Under the Spotlight

After only a few months in the presidential election primaries, only Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Mike Gravel contest for the Democratic Party’s nomination, while Republican John McCain already won the Republican nomination after the March 4th vote. To finalize a party’s ticket to a single candidate must win the nomination of his or her respective party by winning delegates in primaries and caucuses. Primaries are basically just elections for whom we will ultimately elect for president this November 4th, and when a state votes it wins delegates in the Democratic or Republican National Convention, depending on the party affiliation of the candidate voted for. The primary processes for Democrats and Republicans differ:

Democrats – A state will hold its primaries where registered citizens vote for whom the Democratic nominee will be. Of 4,049 total delegates, a candidate must win 2,025 individual delegates to win the nomination. Of these 4,049 delegates 3,253 are “pledged,” which means they represent the proportion of citizens’ votes for a certain candidate and will vote for that candidate at the Democratic National Convention (DNC). The other 796 delegates are “superdelegates” who may vote for whomever they please; these delegates are typically political figures that have a seat in the DNC. These superdelegates are considered swing votes that could potentially throw the nomination to another candidate; in fact, the political group MoveOn has filed a petition to insist to all superdelegates to abstain from voting until all popular votes have been accounted for.

Republicans – The policy here is varied: a state may decide to operate on a proportional system like the Democratic process or a winner-takes-all system. For a winner-takes-all situation, the candidate who wins the majority of votes simply wins all that state’s delegates. In the Republican National Convention (RNC), there are 2,380 total delegates, and the delegate count to win is 1,191. Of all the delegates, 1,917 are pledged in the same way as Democratic delegates. The other 463 delegates are “unpledged delegates” who ultimately have the same status and abilities as Democratic superdelegates. With the winner-take-all advantage, a state with many delegates like California and Texas can make a huge difference in delegate-to-candidate distribution.

Another way to win delegates is from state caucuses. Whereas a state’s taxes usually finance the state primaries, parties themselves usually sponsor the caucuses, as they are typically party-specific and much more complicated. In Texas, caucuses are essentially mini-primaries over a three-month process that culminates in a third of Texas’ delegates being distributed proportionally to the candidates. For example, caucuses per voting precinct determine the proportion of votes per candidate and nominate volunteers to be “delegates” to represent the chosen candidate at the county convention, at which point that convention would carry out the same procedure to continue to the next stage. Ultimately, the process is so confusing that caucus leaders could potentially manipulate the results, as a slew of complaints during March 4th’s caucus demonstrated. Allegedly, Obama and Clinton party supporters may have been involved in locking each other’s voters out of several precincts’ caucuses and illegally obtaining packets that grant control of a caucus to the packet’s holder.

Speaking of Illinois Senator Barack Obama, he still leads the primary with the 1,520 total delegates – 1,321 pledged delegates and 199 superdelegates. Obama’s key advantage in keeping this lead is his momentum, dominating the primaries since Super Tuesday (February 5th). A huge factor in his success is the support from the youth, largely thanks to social networking websites like MySpace and Facebook where politics and the 2008 election have become a major issue after deleting application invitations. Naturally, the front runner (especially when the opposite party) catches plenty of distorted flak. Though initially from Mitt Romney – who “suspended” his presidential campaign February 8th – Obama’s opponents have criticized, rather blasphemed, him for allegedly supporting kindergarten sex-ed. This is an overly-hyped and distorted misinterpretation. Obama belief is that sex-ed shouldn’t be explicit, but age-appropriate – like talking to a 6-year-old about inappropriate touching. Additionally, he says the issue should go by “a case-by-case basis by local communities and school boards.” Overall, he has not taken as much fire from across the aisle as Clinton has, although this could change since his campaign has shifted more focus to sparring with McCain.

New York Senator Hillary Clinton endures in the race as an ever-present threat to Obama’s lead in the polls with 1,424 total delegates – 1,186 pledged and 238 superdelegates. The Obama campaign even issued a statement asking Clinton to end her campaign if she failed to win Texas, but after a narrow victory there of only 4% more votes than Obama and an easy victory in Ohio and Rhode Island, she has no intention of doing so. Clinton has the singular advantage of a key co-speaker for campaigns: Mr. Clinton in all his presidential glory. Where one goes, the other… well, goes another way to double campaign efforts; even their daughter Chelsea has joined the campaign effort. This teamwork may spread the word as quickly as two Hillarys, but after successive losses in the primaries, the campaign as a whole lacks momentum, a key word in the primary process, though March 4th’s primaries may change that. Simultaneously the most popular and upsetting idea that affects her momentum is her policy for nationalized healthcare. Clinton’s comprehensive medical reform would allow either one to keep a preexisting private health plan, choose from dozens of private plans available to federal employees, or enroll in a public plan like Medicare. Families would have the benefit of refundable tax credits to help pay for premiums, which would be pre-scaled to a percentage of a family’s income. The idea is that this would essentially pay for itself via tax reformation (not new taxes as is propagated by opponents), significant improvement in medical quality, and a crusade against wasteful practices. Clinton’s healthcare plan – though criticized for its largely state-influenced structure – would eliminate the U.S.’s fever of inefficiencies and mismanagement of the inflated healthcare market, ideally without increasing taxation at the same time national health quality increases. Of course, first it would need to pass through the minefield of Congress.

Unlike the frontrunner candidates, former Alaskan senator Mike Gravel doesn’t bother with compromise, meeting key issues without worrying over political correctness or wooing as many voters as possible. Gravel is a known rebel suit on Capitol Hill: in the ‘70s he managed to help end the draft by stalling legislation long enough for the bill to simply expire, and he published the “Pentagon Papers” – secret U.S. military documents regarding covert missions that severely discredited the government. One issue defining him from other candidates is drugs and alcohol; again an issue that clearly defies the popular political ideas. He believes that someone who is old enough to fight and die for the country should be allowed to drink alcohol (meaning the legal limit would be 18). Also, marijuana should be legalized but only available at liquor stores, and hard drugs should be legalized so they may be treated as a health issue instead of a criminal one. Surprisingly, Gravel has garnered a grand total of zero delegates so far. Why is he still campaigning? Sadly, Gravel nets little airtime and minimal campaign material, yet he asserts that he will campaign until the end, saying, “I have no desire to live in the White House; however, I do have a desire to turn around and change your lives politically.”

Dramatically different from the Democratic contest, one candidate has clearly dominated the primaries: 71-year-old Senior Arizona Senator John McCain. After the March 4th primaries, he won the Republican nomination, thus dropping Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul from the ticket and winning President Bush’s endorsement. McCain’s domination before March 4th was so apparent that his campaign had already shifted its focus from contesting other Republicans to jabbing at Democratic candidates, mostly Barack Obama, who has since met him on this hostility. Naturally an issue with popular politicians, a small issue in a candidate’s past may prove to be a thorn in the campaign’s side. One such issue is that John McCain was actually born within the Panama Canal Zone. Speculation over whether someone born outside the 50 states could become president has appeared throughout major news sources and the blogosphere. Fortunately for him, a little clause in the United States Code (specifically Title 8, Chapter 12, Subchapter III, Part I, Section 1403) grants U.S. citizenship to any person born in the Republic of Panama on or after February 26, 1904 whose father or mother was a U.S. citizen employed by the government. Another prominent feature of his campaign is his five-and-a-half-year period as a POW during the Vietnam War, which caused some permanent physical damage. This experience completely convinced McCain to abolish torture and “immediately close Guantánamo Bay, move all the prisoners to Fort Leavenworth and truly expedite the judicial proceedings in their cases.” He also believes that military forces should occupy Iraq until stability is achieved, that spies and special forces should be deployed to pursue Osama bin Laden, and that military technology and budgeting should be reformed.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee [PRIMARY RESULTS]. Huckabee presents himself as the family values, Christian fundamentalist candidate, supporting many religious influences in the education environment. He supports students’ exposure to theories of creationism in addition to evolution, the display of the Ten Commandments in schools, and tax support of Christian schools. More personal to students, he also supports “character education” classes to improve students’ manners and personal character, higher standards of achievement per student, and equal promotion of abstinence-only and contraceptive-based sex education. As an ordained Baptist minister, he reflects many of his Christian fundamental values in his political agenda; he agrees with freewill and accepts homosexuality, but he disagrees with changing the institution of adoption by only heterosexual guardians. The idea is the same with prohibiting same-sex civil unions and marriage, which he outlawed by law as governor of Arkansas. One issue that clearly defines him from most politicians is his view of AIDS and HIV virus carriers. He regards the HIV virus as not only an epidemic, but a plague, the first of which he believes that has not been treated as such and forced the isolation of its carriers, and the government should take steps to segregate the HIV/AIDS carriers from the general population. Altogether, Huckabee firmly represents the idea of a fundamentalist conservative politician and Christian disciple. Both ideas he has proven to sponsor as a politician and promises to uphold as president.

Polling as third most-popular among the states, Texas Representative and practicing obstetrician Ron Paul [PRIMARY RESULTS]. He is affiliated with the U.S. Libertarian and Constitutionalist parties, but he decided to officially run as a Republican. Rather, an old-school Republican. His ideals are that of the original Republican: “balanced budgets and limited government” he believes are what the modern Republicans have either dropped or reversed since what he calls “the old days.” Paul may come across as the old man set in his old-fashioned ways, but he has astounding support online and within the young-voter bracket that recently resurged in the political scene. Social networking sites are a hotbed for his youth support; about 84,500 Facebook users have designated support for Ron Paul. On YouTube, he claims more video hits and subsciptions than any other presidential candidate; he is even among the top 40 most-subscribed channels of all time. Paul’s “Revolution” campaign label speaks to the inherently liberal and radical ideas of the nation’s youth, but what exactly is he revolutionizing? His idea of a president is one that returns the U.S. to the isolation-prosperous nation of past wars that emphasizes withdrawal from foreign obligations like NATO (an international defense union) and the U.N. (the international council for law and security that includes nearly every nation). His libertarian ideals show through in domestic issues, supporting state-basis of decisions like gay rights, abortion, and drug control. Paul’s political agenda is a long-shot in terms of pleasing as many voters as possible, and he has “no intention,” but not absolutely denying, running as an independent if he fails to win the Republican nomination. With only 21 delegates so far in the race, he has less than 2% of the delegates needed to win. Sorry, revolutionaries.

The Democratic campaigns will noticeably intensify in the coming months as only 10 states, Guam, and Puerto Rico’s delegates are left for the taking. Both Florida and Michigan have been stripped of their Democratic delegates for holding their primaries too early, but DNC chairman Howard Dean has allowed Michigan and Florida to appeal and regain its delegates. Now, with McCain free to campaign at will with the golden nomination ticket, he has full authority to snipe at the Democratic contenders and potentially manipulate support of the candidates. As a strategy to prolong the Democratic nomination, thus weakening their campaigns, the popular conservative radio show host Rush Limbaugh urged voters to boost Clinton’s position in the polls. The campaigning ahead will be rife with such strategies to split the Democratic Party, but rumors and several hints from the candidates themselves suggest a possible Clinton-Obama partnership for the final showdown in November. Don’t forget to vote.

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