A crowded bandwagon of hopefuls
In another fifteen months, the world's eyes will be riveted on the United States to see who the next US President will be. As Obama leaves office after a full eight years of Democratic rule of the presidency, the Republicans will be all out to capture the office they lost to him for two terms in succession. To the Republicans, it is essential to capture the office to establish total control over the government as they already rule the Congress. It is not only to regain control of the White House, but also to demolish the legislations and reforms that Obama had brought about, starting with health care, immigration, and environment, and in foreign policies that curtailed US involvement in foreign wars.
As of now, a full dozen candidates are vying for Republican nomination. Prominent among them are Jeb Bush, brother of former President George Bush, Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, the much talked about billionaire, and Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin. The Governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, the first Indian American to declare Presidential candidacy is also in the running.
The Democratic Party has five candidates up to now who have officially declared that they will run for presidency. The person with most name recognition is Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State, and more famously wife of former President Bill Clinton. Long before she had officially declared her candidacy, Hillary had been hyped by party supporters as the logical presidential candidate. The others who will be contending for winning the delegates include Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont, Martin O'Malley, former Governor of Maryland, and Jim Webb, former Senator from Virginia. But none of them has the same clout and popular appeal as Hillary Clinton.
In this early stage, it is difficult to tell who the final nominee of each party will be, because there is a long process awaiting them. Nomination process for US presidential candidates is rather complex and lengthy. All presidential hopefuls from each party have to go through a series of stages to get the nomination of their respective parties. These include campaigns to win the support of delegates, going through either caucuses or primaries in all fifty states, and then going to the national convention of each party to get the final nomination.
Both major political parties in the United States select their presidential candidates through a process of primary elections or caucuses. However, voters do not directly select presidential nominees in these primaries or caucuses. Instead, they choose delegates from their respective states who will attend a national party convention to nominate a presidential candidate for their party. Delegates are individuals chosen to represent their states at their party conventions prior to a presidential election. The rules for selecting delegates, which are dictated by the parties, can be perplexing - the guidelines vary not only by party, but by state, and sometimes by congressional district.
Primaries are held for most public offices, including the presidency. In a closed primary, voters must declare which party they support and can vote only in that party's primary. In an open primary, voters from any political party can participate. For the presidential race, some states have winner-take-all primaries. That means the candidate with the most votes claims all that state's delegates. Other states award delegates by proportion.
Caucuses are simply meetings, open to all registered voters of the party, in which delegates to the party's national convention are selected. When the caucus begins, the voters in attendance divide themselves into groups according to the candidate they support. At the end of the caucus, party organisers count the voters in each candidate's group and calculate how many delegates to the county convention each candidate has won. The nominee for president is announced at the national party convention of each party held in the summer before the elections.
Summer of 2016 is still one full year away, but the field is crowded and the presidential hopefuls from each party are at campaign meetings around the country, particularly the states which hold early caucuses and primaries to win their delegates. No one knows who will win the Republican nomination as none of the candidates has yet shown a dedicated following like Hillary Clinton among the Democrats.
Of the twelve candidates from the Republican side, currently Jeb Bush is leading the opinion polls, with Donald Trump, Senator Marco Rubio and Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin trailing behind. The other hopefuls are competing with one another at the lower end of the pack. But these poll numbers will change as the election time draws nearer. Some candidates may even withdraw before the primaries if the going is not good for them.
Even though Jeb Bush is at the top of the polls, he has a long battle ahead not only within the party following but also the electorate at large. For the conservatives in the party, he is not conservative enough. Besides, the legacy of his brother credited with two of the most expensive wars in history is not sitting well with a large section of the population. The flamboyant billionaire, Donald Trump, with his ill-advised remarks on Mexican immigrants and other loose lip comments on foreign policy has already proved to be an egocentric candidate and an embarrassment to his party. Marco Rubio is a political green horn, and though he will be attractive to Hispanic voters because of his Cuban origin, his relative inexperience and absence of clout within the party may stand against him. Scott Walker, the firebrand conservative may try to move up with his rhetoric, but he will have to prove his mettle in the coming months.
In the Democratic Party, for now all eyes are on Hillary Clinton, and she is the most likely candidate to win the party's nomination unless something goes seriously wrong either with the ongoing scrutiny of her campaign funds (connection with donations to Clinton Foundation), or something murky about her conduct as Secretary of State over the Libyan embassy fire surfaces again. Otherwise, she really has no contender among the current Democratic nomination hopefuls.
No matter who gets the Republican nomination and whether Hillary Clinton is the final Democratic choice, the ultimate selection of president will be with the American voters. The Republicans' goal is to capture the presidency so that they can have control of both the legislature and the executive. The Democrats will fight hard to retain their hold on the executive to boost their political existence and ensure that the policies of the current president are not whittled away by a Republican president with the help of a cooperative legislature. But the success of the Republicans will not only depend on who they nominate as presidential candidate, but also the voters who have to decide whether they want one party to dominate both executive and the legislature or have a balance of power by dividing control over the two branches.
The writer is a political analyst and commentator.