I always get excited about a tightly contested presidential race or even a race for a presidential nomination, and after New Hampshire, it seems like it will be a while before either party's nominee is decided. Hillary Clinton, who seemed to be running out of gas after her third place finish in Iowa, is once again the front-runner, Barack Obama is still challenging with his sermon of hope, and John Edwards is still hoping to make it a three-person race. Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel will probably stay in the race until the bitter end even without any money or support.
The Republican race is even more muddled. John McCain is the darling of the media. If you're a political reporter and want to talk to someone from his campaign, just board the Straight Talk Express and talk straight to the candidate, not a spokesperson or a surrogate. And he'll literally talk to the press until they run out of questions to ask. As long as the media gets that kind of access, they'll keep giving McCain the positive press, but it's hard to say that that will be enough against Romney's money and Huckabee's God. It just might if BushCo manages to continue to keep the war off the front pages a little longer. Guiliani seems washed up, but he'll probably do a little better in those states where all the campaigning is done on TV or at airport press conferences (places where the voters don't have to get all up-close and personal with him.) Ron Paul keeps on being Ron Paul, attracting a strange blend of hardcore support due to his strange blend of positions. Fred Thompson continues to sleepwalk through a campaign for a job he doesn't really want. And Duncan Hunter is still hanging around for some reason.
But enough about those silly and/or scary Republicans. The press keeps insisting that the Democratic candidates are pretty much the same. For example, we know that they all have health care plans that are similar in scope, but the similarities are all you hear in the media. But the devil's in the details and that's what's missing from much of the media -- the details of how the candidates differ. As long as they pretend the candidates are the same it frees them from having to talk about issues and allows them to keep doing process stories. No issues, just talk about polls, momentum and campaigns in crisis. It's like a big horse race. Clinton's ahead, no Obama, no Clinton. And Edwards is laying back, looking to make his move if the leaders falter.
It's all flash and no substance, but it's all been very entertaining. We had Clinton the Inevitable. Then their was Obama and his biggest endorsement, the one from talk-show host/media mogul Oprah Winfrey. She led him around Iowa, drawing "rock star" crowds of 70,000 or more to hear the sermon of hope. The ten million or so reporters in Iowa at the time woke up and took note. Here was a dynamic they could promote: the Queen versus the Rock Star, Experience versus Change.
There were other candidates, but they weren't in the center ring where the real circus was going on. There was John Edwards. He had the name recognition to match Clinton, but he was talking crazy -- going on and on about two Americas and maybe loosening our corporate chains a bit, sounding quite a bit like Dennis Kucinich. And there was Kucinich himself, still talking about peace, love and understanding. Perhaps, the media gurus speculated, we could get a laugh out of this. Hmm, maybe something to do with UFOs. Bill Richardson, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd (Who?) rounded out the field. There's even some old crotchety Gravel guy. The media shrugged and moved back to the center ring.
Obama (and America?) scored a stunning win in Iowa and had all the momentum. The media's dynamic seemed in jeopardy what with Clinton finishing third and her campaign in disarray. The media plodded on with it though, now declaring it a two-person race, somehow ignoring the guy who actually finished second in Iowa. Biden and Dodd had had enough and crept back to Washington. All the polls showed Obama with a double-digit lead in New Hampshire, but something funny happened. Hillary showed a little emotion and managed to convince enough voters that, yes, she was actually a real person. Or maybe it had something to do with the yahoos who wanted her to iron their shirts. Or maybe there was a ghost in the (voting) machine. Whatever it was, everyone else's poll numbers reflected the actual votes that they ended up getting, except for Obama and Clinton, who was suddenly the New Comeback Kid -- a new campaign narrative for the media to get worked up about. By the way, Obama and Clinton won the exact same number of delegates in New Hampshire -- nine apiece. Bill Richardson packed up and went back home to New Mexico.
There's a little lull now before we get to some big states. The next event is the Michigan primary (on January 15) which is not sanctioned by the Democratic Party. All of the candidates have withdrawn from the event except Clinton, Kucinich and that Gravel guy. On January 19, Nevada holds a caucus and the Republicans hold their primary in South Carolina. The Democratic South Carolina primary takes place a week later on January 26. Then comes the Florida primary on January 29 with its own sanctioning problems. The Maine caucus (on Groundhog Day, February 2) is the last test before Super Duper Tuesday. Perhaps the race will be settled by then, perhaps it'll take until the convention to decide who the nominee is.
I guess my point is (and yes, I do have one) that there are still a lot of votes to be counted and anything can happen to decide the contest. Bullshit will probably be the most important issue for the electorate, but I encourage you to take that extra step: find out where the candidates stand on the issues that are important to you. Ignore all the fluff and the silly narratives and the hype. The media is going to overplay every nuance of the race in an effort to sell newspapers and advertising. Do a little research on your own. The candidates' campaign websites are a good place to start. Dennis Kucinich's website has a "pick your candidate" test to see which candidate - Republican or Democrat -- comes closest to your positions on 25 issues. Here are the official campaign websites of the Democratic contenders in purely alphabetical order...
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