Democrats should be a little more thankful for McCain

If the Alaska caucuses on Super Tuesday were any indication, America seems to be experiencing a revival of interest in the political process. Turnout in Anchorage was so strong on Feb. 5 that many seeking to participate in the caucuses were turned away.

The apparent upswing in political interest is likely due to the fact that this race features what could be the widest array of choices ever seen in an American election. It’s old news that the 2008 election is featuring the first ever African-American and female presidential hopefuls, but even leaving aside race and gender, there are plenty of differing policy issues to choose from – some of them fairly radical.

Given the rallying call of “change” that all the candidates embraced this cycle, rather progressive political positions have developed. If you’re actually interested in policy and not just media hype, Wikipedia has excellent sections on each candidate, briefly highlighting their positions.

Something that’s of fairly high importance to me is universal health care. Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton have both promised significant health care reform, but Clinton’s backpedaling from her very progressive call for universal health care as first lady has me questioning her susceptibility to special-interest groups.

Still, Clinton is finding no lack of support, and even following Super Tuesday there is no clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination, especially considering John Edwards’ withdrawal. While not an official endorsement for either candidate, I suspect Edwards’ stepping down was actually a realization that he didn’t want to be a vote siphon in this very important election.

On the Republican side, Rudy Giuliani stepped down and endorsed John McCain’s candidacy. Despite McCain’s poor performance in Alaska (coming in behind Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and even Ron Paul), he is emerging as the Republican candidate of choice. Until Tuesday I would have said that McCain’s only real competition was Romney, but given Huckabee’s surprising performance and an unexpectedly poor showing that led Romney to withdraw his candidacy entirely, at this point it’s McCain with a commanding lead. A miracle is always possible with Huckabee, though. Remember, when you’ve got Chuck Norris on the campaign trail with you, anything can happen.

McCain’s lead should be a good sign for Democrats. Recent comments concerning his support of the Iraq war place McCain in a difficult position. McCain has also spoken out against universal health care and protection of net neutrality. He’s also in the minority of Republicans against drilling in ANWR, which could have been the cause for his poor showing here in Alaska. I honestly feel that the Republican Party would stand a much better chance with Huckabee.

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Curious to see how the matchups might go, I decided to compare the leading candidates to see who I thought would emerge as the winner of the presidential race, depending on who ended up running against whom.

Clinton vs. McCain

The winner of this contest would likely be Clinton. Clinton’s comparable youth and softer side works for her in this scenario against McCain’s rough edges. McCain’s support for the war and backing among the Republican “old guard” equates to the public as business as usual. I can’t see a majority of the American public voting for the status quo, at least not this year.

Obama vs. Huckabee

This race would be incredibly difficult to call. I have to say that I wouldn’t see the racial issue as being more significant with any other pairing than it is here. I think that Huckabee is just clean-cut and charismatic enough that he could head Obama off. A little bit of progressiveness and a dash of Southern charm would go a long way to combating Obama’s popularity. I can’t call this one, but I can place Huckabee as the polling favorite with a huge outsider edge to Obama.

Clinton vs. Huckabee

Also tough, but not as hard to call. Huckabee gets my edge here, barely. The complication for this matchup is that the gender card is in play. Like it or not, if people identify with McCain as an elder, they will definitely identify with Huckabee as “themselves.” That scenario places Clinton in the role of the “other,” as opposed to the popular outsider. This pairing could see voters again feeling threatened by Clinton. This is somewhere she definitely wouldn’t want to be; her entire campaign has been run on her commonality with voters.

Obama vs. McCain

Last but not least, this pairing gets my nod as the most likely to actually appear at the polls. Hands down, Obama would win. I don’t think McCain could keep up in debate with Obama in popular perception, if not on facts. McCain’s rhetoric reminds me of an acquaintance’s father whom I might zone out while listening to. Doubtless what he’s saying is well-founded, logical and filled with the wisdom of age, but there’s a generational disconnect. McCain is so boring that when he tried to break that mold in 2004, just saying “yee-haw” destroyed his chances at candidacy. Obama has done well in speaking and in the media, and he has youth, exuberance and the promise of great change.

Oh, and thanks for caucusing, Alaska – keep it up!