Evaluating the 2008 presidential primaries

By Mike Habegger, Co-Editor in Chief

“Super Tuesday” has come and gone. Before that, John Edwards, the former Senator and Vice Presidential nominee from North Carolina, dropped out of the race after another disappointing showing in the Florida primary (the Democratic Party stripped the state of its delegates at the convention).

Rudy Giuliani, formerly the front-runner for the Republican nomination, dropped out and decided to back Senator John McCain of Arizona; this development was the culmination of one of the worst campaign strategies in the history of presidential political history. And the recent surrender by Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, after the “Super Tuesday” primaries marked the end of three legitimate and major candidacies.

So what do we, as young Americans, have left?

On the Republican side, even with the somewhat surprising victories for Mike Huckabee–the former governor of Arkansas–on February 5, John McCain is in the driver’s seat for the nomination. A few months ago, it looked like McCain’s campaign was dead, as he had to fire about half of his staff for wont of money. The fact that McCain is now the leader, coming up from nothing (recall though that he was the leader all along in 2000 until Karl Rove and Karen Hughes kicked in), and that Giuliani, the former anointed one, is out, is indicative of the overall weakness and dividedness of the Republican party heading into the general election.

Huckabee continues to be a viable candidate in the south, winning several states since “Super Tuesday.” It is probable, however, that he will drop out of the race after the “beltway” primaries, where he has struggled to find support equaling McCain. Many Republican strategists have said that the longer Huckabee stays in, the more likely defeat becomes in November.

By the time this issue hits campus, Marylanders will have already cast ballots for their preferred candidates. Based on recent trends within the local electorate, Barack Obama has probably easily won on the Democratic ticket, picking up 50 or so of the state’s 70 available delegates. At this point, it looks like Obama has an edge. He’s not ahead in delegates, but he’s pulling way out in front in terms of fundraising, as he may bring in another $30 million USD this month. Throughout the entire Democratic primary campaign, it is Obama who has been the mover. Undecideds flock towards him. Increased turnout flocks towards him. He’s the inspiring one this time around.

While progressives may not agree with all of his policies and approaches, Obama has demonstrated that he can mobilize people. He makes people want to get out and vote, go out and fundraise, go out and be politically astute. This is probably a good thing—both for Democrats, and for America.

As much as it has been played up in the media and by the candidates, the 2008 primaries have really been a “change versus experience” narrative. McCain’s victories on the Republican side are not surprising, because he has the experience, and he also has the aura of a change candidate.

On the Democratic side, Clinton and Obama’s deadlock in terms of delegates is reflective of the internal struggle most Democratic voters are feeling. Obama signifies change, but, in reality, is lacking much of the substance to take a campaign to the White House. On the other hand, Clinton is perceived as a divisive character who stands arm and arm with Democratic party bosses (which, incidentally, she does…but so does Obama), lacking the ability to reach out to ordinary Americans who are disenchanted with the American political system. But she has the clearest, most feasible policy proposals—many of which were stolen out of the John Edwards playbook—and I believe she is doing a wonderful job representing the interests of the Democratic Party.

Young Americans, especially moderately educated college students, need to participate in this election. But we need to do more than simply go to the polls and fill in a circle, pull a lever, or touch a screen. We must participate in the conversation, and help shape future policy. How can we do this? By contributing money, by commenting on Hillary’s policy proposals on her website, by starting a blog at my.barackobama.com, or by starting conversations with peers at lunch.

This election holds real promise for the younger generation of Americans. Tell the candidates that you do not wish to be pandered to for votes. We are the future of this great nation. This time around, let’s make sure our voices continue to be heard—beyond 2008.