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Presidential Elections In America, Electing President


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By: Hari Sud
July 22, 2007
V
iews expressed here are author"s own and not of this website. Full disclaimer is at the bottom.

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The longest ever campaign to elect the President of America began a few months back. The initialization of the candidates took place only a few days back. Democrats had their first election debate on June 3rd in Iowa and the Republicans on June 6th in New Hampshire. Prior to these dates, candidates have been talking and traveling all over America for months. Elections are due in November 2008. One asks, why such a long campaign. Well, there two reasons: First, leaders in America are made thru this process. Second, like any other election elsewhere in the world, an election campaign is expensive, hence that much time is needed to raise money and spend it in the last fortnight before the election day. Last fortnight, before the voting, consists of party blitz in the media, in person contact and door to door knocks by the election workers to grab voter"s attention. The forgoing is expensive; very expensive, hence in the absence of corporate donations in a big way, money is raised thru smaller contributions. In the end each candidate of the respective party, spends close to a billion dollar (2004 figure) in order to get elected. The presidential candidates themselves get government support (Federal funding), but it is not much and comes with condition and is also restricted to the presidential candidate. Before the Federal money roles in, each candidate has to be the official nominee of the party. Prior to that within the party a multitude of candidates have their own little slugfest, which requires huge money. Again, the forgoing comes out of the little contribution which individuals and lobbyists make to friendly candidates.

There are only two official parties in US. Third party candidate can enter the race but has to use his or her own money or show capability to collect public donations. Third party candidate has never succeeded ever in last two hundred years history of America. Last well-known third party run for presidency was by John Anderson who contested against Carter and Regan. He lost miserably with only 4% of popular vote but enough to sink President Carter hopes.

Finding a right candidate for the right time with right charisma is not an easy task. Each party goes thru an internal debate as to who has the right qualifications. The card carrying party members in each of the fifty sates express their opinion as to who fits the bill. Results may vary from state to state. Some contenders may be favored in one state and the others in other states. Hence by the time all the 50 states and the District of Columbia had expressed their opinion there may be no clear winner. Some contenders drop out of shear exhaustion and lack of funds. Survivors and state winners wait for the next major event i.e. Convention of their own party (about 3 to 4 months prior to election day of November) to select their candidate. This Convention is an ultimate in heavy-handed contest and horse-trading. The state delegates vote based who won the internal party contest there. All the delegates keep voting until a winner emerges. Again the candidate with largest resources and backroom negotiations has an upper hand.

The party and the media herald the winner. A leader has just been made. From now onwards the party speaks with a unified voice i.e. the voice of the winner. He challenges the opinions of the other candidate and the ruling President, if there are grounds enough. This continues for another 3 to 4 months until the election day. Interestingly, most of the talking is done thru TV or other media outlets. Media enjoys this and very willingly offers its services on a daily basis to get each candidate"s views out. In return they have public in their palm. In addition media gets a portion of presidential paid commercials.

About a third of the two candidate"s (on three candidate if a third party candidate makes it thru the process) monies are spent until the Convention day. Remainder is spent in next few months with the bulk being spent in the last fortnight. Armies of backroom handlers manage every hour and every minute of the candidate. They even control every word they speak. Hence, a day before voting almost all monies ($1 Billion) is gone. At times the loosing candidate and his election committee ends up in a small debt.

The respective parties independently spend about $200 million each in putting forward their own agenda/manifesto and holding a Convention. They raise this money thru donations by the corporate lobbyist and party stalwarts. Party members also contribute liberally thru dinner and lunch engagements.

That is not all, as soon as the candidates announce their candidature, the pollsters, media analysts, news reporters etc., almost all using private money get busy reporting on public opinion about the candidate. Private detectives are hired to dig up dirt anywhere in the candidates past. Funny, each media outlet or pollster acts as pure, as if they never have been involved in less than perfect dealings. In addition, each cause creates its own pressure group. Each group uses the expensive media campaign to put forth its views. They pressure the candidates to swing their views in their direction. They spend hundreds of million dollars in their respective campaign.

In last 20 years, religion has started to take center stage. It began largely during President Reagan"s election campaigns. He used the church resources to be heard by southern Bible belt. Later the religious leaders in suite began to influence policy by providing deeply religious and conservative people to man presidential appointments. These religious leaders, especially the present day Evangelical movement, has the people"s ear thru weekend religious sermons, they can influence voters. That is why all 2007 candidates attend Church regularly and are seen shaking hands with the religious leaders.

There are no central election commissions to hold the elections in US. Each state is responsible for holding elections and truthfully reporting it. At times the chief of state election in a state may exercise power at their own discretion as it happened in year 2000 lections, when swing in favor of Bush against Gore was provided by a friendly election official in Florida.

President in US is not elected by a direct vote. It has been a tradition for the last 200 years. If it were a direct election then populous states would have always carried the day. Instead an electoral college consisting of proportionally represented state lower house and equally represented (i.e. two per state) Senate vote to elect the President. This Electoral College, votes as per the wishes expressed by the popular vote in each state. Today there are 538 Electoral College members; a simple majority is needed to put a candidate in the White House.

Presidential elections are also time to elect governors, also a third of senators and lower house members. But that campaign is low-key. They are elected by direct vote.

Overall a grand sum of about $4 Billion was spent on all elections in 2004. Similar amount or more will be spent in 2007-08 campaigns. As declared by the candidates themselves the leading Democratic candidates like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have collected close to $25 million each till April 2007 just to fight the primaries (the initial phase of respective party slugfest). A lot more has been collected between April & June and will be collected between now and the Convention. The same is true about Republican McCain, Romney and Giuliani.

In short the Presidential elections is a race to create a huge war chest of money to wrap up the nomination of the party first and then fight it out with the other party"s candidate. It is now the longest ever election campaign. During this period issues will be forgotten. Soon it will be a fight of the personalities. Then the war chest comes handy to build a positive image.

Hari Sud

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