perhaps the favourite at the moment – taking with him experience as Governor of Florida as well as the esteem his name still carries in the US.  Bush is a more intelligent and more capable politician than his brother ever was, and given the fact that he was elected twice despite an electoral crisis and two wars that America didn’t win it certainly stands to reason that Jeb could become the third of his family in thirty years to occupy the White House.

For me, the other two interesting candidates are more up-and-coming contenders that have a mixture of some experience and some hype that could see them winning over voters from the Democrat column to win the vote.  Chris Christie is a popular Governor of New Jersey, and despite some foibles in his Governorship he is seen as a strong leader and a more moderate Republican that could help them win some votes in the traditionally Democrat north-east.  Marco Rubio, Senator from Florida, is also another one to look out for.  One of the youngest of the candidates, Rubio has gathered lots of praise for his work so far in his term and with his Cuban American background he could be crucial in winning Hispanic voters over to the Republican cause, something which seems to be almost essential for them to win back the Presidency.  Rubio is more right-wing than Christie and Bush, with links to the Tea Party that forms the more radical side of the GOP, but that can galvanise support around him and make him more appealing – especially to those who will eventually desert Trump.

Tonight is just the start of the Republican race, which will go on until March or April next year, and it will only be in a few months’ time when the Iowa caucuses begin that there will be any real results to talk of.  But what the debate tonight can begin to show is the making of a Presidential candidate, and the sorts of issues that will end up being discussed over the long campaign to Election Day on November 8th 2016.

For the Democrats, things look slightly more simple.  Hillary Clinton, former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State seems to be almost a certainty to win the Democratic nomination at the second time of asking, but just like last time she might end up being favourite all the way until another contender is chosen.  Clinton lost to Obama in 2008 but with her added experience in foreign policy as the President’s international spokesperson she will definitely be a stronger candidate now than she ever was before.

The only real challenger at the moment is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who has built up a strong grassroots campaign of voters on the left of the Democratic party looking for an alternative to the ever-more neoliberal outlook of the United States.  Sanders would still be considered more right-wing to us here in the UK, but his visions of a fairer and more equal America are ringing true to the thousands who are attending his campaign rallies across the country.  Sanders doesn’t have the experience or financial clout that Clinton does, and with that the race is probably over already, but what he can do is raise issues and tilt the battleground towards the left in the Presidential campaign.

Who will end up in the White House after Obama is still anyone’s guess.  The fabled Clinton v Bush scenario, while deeply unnerving to some as a sign of an almost monarchical age of American politics where one of two dynasties would control the Presidency for 24 out of 32 years, is most likely at the moment – but there’s a lot that can happen before the two are anointed a candidates next August.

It’s a long and winding road that the candidates are embarking on, starting on stage tonight; but it’ll be a hell of a ride.  For them and for us.

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