Five Minute Guide to the Presidential Primaries

This is my attempt to explain the current presidential race to a politically ignorant friend.

In the last fifty years or so, the major parties have chosen their candidates through primaries. That is, the members of the parties in each state vote from a slate of candidates, and the state’s delegates go to the winner – it’s like the electoral college. Unlike national Election Day, primary elections are spread out over three or four months. Once in a while, we have to go the distance to get the winner (Ford v. Reagan in 1976, for instance), but usually matters are settled in the first month, after which voters from the later states jump on the leader’s bandwagon. For this reason, the states that traditionally hold the first primaries (Iowa, then New Hampshire, then South Carolina) get a lot more attention than bigger ones like California.

The voting begins in January.

DEMOCRATS – As far as I can tell, they agree on all issues but diverge on how passionate they are about each one. I think this race is going to come down to personal differences, not policy.

1. Hillary Clinton – The current front-runner because she’s receiving support from people who want her husband to be president again. Senator of New York and former First Lady. Running as a centrist. Voted for the Iraq War before turning against it. Currently the national front-runner but trailing in Iowa. She was considered the inevitable Democratic candidate, but lately she has slipped.

2. Barack Obama – Great personality, light record. More liberal than HRC. Running as a uniter, not a divider. Senator of Illinois. Young people are very excited about this man, and so are others like Oprah Winfrey. Trailing Hillary nationally but leading in Iowa. Always opposed the Iraq War.

3. John Edwards – John Kerry’s former partner on the ticket is running as a populist. He says there are “Two Americas,” one for the rich and one for the poor, and he wants to bring them closer to each other. He’s basically only campaigning in Iowa, so if he doesn’t win there, he’s out. Voted for the Iraq War before turning against it.

Those are the people with a viable shot. Then there are…
-Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, respected Senators who haven’t excited many people
-Bill Richardson, respected governor of New Mexico and former ambassador to the UN who would like to be Clinton’s running mate
-Dennis Kucinich, hero of the peace-and-love crowd
-Mike Gravel: this advertisement is his biggest contribution to the campaign so far, but to be fair, it’s pretty awesome.

REPUBLICANS – They have some nerve to be running anybody for President next year, but I suppose they have to do it, and they could still win this.

1. Rudy Giuliani – Leading nationally, trailing in the early states. His plan is to sweep the big, centrist states like New York and California. Former mayor of New York who is often credited with saving the city. Smashed the NY mafia. Not drawing the social conservative vote because he is personally pro-choice.

1. Mitt Romney – Leading in the early states, trailing nationally. Founder of Bain Capital, credited with saving the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, and former governor of Massachusetts. Appealing to the conservative vote, but some people doubt his sincerity because he ran to the center, not the right, in MA. Also, he’s a Mormon, and some people think this is a problem, but it’s not certain how many.

3. Mike Huckabee – Sweeping up the social conservative vote right now because he’s a conservative Christian and also a friendly and compelling speaker. Former governor of Arkansas. Financial conservatives (ie pro-free market) are terrified of him, however, because he’s a populist. I think of him as George Bush, Part 2.

4. John McCain – Senator of Arizona who finished 2nd to George Bush in the 2000 presidential primary. He is respected by both parties but doesn’t appeal to conservatives due to his “maverick” reputation. He is also 72 years old. He is now the authoritative voice on the Iraq War, having done a much better job of defending and critiquing it than the sitting President.

4. Fred Thompson – Former senator of Tennessee and actor on “Law and Order.” Once upon a time, conservatives were very excited about his candidacy because he shares their beliefs on all subjects. However, people have doubted his energy (his campaign is more low-key than the rest) and his qualifications (he hasn’t accomplished as much as his peers.)

6. Ron Paul – Representative of Texas. Pure Libertarian. He is appealing to people who want to abolish the federal government and think the Republicans have abandoned their small-government principles. He is also appealing to anti-war liberals because he wants the US to be non-interventionist, ie not have troops in other countries. These two groups are extremely devoted and are raising him lots of money though he is still trailing in polls, and pundits do not take him seriously. He also wants to return our monetary system to the gold standard. I must admit his campaign has been fun, though, and it’s good to have libertarians around.

The other Republicans technically running are Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo, who are campaigning against illegal immigration, but they just don’t have any support. Alan Keyes is running, naturally. Campaigning for public office is his hobby.

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