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Length of US Presidential Campaign Worries Some


Voters in the United States are about halfway through the process of electing a new president. It is the longest campaign in U.S. history, and the longest of any western democracy. It is a trend that may spread worldwide. VOA's Carolyn Presutti takes a look at why.

The date is January 2nd, 1960. Senator John F. Kennedy kicks off his campaign. He announces, "I am announcing today my candidacy for the presidency of the United States."

It was a mere 10 months before the presidential election.

What was thought to be a long campaign for candidates in 1960 is nothing compared to this year's elections.

"We have got a long way to go," said presidential candidate John McCain recently.

U.S. presidential candidates started announcing in December of 2006. The nearly two-year campaign tires some voters. One voter told us, "I just think there are so many people involved, it is so complicated." Another voter said, "It just seems to be getting longer and longer every year. I think it's exhausting for the American public."

And that can lead to low voter turnout, says Brian Darling of the Heritage Foundation. "By the end, by election day, they [voters] just don't really care who wins the presidency."

A lengthy campaign also requires massive amounts of cash. Historian Allan Lichtman adds, "You now have to spend literally over $100 million to be a credible presidential candidate, just in the primaries."

The longer the campaign, the more negativity among front-runners.

Yet another voter says, "I think it is a little too long, just the bickering and arguing back and forth."

Rhetoric such as this:
Senator Barack Obama, a Democrat presidential candidate said in a debate: "What you just repeated here today is patent lies.
Senator Hillary Clinton, the leading Democrat presidential candidate: "Wait."
Obama: "No. Hillary, you just spoke for two minutes. I did not say anything about Ronald Reagan."
Clinton: "You said two things."
Obama: "You just spoke for two minutes."
Moderator: "Senators."
Clinton: "I did not talk about Ronald Reagan."
Obama: "Hillary..."

But a lengthy campaign allows voters to thoroughly analyze candidates. America's First Amendment to the Constitution allows freedom of speech, so candidates can say what they want, as early as they want. "We have freedom of expression. There are no limits that can be placed on when campaigns start. So that makes them longer and longer," says Candice Nelson, who is the chair of the department of government at American University.

That is not the case globally. Stephen Harper became Canada's prime minister in less than two weeks. In France, elections took three months. And just six days later Jacques Chirac left the Elysee Palace in the hands of his successor, Nicholas Sarkozy.

Late last year, Australians elected the Labor Party and their leader Kevin Rudd after what one blogger termed a "marathon six-week campaign."

Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute says everyone should get accustomed to longer political battles. Rather than America reverting back to shorter campaigns, longer campaigns are a global trend. "Now that you have 500 cable channels almost everywhere you turn and no longer have government-controlled media, you cannot stop people from communicating in different ways, mobilizing early, and issue ads aimed at a political process."

"We are in it for the long run," says Senator Clinton.

And the long run for America's presidential candidates right now is 10 months until Election Day. That is the same amount of time John Kennedy used to win his presidency.

Video Courtesy: Black and white video courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation

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