Listen to this article
New Hampshire voters on Tuesday defied earlier expectations and handed Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain upset victories in the primary elections, setting the stage for bruising battles for the nominations of the two major parties.
John Fortier, political expert at the American Enterprise Institute, answers your questions on the outcome of the New Hampshire primary and how the US presidential race is shaping up for all the candidates.
What are the major differences in policy put forward by the Clinton and Obama teams?
Mark Daplyn, London
John Fortier: The primary elections of each party are very different from the general election in November. In general, we tend to see the Democratic candidates agreeing with each other on most fundamental matters, and Republicans agreeing among themselves as well. The two biggest issues on the Democratic side are the war in Iraq and healthcare. On these issues, Obama and Clinton agree on the big points. They are both opposed to the war and committed to bringing the troops home. They are also for universal healthcare.
It is on some of the specifics and the implementation that the candidate disagree. Obama has from the start argued that he was the most anti-war candidate. Both Clinton and Edwards voted for the war when they were in the Senate. Obama was not in the US Senate at the time, but opposed the war from the beginning. In general, Obama and Edwards have pulled Hillary Clinton to be more against the war as the campaign has gone on. Clinton has always tried to leave herself some leeway as to how quickly she would draw down troops, but she has moved away from her opposition to timetables and left herself less wiggle room. On the war, they are both against it, both committed to bring troops home, but Clinton has left herself some room as to how and when the troops will leave.
On healthcare, both Obama and Clinton favour universal healthcare. Clinton has attacked Obama’s plan as not comprehensive enough. Obama has made the case that Clinton failed to get healthcare passed in the 1990s when she had a chance.
How do you think the politics of race and gender intersect in an election that seems to have hinged on a number of factors including a so-called emotional moment or the so-called Bradley effect? What does New Hampshire teach us about ourselves as an electorate and our decision-making process and how this is mapped out for the rest of the country?
John Fortier: Pollsters and pundits are still trying to figure out why the New Hampshire polls on the Democratic side were so off. Most polls showed Obama with a large lead, and Clinton won by nearly 3 percentage points.
I am reluctant to attribute the problems in the polls either to Hillary Clinton’s ”emotional moment” or to the Bradley effect which says that some white voters will tell pollsters that they will vote for an African American candidate, but will not actually vote for them at the polls.
Clinton’s emotional moment may have helped her by showing her personal side, but this happened just before the vote, and many voters had already made up their minds. The late breaking voters were relatively evenly split. As for the Bradley effect, we have not seen that much in recent years. There were several contests in 2006 with prominent African Americans running statewide, and we did not see it. And we did not see it for Obama in Iowa.
What event(s) do you believe would drive Michael Bloomberg to enter the presidential race as an independent? He’s got the money. And could an independent ever win?
Julie Sibierski, New York
John Fortier: A Michael Bloomberg candidacy would remind some of Ross Perot’s. Like Perot, Bloomberg would run in the centre of politics, between the two parties, and he could self-finance his campaign.
While the two parties are polarised and there is room for a moderate, I don’t think this is Bloomberg’s year. Bloomberg has been a Democrat, a Republican, and now he is an Independent, but his chief appeal would be among pragmatic northeast Democrats. I don’t see him taking away many votes from Democrats in a year that Democrats are determined to unite to win the White House. And I don’t see him having much of an appeal at all among Republicans. If there is any movement for a third party breakaway candidate, it could come from a Republican disaffected by immigration or the social views of the Republican nominee.
In general, it is very difficult for third parties. The fund-raising, the ballot access in fifty states and the fairly stable partisan voting patterns of Americans make it a tough challenge.
What are the chances of an Obama/Clinton Democratic ticket? And could such a partnership win?
Alexandre Ferraz, Sao Paulo, Brazil
John Fortier: I think that there is little chance of an Obama Clinton ticket. If Obama is the nominee, I don’t think that Hillary Clinton would consider the vice presidency. As the expected front runner and former first lady, I don’t think she wants to play second fiddle to Obama. Nor would she want to wait eight years to run for president when she would probably be too old to consider a run.
I think a Clinton Obama ticket is also not likely. From Obama’s perspective, he might consider the vice presidency, and he is young enough to run again later. But I believe that Clinton is unlikely to select him. First, there is some bad blood between the campaigns and that is difficult to get over. More importantly, I believe that Clinton will be risk averse in her selection of a vice presidential running mate. She may conclude that it is something of a risk to have the first African American and the first woman on the ticket together. Personally, I believe that such a ticket could work and that any losses in votes for people who won’t vote for women or African Americans would be made up by a great enthusiasm by other voters, but I doubt that Clinton will take the chance.
Can you see any combination of Republican/Democrat nominees which would give the Republicans a reasonable chance of winning? Some suggest McCain/Obama due to national security.
David Robinson, Scotland
John Fortier: The general political mood of the country does not favour Republicans. If you ask voters whether they would vote for a generic Democrat versus a generic Republican, voters pick the Democrat by sizeable margins. But the race for the presidency is a personal one, and certain matchups give Republicans a shot. When asked about head to head matchups with Democrats John McCain and Rudy Giuliani tend to do the best, although the often lose narrowly to Democrats in those polls. McCain seems to be the most electable Republican partly because Giuliani is struggling in the primaries and because he is both able to appeal to independents and has conservative positions on social issues that are consistent with the Republican base.
The great danger for either McCain or Giuliani is that they might encourage a third party Republican splitoff candidate. If an anti-immigration or religious conservative were to run as an independent, this would make it even more difficult for the GOP to win in November.
Mike Huckabee is something of an uncertainty. He is a great politician. And in many ways, he does not fit the stereotype of a religious conservative candidate. He is able to speak to ”main street” concerns and carries a populist message. Many Republican insiders believe, however, that he would have a hard time getting beyond his support from evangelicals and would have a hard time in the November election.
While the Democrat race is clearly down to two, the Republican race is very open with at least four viable candidates (Romney, McCain, Giuliani and Huckabee). Who do you think will take the GOP nomination and what factors will be decisive?
R K Selzer, Seattle
John Fortier: The Republican race has had so many twists and turns that making predictions is quite risky. I agree that there are four viable candidates at this point, but the next could narrow the race to two. Both Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani are in desperate need of a win in an early primary state. Mitt Romney has finished second in two states he thought he would win a couple of months ago. He has pulled back his advertising in several states and focused his campaign on his home state of Michigan. If he does not win in Michigan, it is unlikely that he can continue to compete. And both John McCain and Mike Huckabee are competitive in Michigan.
As for Giuiliani who was for most of the year the leader in the national polls, he has focused his efforts on Florida. It is a risky strategy to give up on Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina and Nevada, all of which come before Florida. He leads narrowly in Florida in a number of polls, but those numbers may dry up as the losses pile up in earlier states.
If both Romney and Giuliani cannot pull off wins, it may be that on February 5 when many states vote that it will be a McCain-Huckabee race.
Given that we in Europe have been affected so much by Bush’s policies, I have real worries about the experience of the candidates on the world stage. What evidence is there so far that there is a candidate who will be more skilled at the art of diplomacy than they are at war-mongering?
John Fortier: On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is running as the candidate of experience, and her rivals are very inexperienced on the world stage. Some critics wonder whether experience as first lady counts. But while it is clearly not the same as being president, Clinton was involved at least indirectly in many foreign policy issues during the Clinton administration. Obama in particular argues that experience is not the most important quality that will lead to diplomacy. Obama’s whole campaign, domestic and foreign policy, is about reaching across traditional boundaries, and he has made diplomacy a chief staple of his foreign policy platform. One other note on the Democratic side, the most experienced candidates were in the second tier of candidates and have now dropped out of the race. Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, and Chris Dodd are among the most experienced politicians in America, but they could not translate that experience into popular appeal.
On the Republican side, again there is a clear frontrunner in experience, John McCain. His chief rivals are two governors and a mayor, none of whom have held elective office in Washington. McCain’s personal background as a war hero, years in Congress, work on the Armed Services Committee put him far ahead of his rivals. John McCain is at the same time quite hawkish. He was a critic of Bush on the war from the right, arguing that Bush had not put sufficient troops in Iraq to win, and he was later a supporter of Bush changing his strategy to the current surge. McCain does not in any way oppose diplomacy, but would certainly be willing to use force.
Perhaps the most interesting test of this question is if we have an Obama vs. McCain matchup in the fall. There you would have Obama, who has been a strong opponent of the Iraq war and a strong advocate for more diplomacy against a very experienced supporter of the current surge strategy in Iraq, McCain.
By supporting restrictive ID laws in some 20 states that are making it more difficult for minorities, who tend to favour the Democrats, to vote, and by calling for both federal and state restrictions on immigration that also impact many minority US citizens, are not the Republicans in great danger of being perceived as using race in order to win the upcoming election, just as the first President Bush was accused of doing 20 years ago when his campaign ran the Willie Horton ads?
Roger Algase, US
John Fortier: You are correct that 20 or so states have enacted new laws with more stringent voter identification laws. The most contentious have been a smaller group of states who require a photo identification (a drivers license or other government issued photo id). These laws have been enacted by Republican legislatures and opposed by Democrats. The photo id argument breaks down along traditional partisan lines with Republicans arguing that it is necessary to combat fraud at the polls and Democrats arguing that these laws will drive down turnout among poor and minority voters who are less likely to have the appropriate identification. So far, there has been very little social science research that proves that there is significant voter fraud that would be discouraged by photo id, nor whether such laws drive down turnout. Two days ago, the US Supreme Court heard a case on photo identification from the state of Indiana, and the Court will decide the constitutionality of the Indiana law this spring.
As for the broader question about Republicans and the black vote, the black vote has been heavily Democratic. Republican presidential candidates typically receive only 10 per cent of that vote. It is unlikely that the passage of photo id laws will affect the ability of Republicans to get more black votes. Nor have outreach efforts by certain Republicans, notably former chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman, had much positive effect in attracting black votes to the Republicans.
Does Ms Clinton have any support from the religious right in America?
Earl Wainwright, Miami
John Fortier: No, Hillary Clinton does not have support from the religious right. But America is a very religious country, and Clinton does have support from believers. Not all evangelicals are conservatives, and some will no doubt support Clinton.
A significant portion of the African American community describes themselves as evangelicals, and they are likely to support the Democratic nominee in November whether is is Clinton or Obama. In general, those who say that they attend church very regularly (daily or weekly) are more Republican. Those who attend less frequently or not at all are more Democratic. But there are still many believers who will voter for Hillary Clinton.
Is race the reason the New Hampshire polls were so wrong?
Carlos Dennis, New York
John Fortier: We don’t yet know why the polls were so wrong in New Hampshire, but I think it is unlikely that race is the reason.
In the past, we have seen instances where voters have told pollsters that they would vote for an African American, but did not vote that way. Those examples are mostly twenty years old, and we have not seen those issues come up in many recent races involving African Americans. We did not see them in Iowa.
So we’ll wait for the analysis of what went wrong in New Hampshire to come out, but I doubt race is the reason.
A lot of the votes in nominating the democratic candidate come from within the party – the so-called superdelegates. Will this be the factor to clinch the nomination for Hillary Clinton?
John Fortier: Most delegates are selected by the state primaries, but there is a block of over 20 per cent of delegates who are uncommitted. In recent years, these votes have not been significant as the Democratic nominee has ended up winning with a clear majority.
The question is whether an Obama-Clinton race drags out until the end of primary season. I do think it is likely that Obama and Clinton will be in a tough dogfight at least through the middle of February. But it is likely that eventually one of them will break out. And it would have to be razor thin close in the delegate count for the superdelegates to really play a role. If one candidate has a modest clear lead among the delegates, but not an overall majority, they will get the nomination.