A Primary Primer


The US Presidential race is off and running, with wonderfully close results. So far there’s no clear leader on either side – particularly among the Republicans – making it the most closely contested primary in 50 years.

The upcoming primaries in Michigan, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida will give a closer indication of the candidates’ fates, before the 22 primaries on 5 February (Super Tuesday) determines who will likely be the presidential nominees.

Here’s a look at the current field.

The Democrats

Barack Obama
Primary Results: Iowa 37.58% New Hampshire 36.88% National Poll Estimate 28.3%*
The former civil rights lawyer and junior Senator from Illinois is being hailed as the most exciting thing to happen in US politics EVER – or at least since JFK.

According to over-excited pundits and commentators, Obama has used his undisputed charm and energy to convey a sense of "change and hope" which appeals to the American sense of optimism. His most rhapsodical supporters talk of him as a potentially "transcendent" president, able to unite America across race and class after the bitter, partisan Bush years. He also has the endorsement of Oprah, which only increases his appeal amongst middle-class soccer moms.

His rival candidates have been trying to tackle him on his youth and lack of experience, and lack of firm policies beyond the "vision thing" (apart from opposing the Iraq war from the outset). However, the other Democratic candidates have hardly said much on policy either ¾ which they pretty much all agree on anyway (ie withdraw from Iraq ¾ eventually; fix education, health care, global warming etc). Obama’s loss in New Hampshire, after leading in the polls, has taken some of the gloss off, but he remains the main challenger to…

Hillary Clinton
Iowa 29.47% New Hampshire 39.52% National 42.9%
After a setback in Iowa, Clinton’s win in New Hampshire – defying the polls – shows she is still firmly in the running. Once considered the sure thing for the nomination, the former First Lady and New York Senator has been competing against her younger rival Obama by claiming the mantle of experience, with the backup asset of husband Bill as the prospective First Gentleman. Her critics claim this legacy makes her too polarising and that she’s too enmeshed in the Washington establishment. She’s in the lead when it comes to funding, which supports a massive campaign machine, making her still the one to beat.

John Edwards
Iowa 29.75% New Hampshire 17.13% National 14.1%
The former Vice-Presidential candidate of 2004 is still in with a chance, having strong support among traditional blue-collar Democrats and the labour unions. Edwards is especially concerned about poverty and the looming economic recession. The former trial lawyer has the most populist appeal, with fighting rhetoric of taking on the big corporations and their lobbyists in the Washington beltway. May yet end up as Vice-President under either Clinton or Obama.

Denis Kucinich
Iowa 0% New Hampshire 1.38% National 2.7%
Ohio Congressman and former mayor of Cleveland. The most ‘liberal’ candidate, he is pro-choice on abortion, supports gun control, wants to decriminalise marijuana, and is a vegan. He once claimed to have seen a UFO over Shirley MacLaine’s house. Kucinich’s best asset is his third wife Elizabeth, a hot English redhead who is 31 years his junior and has a tongue piercing. He appeals most to animal lovers and hippies who want the foxiest First Lady since Jackie Kennedy (although Michelle Obama would easily fit that bill).

Mike Gravel
Iowa 0% New Hampshire 0.14% National 0.2%
The former Senator from Alaska is another ‘anti-establishment’ liberal with absolutely no hope. Supports gay marriage, opposes the ‘military-industrialist complex’. Gravel received the ultimate political kiss of death when he was endorsed by Ralph Nader, who lost the election for Al Gore in 2000.

Bill Richardson (Withdrawn)
Iowa 2.11% New Hampshire 4.66% National 1.8%
Governor of New Mexico, former ambassador to the UN. Supports human rights, has attempted to negotiate the release of political prisoners around the world, and promotes dialogue with North Korea ¾ for which he has been nominated four times for the Nobel Peace Prize. Would have been the first Hispanic President ¾ if he had any chance. Which he didn’t.

Joe Biden (withdrawn)
Iowa 0.93% New Hampshire 0.22% National 2.9%
As head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Delaware Senator has possibly the best foreign policy credentials of any candidate, which made it too sensible for him to continue. Wants US troops out of Iraq and sent to Darfur instead.

Christopher Dodd (withdrawn)
Iowa 0.02% New Hampshire 0.07% National 0.4%
The liberal Connecticut Senator supported the Sandinistas, and wants to improve relations with Cuba and Venezuela. No wonder the commie-lover got no support.

The Republicans

Mitt Romney
Iowa 25.23% New Hampshire 32.24% National 14.7%
The most cashed-up of the Republican candidates, Romney’s defeats in Iowa and New Hampshire show that money can’t buy you love. Former Governor of Massachusetts, his slick, corporate campaign machine has failed to overcome doubts among many Republicans about his policy reversals on issues ranging from abortion to immigration, not to mention his Mormon faith – which is a huge obstacle for conservative evangelical Christians. Prospects are now poor, unless he can recover some ground by Super Tuesday.

Mike Huckabee
Iowa 34.41% New Hampshire 11.46% National 25.9%
Governor of Arkansas and a Baptist preacher, his surprise win in Iowa placed him in the first tier of competition. Proposes abolishing the IRS and income tax, replacing it with a wholesale consumption tax. Doesn’t believe in evolution. Plays bass guitar in his band, Capitol Offense (the name is the only slightly cool thing about it). Has the backing of fundamentalist evangelicals, and TV/martial arts star Chuck Norris. Other candidates and commentators point to his seeming lack of comprehension of foreign affairs, which does nothing to stop the impression of him being a backwoods hick. Which he is.

John McCain
Iowa 13.11% New Hampshire 37.89% National 18.5%
Winning the New Hampshire primary has given the veteran ‘maverick’ Arizona Senator his best, last shot at the presidency. The former Vietnam War Navy pilot and POW is generally well respected, especially for his past record on campaign finance reform, and opposing the Bush Administration’s use of torture. Republican opponents consider him too liberal, being ‘soft’ on illegal immigration especially. His support for continuing the Iraq war may cruel his final chances among the wider electorate if he makes it through to November.

Rudy Guliani
Iowa 3.45% New Hampshire 8.74% National 18.5%
‘America’s Mayor’ has been running dead so far, waiting for the Florida primary and Super Tuesday to get the momentum. His ‘colourful’ background of multiple marriages, affairs, gay friends, and pro-choice and gun control positions effectively dooms his chances among socially conservative Republicans. His 9/11 leadership aura has also diminished considerably. There is very disturbing footage of Rudy dressing up in drag, being molested by Donald Trump.

Fred Thompson
Iowa 13.4% New Hampshire 1.23% National 10.5%
Star of Law and Order and a former Tennessee Senator, being a TV celebrity has somehow not instilled in him any charisma whatsoever. He is possibly the most boring of all the candidates. And that’s saying something.

Ron Paul
Iowa 9.96% New Hampshire 7.82% National 3.8%
Gynaecologist and Congressman from Texas, a self-described ‘libertarian’ who wants smaller government and believes the Republican Party has betrayed its original principles. He is isolationist on foreign policy, wanting to withdraw from Iraq and other overseas entanglements. Is accused of sympathising with the White supremacist ‘militia movement’ and other far-Right whacko conspiracy theorists. The Republican establishment consider him an embarrassment and Fox News has effectively shut him out of their coverage.

Duncan Hunter
Iowa 0.44% New Hampshire 0.52% National 1.3%
The California Congressman has tried to escape his dismal polling by coming out strongly against illegal immigration, one of the hot-button issues for Republicans, and against free trade. Also opposes abortion, gay marriage and the United Nations, but his ‘true conservative’ claim has been overtaken by the quirky Huckabee.

Alan Keyes
Iowa 0% New Hampshire 0.09% National n/a
The other African-American in the race (although only bothering to run in 18 states), Keyes has previously run in similarly spectacularly unsuccessful presidential campaigns. A former diplomat, Keyes has consistently pushed ultra-conservative ‘family values’, opposing abortion and homosexuality, to the extent of throwing his own lesbian daughter out of home. Even Dick Cheney wasn’t that harsh on his lesbian daughter! Had an appearance in the movie Borat.

* Poll results from http://www.pollster.com, primary results from http://www.cnn.com

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.