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By: Hari Sud
July 22, 2007
expressed here are author"s own and not of this website. Full disclaimer
is at the bottom.
US Elections: Hard Choices for Indian
Americans Hari Sud
November 2004 Elections IN US Hari
My Phone Bill and India"s Elections
BPO Backlash in USA & UK and Elections
Year Politics Hari Sud
American Political Culture - All Politics
Is Local Michael Session
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
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
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
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
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
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
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