October 31, 2008
McCain-cum-Senator Schaffer Rally in Denver, Colorado.
Denver, Colorado. This is as ‘middle America’ as you can get, with brown, flat, wide spaces stretching on till the Rocky Mountains in the distance. Coming from Washington, DC, entering this city is a change of scenery. The city itself has about 590,000 residents. And a significant shift of political ideology as well, for me. DC is flagged blue all the way, with practically every analyst rooting for Obama in this year’s elections.
Here, the race has been closer. Colorado has not elected a Democratic Presidential candidate since 1992 (where it voted Clinton), although in the recent years its preference for the Democrats has been evident in its selection for Congress and Senate seats. As of 28th October, polls show Obama leading 50-44. The McCain campaign has hence needed to respond fiercely in the final throes of the fight.
Tonight I had the privilege of attending a local community Republican rally. I had expected it to be outdoors, like the Malaysian ceramahs, but it was in a warm hotel hall instead. About an estimated 400-500 people were present, an average age of about 45 years or older. Predominantly white, both males and females (but with one black lady running for State Senate). There were quite a few young people, although I suspect most were there because of their families. Nevertheless, those present were adamant about their beliefs.
I asked Dylan and Becka, two young Republicans, why they supported McCain although many of the young obviously were voting Obama this Elections. Their answer was that Obama was merely a showman without content, a good communicator. They believed in a limited government with greater individual freedoms for citizens to decide for themselves. They think mainstream media is too biased towards Obama and that Fox News is the only balanced news channel. I may disagree with them on some points, but I was generally impressed by their enthusiasm on political issues – they must have been about 18.
Boy scouts were called on to introduce the march pass the American flag, and the pledge of allegiance was read out followed by the national anthem.
There were several issues raised in the rally tonight that stood out. These points are obviously the same points being hammered all across the country. Although there are supposedly “50 Republican Parties in 50 States”, the national issues are standard:
- Loyalty to God: There were several references to faith and religion, and a preacher himself spoke at the podium. “God will help us to do the righteous thing”.
- National Security and Defence: A video was screened, showing military soldiers sacrificing their lives. “Let us put America back into a position of power”, “Obama wants open borders, We want closed borders”.
- Individual Freedoms: Strong emphasis was placed on American citizens’ right to individual freedoms, alluding that “this country” was the only remaining country in the world with freedoms.
They did quite a bit of mudslinging as well, saying that:
- The policies that Obama is proposing will not work in the long run, citing examples from Europe that have failed. I suppose they refer to social democratic structures resulting in large unemployment rates although these were not explicit (one may tend to differ in opinion on this as well, since I can think of several Scandinavian examples with effective results).
- Obama was not willing to place his hand on his chest during the national pledge/anthem, hence branding him an anti-nationalist. (hence the lapel pin issue that emerged in August this year)
Although this was exactly what I had expected at a McCain rally, it was still a good exposure campaign. I was, however, disappointed that there were not more reasonable arguments made. For example, the worrying points raised repeatedly were extremely telling of the continued conservative worldview of the right-wing Christian populace supporting Republicans. In my humble opinion, it becomes a dangerous thing when God is used as free license to qualify every possible proposal by Republicans. By encouraging citizens to pray for the “righteous” outcome, it sounded like voting for Obama would be the “unrighteous” thing to do. Such blatant dichotomies can only be reflective of a narrow interpretation of faith and religion. This ties automatically all McCain – or Senator Schaffer who is running in Colorado – policies to God and anything opposite is not, apparently. As a Christian myself, I find this view unpalateable.
Also, I was disappointed with the myopic inability to see that America has to initiate conversations with the rest of the world instead of promoting “closed-borders” to improve its foreign relations. The speeches tonight assumed that the US should always begin from a position of power, an elevated vantage point. This may not necessarily be in the best interests of all other countries, including Malaysia. Some opening space of rational bilateral dialogue needs to begin, which Washington Post columnist David Ignatius in his briefing with us, thinks Obama will definitely do.
Finally, the Firearms Coalition of Colorado issued a Legislative Alert. The Right to own guns is a key Republican issue. The first sentence of the above brochure says “As gun owners, we all need to turn out and volunteer to work for the election of pro-gun candidates”.
This has been my introduction into heartland politics of America. It’s raw, it’s in your face. The paraphernalia of McCain, Schaffer, Palin and all other Republicans running for State Congress or Senate reminded me of the Pakatan Rakyat rallies back home. One major difference though, is how willing local, everyday citizens are in taking up office. The elderly Suzanne Andrews who is running for State Senate held my arm and told me, “I’m just a mom, I bake bread for my children, I’m no lawyer or anything like that, but my friends asked me to run and I did.” Her brochure says she protects traditional conservative values. And she is proud of it. Welcome to the Republican World.
Tomorrow, I meet with both the Democrat and Republican Campaign Headquarters in Denver, Colorado. Should be an eye opener. Hopefully I’ll hear less emotive arguments to support McCain.
October 30, 2008
Moving away from Washington DC, I’ll be going down to the ground tomorrow onwards. I’m looking forward to seeing Denver, Colorado for the first time. This will involve meeting with those organising voter canvassing, state level campaign strategists, youth groups, the league of women voters, and hopefully go to a political rally.
Here is a profile of the Colorado state, one of the battleground states:
Mr. Bush won this state by less than 5 points in 2004 and Democrats are making a big push here this time. Look no further than Denver, where the Democrats held their national convention. It seems to be paying off: Polls show Mr. Obama taking a lead here and Republicans are growing increasingly glum about holding the state.
All polls show that Obama will likely win, but things may shift slightly over the final days. The Latin American vote will be important in this state.
Aside from the pollsters, statistical models and pure guesswork-cum-analysis, here are two fun ways to determine which US Presidential candidate will win this year’s Elections, it is said.
For 72 out of 76 years, the victory or the defeat of the Washington Redskins has predicted who would win or lose the Presidential race. If the Redskins loses or ties with its opponent, the incumbent party loses. If the Redskins wins, then the incumbent party also wins. This result corresponded with 17 out of the last 18 elections. The game is on, on Monday night, the very night before the Election Day, so all eyes will be on the lookout.
The 7-Eleven Poll, it is called, where outlets all across the country are selling large cups of coffee in either Red or Blue colours. They are trying to see how many Reds (representing the Republican McCain) or Blues (representing the Democrat Obama) they can sell over the counter, and use that as a predictive tool. I have to go out to buy my very own 7-Eleven cup (of course I would skew the poll since I am not actually an eligible voter..)
My latest article in The Nut Graph, comparing the issue of race in the US and Malaysia. Incidentally, it is estimated that 3-5% of people may fall prey to the Bradley Effect – mentioned below here.
By Tricia Yeoh
ONE question hovering over the minds of Americans as they enter the final leg of the 2008 presidential election campaign is whether race will influence voters. If it does not, then the battle between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain should be purely about their policy stands, experiences, and abilities. It should have nothing to do with the fact that one man is black and the other, white. If this is the case, the US would have successfully displayed leadership in its championing of equal civil rights.
But how realistic is this? If racism fundamentally still exists, then what is the use of the constitution (in the US or Malaysia) in legislating morality, really? This is, of course, if we consider racism a serious moral issue.
Read more here.
Mark Penn, CEO of a communications strategy company, who has been advisor to numerous politicians including Tony Blair and Hillary Clinton, drew out some demographic statistics of the voting public. Although some of these may seem too general, without specifying state-by-state differences, these are good indications of what to expect:
- In general, 50% of Americans are economy voters,
- 25% are security voters,
- 25% are values voters.
Those concerned with the economy would vote Democrat 2:1, and for those concerned with security and values would vote Republican 2:1. Ever since the economic crisis hit, this has increased the percentage of voters concerned with the economy, and every additional percentage point that “economy” is cited as a greater issue of concern over the other two, the Democrats get an advantage. Essentially, people want the candidate that they see can handle the situation at present.
Penn stipulated that this elections is so gratifying for many because it shows a rejection of the Right. The American voting population is roughly 40% conservative, 20% moderate, and 20% liberal. Obama wins 9 in 10 liberals and has successfully managed to swing the moderates to his side, getting about 6 in 9 moderates.
- Religious conservatives still vote Republican 2:1
- Obama is losing the white vote by 10-12 percentage points, which is less than Kerry. Analysts are saying that race may not necessarily be the reason those rejecting him are doing so – it may be more to do with policy stances than race (which is a positive sign)
- Obama is getting 80% of the Latin-American vote. This will be a constituency to watch out for, since it is the fastest growing electorate and in the next elections will swell even larger with many more to be registered.
Each candidate has a general base, which would be something like this:
- Obama’s base = African Americans, upper income, upper education, liberal, democrats, young voters
- McCain’s base = Whites, conservatives, traditional Republicans, national security voters, most religious.
Viewers should not rely on exit polls to determine the predicted outcome of the elections. We must see actual votes from precincts, one by one. Exit polls are not accurate indicators at all and supporters have either falsely celebrated or cried over what they thought was the final result.
The key thing to note from all this is that a Centre-Left Coalition has emerged from Obama’s campaign. The Centre is making their decisions known in this election. In a sense, McCain is not necessarily the preferred typical Republican candidate. He has been, in his own words, a maverick of the party. He has been known to stand up to Bush, and other party members. This may be a reflection of how America’s ideology is shifting from centre-right to centre-left. What I am interested in is how this will change the population’s capitalist ideology in the future, further what would make of its free market system, trade policy (FTAs).
October 29, 2008
With the economy cited as one of the main issues in the US Election ’08, political pundits are trying to project the effect of the recent stock market rebound.
Wall Street shook off more signs of global economic troubles Tuesday and headed for a rebound while investors awaited the Federal Reserve’s next move on interest rates. Dow Jones industrial average futures rose 368, or 4.59 percent, to 8,379.
The most recent polls show a slight tightening of the race between Obama and McCain. Can this be attributed to the recent McCain attacks of Obama being socialist? (a taboo word in capitalist America)
Gallup experts told us today that the worse the economy is doing, the better it is for Obama. With such an inverse relationship, does this spell a turn for the worse for the Democratic candidate? It is traditionally the case though, that a few days before polling the race tightens. Watch the Editor-in-Chief of Gallup, Dr. Frank Newport, state his case here.
One of the questions that we have been asking political analysts here in Washington DC is whether or not these two things are influencing voters in advance of the elections (notwithstanding the 18% of voters who have already cast their votes in early elections!):
2. Op-Ed pieces and Reports
This casts a new light on the issues of integrity in polling and journalism: How far should they go, without influencing the vote? To be honest, they are going to go ahead anyways, but the issue is where do you draw the line on integrity?
First, let’s talk about polling. The questions that are being asked may have a certain bias to them, perhaps? Every question asked has an expected outcome, surely. Most of the polls (check http://www.electoral-vote.com) conduct interviews with landline phones at home, not on handphones which would give you younger, more pro-Obama results. Secondly, only 9% of respondents complete the poll in full. So you are getting 91% of people not finishing the poll.
Further, as Obama is polling higher rates than McCain, will these lead people on to believing that they should “go with the winner”? Or will they instead react in slight fear and cause the vote to swing McCain’s way? (mind you, much of Southern America is still conservative to the full, and Obama is still a black man running for the highest seat in the country.)
Journalism. We had the honour of Bill Nichols speaking to us today, who runs Politico, an online news site which although started in January 2007 is one of the leading Elections sites today. (He worked in USA Today for 20 years and covered the White House and the State Department). His site was the first to run the story on how the Republican Party spent $150,000 on Palin’s clothes. When asked why he decided to run it, and not focus on say, the clothes of Obama, he replied that there was value to the story and he followed journalistic integrity through objectivity.
Others might argue, though, that this is not necessarily objective reasoning since the party was validly using the money that had been validly donated to them through valid means, for reasons they thought best and most suitable. All writing has a biased agenda, based primarily on the writers’ own political sentiments, and did this perhaps shine through in the selection of coverage?
Whatever it is, everyone can agree that the polling results and online articles are definitely having an influence on the perception of voters.
American politics is not all about hard analysis and serious discussions (although this is what I have been doing practically 24 hours a day – okay, okay, minus the sleeping hours). There is great humour in all of this, as we can certainly thank Tina Fey for. Capitol Steps is a group of ex-Congress staff members who came together in the ’90s. During a Christmas party, they were supposed to have come up with a nativity play but (quoting the guy who introduced this to us), “they couldn’t find Three Wise Men and a Virgin”.
So instead, they’ve been the primary source of entertainment for Washington DC folks (yes, all the penguin-suited people on Capitol Hill and K street in town), and they were certainly cracking me up tonight. From fabulous adaptation of songs (“Obamamia” sung to the tune of “Mamma Mia”) to George Bush’s exit speech where he slurs everything and mixes things up completely (“I’ll try to explain this mess in a way everyone can understand, including me”).
The Democrats and Republicans are not organised the same way ours are in Malaysia. We tend to think of “political parties” as strict systems, with strict party lines, constitutions, manifestos and membership. This is not the case in the United States. As many have been telling us on this program (International Visitors Observe The Elections or I-VOTE), there are 51 different Democratic and Republican parties, for each state.
This tells of the Federalism the US practices, one where even the elections are run by the State or Local Authority. There is no such thing as a National Elections Commission. As a result, each state has their own voting system, and rules can even vary within a state.
It is a misconception to think that Americans are voting their President on 4th November, next Tuesday. What they are doing is to vote either the Democratic or Republican representatives to become members of the Electoral College. The moment there is a majority of those selecting either party, that party will sweep all available seats for that particular state. Oklahoma, for example, where I am going to be on Election Day, has 7 electoral college seats. If the voters give a majority vote to the Republican, all 7 representatives will “win” their right to vote in the Electoral College. There are 538 Electoral College seats to be filled, and a candidate would need 270 to win the Presidency.
The Electoral College then meets on the 15th December 2008, where they officially vote the President of their choice. Most of the time they vote according to the candidate their party has endorsed. There have been times where delegates have voted the independent candidate. Finally, on January 8th after the votes are tallied, only then can the new President of the US of A be officially announced as head of the country.
What continues to fascinate me is that there is no one hardline stance taken by the parties, neither do they shove their party belief system down any of their supporters (nay, not even the Presidential candidates themselves). The words Democrat and Republican have become more adjectives than nouns, in that they are descriptive of the character of people. I can be “Democrat today, Republican tomorrow”. Presidential candidates hence become their own agenda setters, each choosing to champion a particular policy stand of choice.
Presidential elections are really, at the end of the day – determined by the state. It gives further truth to the meaning of “United States” of America, since really, it is about the states independently choosing their representatives, and then uniting because they happen to think they want a common leader who will take care of the Federal issues. Any other issue, leave it to the State and National governments!
511,000 people hold public office in the United States. Yes there is 1 Federal Govenrment, but also 50 States and the District of Columbia, 561 Native American Indian tribes (that have their own elections), 3033 County Governments (like our States), 14561 School Systems (voters elect their own School Boards who can shape education policy!!), 35949 Towns, Townships and Municipalities, and 17381 other special districts.
This Election is NOT just about Obama and McCain. There are Senate elections going on; other township and school board elections going on too. I will be observing all of these simultaneously! And THIS is actually the heart of American politics. The fact that it is locally-driven, bottoms-up, participatory. (Unfortunately, this is also the reason why Americans are so myopic and think little about foreign policy. Because they spend all their time keeping their representatives accountable to the voters, and what makes them care are the details of everyday living, not so much, at the end of the day, what happens in Iraq or Afghanistan).
American politics is Local, Local, Local. I have to keep reminding myself of this!
Today, Mr. Greg Schneiders who was Deputy Assistant to the President for Communications in the Carter White House – speechwriting and communication strategy – talked to us about branding and marketing of Presidential candidates. Some of the interesting things to note if you want to take over the country (hint, hint, Anwar Ibrahim.. or Najib Razak..):
“You want to allow people to be able to imagine you as President.”
This is what Obama did, and all three Presidential debates helped him. He was always at ease and cool, even when McCain was attacking him. In the first debate, McCain did not even look at him squarely in the eye. In terms of physique, McCain is old and bent (no fault of his, he is old of course and had severe injuries when a prisoner of war, so his arms can’t fold properly and neither can he do up his own tie), whilst Obama at 48 is energetic, tall and strapping, emanating new life in his very being. But all these aside, McCain could have very well rode on his own personality of stability and comfort, things that Americans actually love. Instead, he made 3 big boo-boos, according to Schneiders. These are:
- Sarah Palin: Palin, oh Palin. Instead of the capable Alaskan Governor she was known by, the campaign turned her into a bimbo who understood foreign policy from her window looking over to Russia, moose-shootin’, lass who allowed campaign money to be spent lavishly on her wardrobe. “Is she doing more harm than good” to McCain’s campaign is what everyone is asking in the final few days.
- Deciding to go back to DC to “help with the economic crisis” and almost missing the 1st Presidential Debate. Instead, Obama just acted cool about the whole thing, and used it to his advantage even. The President of the United States, he said, must be able to handle more than one thing at a time. Simultaneous task-juggling was what he could do, and millions of Americans across the country would have seen him doing so with not so much as a quiver in his voice.
- Joe the Plumber – When “Joe the Plumber” (he’s not even a plumber, really - just works in a plumbing company) was introduced in the Presidential Debate, it may have been relevant and even unique to introduce an actual person, but the Washington critics are saying he has oversimplified the economic situation. Further, he keeps on raising the issue of Joe even today. No sophistication of argument. Repeating it over the TV ads may be shooting himself in the foot.
Obama has a strong sense of self, confident and comfortable in his own skin, and everyone can see this plainly. To be a leader, it is said that you have to know yourself first, and know what you are after.
Americans have had Obama screened in their living rooms for so long that they can see this for themselves. Seven days to go, and McCain seems to be losing ground… (but you can never tell, things change quickly in the final days!)