Washington, D.C. By Gene Rossides
The Democratic and Republican presidential nomination campaigns are in full swing. The first debate among Democratic candidates took place on April 26, 2007 at South Carolina State University, in Orangeburg, S.C. The first Republican candidates debate took place a week later on May 3, 2007 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA.
These debates were the earliest presidential election debates in modern times. The Democrats fielded 8 candidates: Governor Bill Ricardson of New Mexico, Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, John Edwards, former senator from North Carolina and the Democratic Partyʼs Vice Presidential nominee in 2004, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Senator Obama of Illinois, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Representative Dennis J. Kucinich of the 10th district of Ohio and Mike Gravel, former senator from Alaska.
The Republicans fielded 10 candidates and three others are considering adding their names. The ten who participated in the debate on May 3, 2007 are: Representative Duncan Hunter of the 52nd Congressional District of California and Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee, former Governors Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, James S. Gilmore III of Virginia and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, Representatives Ron Paul of the 14th district of Texas and Tom Tancredo of the 6th district of Colorado, former Wisconsin Governor Tommy G. Thomson, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Senator John McCain of Arizona. Three unannounced potential candidates are Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee and Newt Gingrich, former House speaker.
The presidential candidate for the Democratic Party will emerge from six of these eight candidates—Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Edwards, Obama and Richardson. It is generally accepted that Representative Kucinich of Ohio and former Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska have no chance whatsoever for the Democratic Party nomination.
The front runners on the Democratic side are, of course, Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama, with John Edwards third. Senator Clinton is in the lead at this time. She has a strong experienced campaign staff and has built a nationwide grass roots organization based on her seven plus years as Senator and eight years as First Lady. She also has the strong support of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who continues to be a political force.
Senator Barack Obama of Illinois is the rising star in the Democratic Party. He has captured the imagination of many by his demeanor, his words and the desire of those who want a new face and voice.
During the debate Senators Clinton and Obama were cordial to each other and refrained from attacking each other which left it to their rivals to go after them.
Biden, Dodd, Edwards and Richardson are all viable candidates. The debate moderator, NBCʼs Brian Williams asked Biden if “he saw anybody on stage,” excluding himself, “who could lead the party to victory next year.” Biden responded by saying “I see a bunch of winners” and gave a special comment for Senator Clinton.
David Broder of the Washington Post, a leading political analyst, stated in his report on the debate “that the Democrats have a field of contenders that, by any historical measure, matches in quality any the party has offered in decades.
At least six of the eight declared candidates—Biden, Clinton, Sens. Barack Obama (Ill) and Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.), former senator John Edwards (N.C.) and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson—showed themselves to be both substantive and direct in their responses.”
Broder continued by stating that “for all the pre-primary attention focused on” Clinton, Obama and Edwards, “it was by no means clear at the end of 90 minutes that they are any more effective advocates of the Democratic cause than Dodd, Richardson or Biden. The field seems both talented and evenly balanced.”
The declared Republican candidates, except Rep. Ron Paul, defended President Bush troop buildup in Iraq and the need to win, although Senator McCain and others “were critical of the presidentʼs management of the war.” Also McCain stated he would have been much tougher on spending than Bush.
On domestic matters the candidates were divided on social issues regarding abortion, stem cell research and immigration. All the candidates except Giuliani were pro-life. Giuliani said, “In my case, I hate abortion. I would encourage someone to not take that option. But ultimately since it is an issue of conscience I would respect a womenʼs right to make a difficult choice.”
Sen. McCain and Giuliani disagreed with the other eight candidates by their support for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.
There were differences also regarding the issue of immigration. Most of the candidates stressed enforcement of current laws first without it tied to citizenship. McCain pushed for a solution combining law enforcement and a roadmap for illegal immigrants to obtain citizenship.
The Washington Post reporters Don Balz and Michael D. Shear wrote: “The debate produced no clear winners or losers. The three candidates who top most national polls—Giuliani, McCain and Romney—made forceful presentations, but those struggling for attention also generally acquitted themselves well.”
The Republicans held a second debate 12 days later on May 15, 2007 in Columbia, South Carolina. The site reflects the importance of South Carolina in the nominating process. It is the third state after Iowa and New Hampshire that will hold a presidential nomination election.
The three leading Republican candidates fought hard to show their conservative credentials. The positions of the candidates were similar to the first debate but there was more animated give and take as the trailing candidates tried to attack the conservative credentials of the top three, Giuliani, McCain and Romney.
Greek American community
To be an effective voice as a community in our own country, Greek Americans must be more involved in the U.S. political process. I urge readers to pick a candidate and get involved in his or her campaign. Send a contribution. Call and volunteer for campaign activities. It is important to do and you will find it interesting. Use the internet to contact a candidateʼs office and find out how you can help.
It is particularly important to tell the candidates about issues of concern to the Greek American community and to seek their support. The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) has sent to each of the Presidential nomination candidates the 2007 Greek American Policy Statements. Gov. Bill Richardson has indicated that he condemns Turkeyʼs illegal occupation of Cyprus thanks to efforts of AHI member Strat Cavros.
AHI will be sending its Questionnaire for 2008 Presidential Candidates to all the candidates this week.
There are seventeen months to election day in 2008. I will be commenting from time to time on the presidential campaign and the position of the candidates on our issues.
Gene Rossides is President of the American Hellenic Institute and former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury.