This year’s presidential race has captured the imagination not only of American voters but also of people outside the United States. The 2008 election is the first in 50 years where no incumbent – neither a President nor a Vice President – is running. And it is the first time that either a woman or an African-American is a serious contender.
At the outset, it was a campaign that defied easy predictions. It looked as if the war in Iraq would be the leading issue, but the sad state of the economy has eclipsed it. In the Republican race, Senator John McCain of Arizona came from behind to trounce the presumptive front-runner, former New York mayor Rudy Guiliani.
On the Democratic side, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York appeared to be the front-runner early in the campaign, but Senator Barack Obama of Illinois seems to have overtaken her, even in the all-important delegate count. Over the past week, he won all eight Democratic contests, scoring decisive primary victories in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC. But suspense is still high because some of the biggest states, such as Texas and Ohio, have not yet held their primaries.
America’s friends and critics abroad are caught up in the excitement of the presidential race as well. Douglas Okwach, associate news editor of the East African Standard in Nairobi, tells Judith Latham, host of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, that Kenyans are traditionally interested in the outcome of U.S. elections, but this year’s race for the Democratic nomination has a special dimension. That’s because Barack Obama has his roots in Kenya, where his late father was born. People in Kenya hope it means that Mr. Obama will have a “better understanding” of African issues. As Kenya was plunged into violence following its own presidential election last month, Senator Obama told VOA that he was “deeply troubled” for the Kenyan people and for democracy, and he pled for a “peaceful resolution” to the crisis.
Nadia Bilbassy, diplomatic correspondent for Al-Arabiya television, says there is also great excitement in the Middle East over the American presidential race. Ms. Bilbassy says she was in Illinois last week covering “Super Tuesday,” the day when voters from 22 of the 50 U.S. states chose their preferred candidate for each party. Among Arab-Americans especially, there was real fascination with Barach Obama, she says, and – if he is elected president – it will speak volumes, not only about him but also about America. Ms. Bilbassy says it means that America is “ready to elect someone who comes from a background anyone can identity with” – the son of an immigrant, a child of divorced parents, who makes it to Harvard University, becomes a state senator, a U.S. Senator, and the “first viable African-American candidate.”
People in France view Senator Obama in a similar light, says Corine Lesnes, Washington correspondent for Le Monde, and they see him as a “post-racial figure that transcends race.” They are also impressed with Senator Clinton, who would be the first woman president. But, the French are most concerned about ending the Iraq war, so they would prefer a Democrat in the White House, Ms. Lesnes says.
Of course, the war in Iraq also resonates with people in the Arab world, Nadia Bilbassy says. Many Iraqis, for example, don’t want U.S. troops to withdraw so it is “probably in their interest to have a Republican as president.” And that favors the Republican front-runner, John McCain, who strongly supports Washington’s current policy in Iraq. But elsewhere in the Arab world, Ms. Bilbassy says, President Bush’s popularity is “extremely low,” and they are looking for a “new way that America deals with the complicated issues in the Middle East,” including Israel, Palestine, Iran, Syria, and the war on terror. And, among Arabs who are eager to see a change in U.S. foreign policy, she adds, Barack Obama is a “favorite.”
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