Finally, it’s here. Super Tuesday is almost over on the East Coast of the USA, and some results have already come in. Republican Mike Huckabee has won West Virginia’s 18 electoral delegates, beating his closest rival in that State, Mitt Romney.
It’s an early victory, and a small one. The gargantuan States of New York and California are very much in play for both parties, and the ballots on the West Coast are open for another six hours.
Polls show McCain winning on the national level, and he is widely expected to take a convincing majority of delegates today, which could pave the way for Romney’s withdrawal from the race. That would effectively decide the Republican contest, allowing them to turn their ammunition against the Democratic contenders.
The Democrats race is wide open. In recent days, Barack Obama has come galloping after Hillary Clinton, to effectively close the gap. And because many States do not use a winner-takes-all system, a candidate can still walk away from a loss with a generous swag of delegates. That’s led to speculation that today may not be decisive for the Democrats, regardless of wins the greatest number of States. If Clinton and Obama win a similar number of votes, the Democrats competition will only intensify.
Here in New York, that competition has grown increasingly fierce. Both candidates have strong support here. Community leaders, such as the prominent Harlem preacher, Rev. Calvin Butts and New York Congressman Charles Rangell, have endorsed Hillary Clinton. That support could sway lots of their supporters, and prove crucial for Clinton.
But walking through Manhattan, Obama flyers flutter on telegraph polls and street signs, and his campaign volunteers are out in force.
Many have joined the campaign in the last weeks. Elliott Wimmer is a psychology student at Columbia University. As he handed out Obama voting cards a few metres away from a polling station, he explained that it was only in the last week that he saw how much New York’s vote would matter.
"That got me fired up," he said. "Obama got me fired up. I believe he could win."
Wimmer said he had become interested in politics again for the first time in years. "After the 2000 election I thought everything was broken in America. And after seven years of Bush, it is broken." Obama’s message of change inspired him. "He’s brought hope back for me," he said.
Ann Masters, a retired New York City employee, was also excited, but not for Obama. "I think Clinton will be the best president. I think she can beat McCain. And I’ve waited 40 years to vote for a female president," she said, as she rushed into the voting station.
Jennie Talley also supported Clinton. "I think, on message, Clinton and Obama are very similar. But I would love to see a woman president," she said. "I think the US is overdue."
Donald Williams and Roger Jackson were equally concerned about the symbolism of their votes. They both felt, though, that Obama sent a message of new diplomacy and inclusiveness to the rest of the world.
Jackson believed that Obama would deal better with the Arab and Middle Eastern nations, with whom President Bush had, in his view, caused so much conflict. "Other nations relate better to a man than to a woman," he said. "Especially Islamic nations."
Williams jumped in to disagree. "Even Islamic countries have had women leaders," he said. "What it comes down to is that things are changing and the US has been a little slow. So having a woman and an African American has created a more inclusive democratic process. And because of that, whichever wins, it will improve our relations with the world because it will put aside this white male dominance that has ruled this country."
We asked Elliott Wimmer, the Columbia student and Obama campaigner, whether people’s votes were being directed along race and gender lines.
"It’s not always what you’d expect," he said. "One old white lady really touched me. She was about 80, and she’d been in the rallies in the south [in the 1960s]and in jail in Alabama, and she said she was really happy to have an African American man she could vote for."
Just as the polls show, today’s vote could go in any direction. It could be a long night until we know what the results are, and even longer until their significance becomes clear.
Stay tuned for an update once California’s results are in.
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