US election diary: No end in sight?

Why the US Democratic primary race shows no sign of reaching a conclusion.

Both candidates are already looking ahead to the next big primary election battles [AFP] 

Hillary Clinton was back in her macho mode last week.

Previous entries

Part 1: Obama factor
Part 2: It’s personal
Part 3: Overload
Part 4: A nasty week
Part 5: A week of war
Part 6: War and lies
Part 7: On the right
Part 8: Race card
Part 9: Bear baiting?

Campaigning down to the wire in the state of Pennsylvania, she rolled out a television advertisement filled with visceral images that could only have been intended to give Americans the willies.

Stock Market Crashes! Pearl Harbor Bombed! Khrushchev and Castro grinning atop Lenin’s tomb!

Then, for just a few frames, there he was –  the bogeyman of Waziristan – marking the first time a Democratic candidate has used Osama Bin Laden to attack another Democrat.

The ad was designed to underscore Hillary’s toughness. It featured the famous quote from President Harry Truman: “If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.”

It was meant to lodge in voters’ minds the idea that Clinton is more able to make hard decisions and stand up to criticism than her younger rival, Barack Obama, who presumably cannot stand a hot kitchen, or will not stand up to Bin Laden, the communists, or Emperor Hirohito, or something. 

Bitter or obliteration?

In focus

In-depth coverage of the
US presidential election

Clinton achieved a new level of severity on primary day when she candidly volunteered that, as president, she would annihilate Iran if it attacked Israel with a nuclear weapon.

Usually, presidential candidates brush off this kind of hypothetical question, but Clinton waded right in, telling ABC News: “Whatever state of development they might be in their nuclear weapons programme, in the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.”

All US politicians with national ambitions have to declare strong support for Israel, because there are large numbers of voters, campaign fundraisers and donors in this country who support Israel for a variety of reasons.

Still, its not every day you hear a prominent politician talk about destroying a country of 65 million people.

Predictably, the US media dropped the story after a few hours – in contrast with the endless repetitive coverage given to Obama’s alleged “gaffes” and verbal slip-ups.

He called voters bitter; she called for obliteration.

Pennsylvania boost

Despite her win in Pennsylvania Clinton faces
an uphill battle [Reuters]

Some pundits have been referring to Clinton as the Terminator, after the movie robot that went on and on unstoppably despite being shot, run over and blown up. 

I prefer to call her the Annihilator.

Clinton’s 10-point victory over Obama in Pennsylvania gives her campaign a much-needed boost and allows her to plausibly stay in the race at least until the primary calendar finally grinds to a conclusion in early June.

Her biggest asset was the support of Pennsylvania’s popular governor, Ed Rendell, and she ran a smart, disciplined campaign that, in the end, appealed effectively to those core Democratic voters: White, working class, older, less-well educated voters concerned or scared about the state of the US economy.

The fact that Clinton has won in Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania is significant, but it does not alter the big picture.

Obama still has about 150 more delegates than Clinton does and also leads in the number of states won and the overall popular vote.

Different endings?

I think there are three ways this thing could end.

Obama wins big in Indiana and North Carolina on May 6, dozens of the 300 remaining uncommitted superdelegates declare for Obama, and the pressure on Clinton to drop out becomes irresistible.

Secondly, Obama wins most of the final primaries in North Carolina, Indiana, South Dakota, Montana, Guam, Puerto Rico and so forth.

Then, superdelegates, under pressure from Democratic Party chairman, Howard Dean, declare themselves publicly for their preferred candidate and Obama wins enough to put him over the top. Clinton then concedes. 

And finally, there is the possibility that Clinton wins or comes close in the next two states, and picks up enough superdelegates to come within striking distance of Obama’s delegate lead.

She stays in the race all the way to the Democratic convention in Denver in August, and wages a huge floor fight to seat the disputed Florida and Michigan delegations.

This is perhaps Clinton’s best chance of winning, but it would not be pretty.

Covering the race

Covering the Pennsylvania primary was fun. I enjoyed talking to people and political analysts in Philadelphia and elsewhere. The voters have a special sort of patriotic feeling for their home state and its institutions. And the cheese steaks and veal Siciliana were to die for.

On primary day, our superb Al Jazeera political coverage commando unit set up on the lawn in front of Independence Hall and did live shots for 13 hours.

There are many historic tourist attractions in the area and every American family with kids and every middle-school class trip seemed to have converged on the scene.

Many tourists came over totally befuddled as to what the television camera crews were doing pointing their cameras at Independence Hall.

We explained that we were doing reports about the primary and using the hall as a backdrop, but most people did not seem satisfied with that explanation.

They stood and squinted at the hall itself, as though expecting someone or something exciting to emerge from it.

Local curiosity

Media coverage hit overdrive for the
Pennsylvania primary [AFP]

After a while I got bored with explaining to the folks, so I became a little more imaginative.

When a young boy ran up and asked: “What are you guys doing here?” I just told him a giant snake was going to come out of that building soon, and he might want to stick around and watch it.

The boy excitedly ran back to his family and there was much finger-pointing and head-scratching.

Later, a lady in pink marched up and demanded to know whether a celebrity would be appearing soon.

“Yes,” I said, “Hillary Clinton has taken 15 Chinese tourists hostage inside Independence Hall and she’s going to shoot them one by one unless she get the nomination.”

The lady seemed to be quite satisfied by my answer and returned to her place in line to see the Liberty Bell.

Source : Al Jazeera

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