Inside the Capitol

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Very Unusual Presidential Election

MON, 3-03-08

SANTA FE - This has been the most unusual presidential campaign in a long time, and in many ways, the most unusual in the history of our nation.
It is the first time either a woman or a black has a good chance of becoming our next president. It is the first time in decades that a U.S. senator is likely to become president and that all state governors appear to be out of the race.
This presidential primary also is the first in a long while with neither a president nor vice president in the running. That opens up the contest much more than usual.
And there's another big difference. Religion is playing a major role in this campaign, the biggest role since 1960 when many voters worried that the Vatican would have too great an influence on Jack Kennedy, if he were elected.
This year we have a former Baptist preacher who thinks our constitution should be revised to conform better with the Bible. We have a candidate who had to suspend his campaign because of waning support, in no small part due to distrust of the Mormon Church in some parts of the country. And Barack Obama faces problems because of uneasiness with the possible influence of Islam on his early life.
Former Gov. Mitt Romney delivered a major public address concerning his Mormon faith, attempting to assure Americans that it would not affect his decisions as president. Sen. Obama has made similar assurances.
Mike Huckabee hasn't. He served as governor of Arkansas for over 10 years without his religious beliefs seeming to interfere with running the government. But it makes many uncomfortable to consider a president who doesn't express support for our founding fathers' belief that church and state should be separate.
My biggest personal bewilderment, however, was seeing Gov. Romney have to defend his Mormon faith. I've had numerous Mormon friends during my 70 years in New Mexico and all of them have been fine, upstanding people. I would guess those who are worried about his religious beliefs were people who haven't ever met a Mormon.
Mormons have served as governors, members of Congress and federal officials without their beliefs interfering with their jobs. Tom Udall was New Mexico's attorney general for eight years and northern New Mexicans elected him to Congress five times with seldom, if ever, a mention that he's Mormon. Maybe we in the West are just more broadminded.
Sen. John McCain also presents some differences. He could become our oldest president ever. He also could be one of the few, if not the only, president to win nomination with little support from the base of his party.
The Republican Party's true conservatives never could gain much popular support. Sen. McCain and Gov. Romney claim to be conservatives but their records indicate otherwise.
McCain has built a lead based on his war record, his reputation for straight talk, victories in states that allow independents to vote in either primary, and on support from party leaders.
Which brings us to the subject of superdelegates, that reviled group of party leaders bent on overriding the will of the majority. As I recall from ancient history, back in the early 1970s, Republican and Democrat leaders became concerned about the possibility of the extremes in their parties nominating an unelectable candidate.
Conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats have a history of being more active in their parties' nomination process than do moderates, who wait around until general elections to express their preferences.
The nomination and subsequent sound defeat of Democrat George McGovern, in 1972, convinced both parties they needed a method of assuring they had an electable candidate. So they made elected and appointed party leaders automatic national convention delegates.
It may not be very fair but it surely beats losing a presidential election.

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