Today, people in 24 states all across the US will be going to the polls to select their choice for either the Republican or Democratic nominee for President of the United States. It has been a very close and interesting race so far. I have taken a particular interest in the race because this also marks the first time that I would get to participate in the American electoral process.
In my area, the polls close at 8 p.m. Unlike the Philippines, elections in the United States are not designated as non-working holidays. People still come to work. Polls usually open at 7 a.m. and depending on the state where one lives, the polls stay open until about 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. A lot of states also allow residents to mail in their votes. Unlike the Philippines where a "campaign ban" is put in place on the day of the election, candidates here are still allowed to campaign even on the day of the election itself.
On the Republican side, Senator John McCain (Arizona) and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney are vying for the Republican nomination. In an effort to gain the vote of the Republican faithful, each man claims that he is more conservative than the other.
On the Democratic side, Senator Hillary Clinton (New York) is in a tight race with Senator Barack Obama (Illinois). Each one claims that he/she is the one who can be trusted with upholding the Democratic party's ideals and socially liberal programs.
The central issues facing the candidates of both parties are the economy, health care, immigration, and the war in Iraq. Except for Mr. Obama who is advocating for an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, the other three candidates, to varying degrees, advocate a phased withdrawal.
All candidates are in agreement that the economy is currently at the risk of a recession due to the subprime mortgage mess. In a lot of areas all across the country, property values are down and because of the steady rise in interest rates, the number of people defaulting on their mortgages are also rising. The price of oil is also a concern and all candidates fear that the combination of all these factors would force the American consumer to cut spending.
Senatory Hillary Clinton espouses a universal health care program. However, her proposal has been under criticism because to ensure its implementation and success, a huge amount of federal tax money that would be required to fund it.
Unlike the other three candidates, Mr. Romney, in an effort to gain favor with the right-wing conservative base of the Republican party, has adopted a stronger stance against illegal immigration. He supports strong border enforcement and unlike the other three candidates, has taken a stand against allowing illegals to come out of the shadows and follow a prescribed process towards obtaining US citizenship.
On matters relating to national security and the Iraq war, Mr. McCain possesses the strongest credentials. A former POW who spent five years in a Vietnamese prison, Mr. McCain has been the most consistent in terms of support for the war. The troop surge, one that he had long advocated, was finally implemented in early 2007. This surge has led to a dramatic reduction in violence and death among both Iraqis and US troops.
When I filled out my voter registration, I signed up as an Independent. I felt that this would give me the freedom to choose between candidates from both parties. It would not have been the case had I checked either the "Republican" or "Democrat" box on the form. Had I done so, the people manning the polling booth will be handing me a ballot that would only contain the names of the candidates of the party I chose to affiliate with.
At this point, I have narrowed down my choice to either Mr. McCain or Mr. Obama.
What I find appealing about Mr. McCain aside from his brilliant war record is his willingness to reach across the aisle and work with members of the other party to get laws passed in Congress. He has served in the US Congress for close to 30 years; is labelled a maverick and for good reason. He is independent-minded and his track record in Congress shows that he would not hesitate to deviate from his party's stand on issues if he believes that other alternative(s) would work out better for the country. Though his independent-mindedness may not sit well with the ultra-conservative wing in his party, it does appeal to a lot of independent voters and even to a good number of Democrats.
Mr. Obama, on the other hand, does not have the breadth of congressional experience that Mr. McCain does. He is only into his third year as a US Senator. However, what he lacks in experience he more than makes up for in charisma. For a neophyte, he's done pretty well in a number of debates he's been on. Plus, his is a fresh face, one that represents CHANGE to a lot of people. Though African-American, he has so far run a campaign that focuses on issues affecting all Americans such as health care, public education, and unemployment. He has emphasized time and again that he wants to heal and unite the wounds of a divided nation; one so polarized that the terms "red states" and "blue states" have entered the lexicon.
For all her political experience and worldwide fame, I have decided not to pick Mrs. Clinton. She is indeed a very intelligent and accomplished woman. However, she is not without her share of political controversy. The country has been polarized for close to 16 years now no small thanks to her husband and to the current President. It does not need another four or eight years of polarization that could result from another Clinton presidency.
Mr. Romney was taken out as an option too. Though his strengths are in his grasp of economic issues, he has changed his stand on political issues such as immigration and abortion quite a number of times that one is left to wonder where he really stands on those. Contrast that to Mr. McCain. One may find one's self agreeing or disagreeing with Mr. McCain on certain issues. However, the one great thing about Mr. McCain is his consistency in his views. One would always have a clear idea on where he stands.
Like millions of other people in this part of the world, I'm leaving work in about an hour to head to the polling station near my home and exercise my civic duty. The polls will then close at 8 p.m. A couple of hours after that, both parties should have a very good idea as to who their candidate would be come November.