It has been a fascinating crisscross for me and for America’s politics in the last days and weeks. Nothing is certain yet! Keep holding your breath. The dash to the finishing line has been breathtaking. The polls give Senator Barack Obama the lead, but they also show Senator John McCain is pacing up especially in crucial swing states as the as the days wear thin. But did you know that there are two other presidential candidates in this race? You probably have heard of Ralph Nader who polls put at 3%; but how about Bob Barr a former Republican congressman? Anyway that’s the beauty of democracy – you can contest even when you know you are wasting your time and money but making your issue felt. Bob is standing on the libertarian ticket. He wants “sufficient popular votes” to make his stage to be taken to by the main parties and he calls that Public Policy Advocacy.
Isn’t that sweet! Anyway … I have just arrived in the west coast from the east. Phoenix, the state capital of Arizona is a fascinating place – both politically and socially. Relatively more modern than many of the cities I visited in the east, it is a vast array of territory. And from what I have observed in my first hours here it has a population not commensurate to its size. The streets look relatively empty but buoyant. The mood ahead of today’s polls was subdued and exciting depending on where you were and who you talked to.
Politically, this state which was never a swing – considered safe for McCain – is not so safe anymore with politically battle-tested Democrats reinforcing the troops on the ground. And with still hundreds of millions of dollars still available for spending, my eyes and ears are tiring of the incessant pumping of Obama ads. That can only mean hope that the state may turn blue. A tall order but pundits believe possible even if remotely. Had Obama not apparently given up on the state much earlier in the race, many here believe, it would have been showing blue. McCain losing his home state? This desert state would produce an unimaginable amount of water – tears. (Courtesy an American friend of mine)
I have just returned from deliberate visits to a couple of night clubs here in Phoenix. The one was peopled by mostly African Americans and Hispanics who were bogeying and are in an apparent party mood even before most cast their vote. Their confidence level is amazing. The Dee jay is even canting “Obama! Obama!”
The other club with mostly “white” Americans sounded more than they looked confident of their candidate Senator John McCain winning. A bit subdued.
That was the mood I noticed as I flew into Phoenix this afternoon. On the US Airways flight I saw the heaviest concentration of McCain badges and flyers in all five states I have visited on this trip. At the Phoenix airport, where I spent two hours waiting for a colleague, I saw lots of McCain badges as well. No surprises. The senator has represented this state for decades and has earned himself the title “The Maverick.”
But the senator is not taking anything lying down. A Yahoo! poll says his camp is low on morale and that that will affect their turnout on voting day. His rival’s camp is said to be excited and buoyed and it will encourage them to turn out in their Chinese numbers to vote. Reason: all the opinion polls give the Illinois Senator Obama a comfortable lead. Even if by a narrow margin in some of them, he is ahead in the so-called battleground states. That is those states that have the proclivity to vote either way such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, among others. McCain has been out and about challenging the youth in Obama in frenetic campaigning all over the place. This afternoon, I saw a supporter in New Hampshire refer to him as “Mr President” amid cheers from other supporters.
And here is another strategy and it probably explains why I am seeing what I am seeing right now on my TV screen. It is 2:30 AM local time and the conservative Fox News is carrying non-stop hard hitting interviews and hole-digging commentaries against Obama. Apparently, there was a statement he said in January this year about a possible bankruptcy for coal miners. That audio has only come out now and Fox are making the best, some may say the worst, of it.
They are stressing on the fact that should that happen, it will affect blue colour workers in some of the swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. And they are naming these states repeatedly as if as if to tell them “don’t vote for Obama!” They are also harping on his statement about “spreading the wealth” which some Republicans say is “socialistic”.
This is a far cry from liberal MSNBC that is saying and screening everything and anything that extols the virtues of Obama and what he stands for; and lampooning McCain and his policies. Most Americans are sleeping at the moment. But I bet my life that they will wake up to it on the eve of the elections. How that will pan out? You bet it will impact them somewhat save that most people at this time are more likely to watch TV stations that show what they want to see. But they also watch the middle-of-the-road stations that may show some of the same. But in these elections that will touch the life of everyone everywhere in the world, from the Ayatollah to the Pope, America is showing it is the world leader. About 130 million Americans will cast their ballots with several million already having done so in early or absentee polls.
I have seen people attacking their political opponents but it has been done with civility and decency and based on policies. Even where some of them have been disingenuous, the trigger has been over an issue. Here issues have been the issue for most of the time.
Of course race has been too. And for Africans back home, they have seen it only from their point of view that white Americans will vote against the black Obama despite their public show in support of him. It is known here as “The Bradley Effect”. It is so-called because of an African American Tom Bradley who lost the 1982 race to become Governor of California despite being ahead in voter polls going into the elections.
But I have a different take on the race issue. It is fair to say that the vast majority of Obama’s supporters are white. All African Americans I have spoken with in all the states that I have visited are supporting Obama. And some have simply failed to give me any reason other than the fact that he is black. Many African Americans are as excited as they are frightened. Their confidence is high that Obama will win. But there is that nagging trepidation in some of them that their hopes may be dashed. In both 2000 and 2004, the Democratic Al Gore and John Kerry were ahead in the polls almost at the same time as now. Early days yet! Early and anxious moments yet!
That notwithstanding, there are Obama flyers inviting people to one victory party to another.
I’ll go back to this point again and say that I have been fascinated by the display of America’s democracy. I have been mesmerised by the tenacity but also the temerity. In cold weather people have thronged stadiums to listen to and support their candidate. It is amazing! Volunteer groups have been carrying flyers and sticking them on cars parked outside night clubs and other public places. On Sunday alone the two candidates visited thirteen states with senator McCain doing so at midnight in one city. And there were huge crowds waiting that late. Breathlessly amazing!
Despite the huge crowds that been streaming on streets, there have not been incidents of stoning or people running amok with the police. No tear gas canisters have been thrown at people let along shots fired. In fact I have hardly seen the police doing anything other than what they normally do.
Oh…I have to go. Duty calls. Talk to you later. Did I hear you ask who I think will win? No idea. Remember those undecided voters? They may decide the outcome of the race. See ya!