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Presidential politics 101: Tired yet?

Guest Post from Michelle Leonard:

“Democracy is being allowed to vote for the candidate you dislike least.” —Robert Byrne

Are you a political junkie? Answer these questions to find out: Do you watch the televised presidential debates and analyze the pundits as you follow the ticker with the latest poll numbers? Do your children know who is running for president? Do you recognize Fred Thompson as a lackluster Republican candidate or an actor on “Law and Order”? Do you prefer “American Idol” or “American Morning”?

Don’t worry if you can’t tell a donkey from an elephant. Even if you only have a nascent interest in presidential politics, this would be the year to dive in. Election year 2008 offers something for everyone in this long road to the White House.

Perhaps this presidential race has attracted your attention because it offers candidates of your gender or religion — or maybe because Oprah Winfrey is supporting one. Or, possibly the writers’ strike has made C-SPAN more like “Must-See TV.” Whatever the reason, here’s the need-to-know on the Year of the Politicos:

The candidates.

Just like “American Idol,” the presidential race is more than a beauty contest. Instead of three tough judges and a raucous crowd, Republican and Democratic candidates are competing state-by-state for votes in these “semifinals” — narrowing down to two candidates who will become their party’s nominee for the final election in November. Candidates in this historic election include a woman, Senator Hillary Clinton; an African-American, Senator Barack Obama; a Mormon, Governor Mitt Romney; a Baptist minister, Governor Mike Huckabee; and a war hero Senator John McCain.

The caucus.

The building blocks of American politics are small gatherings at libraries and schools where people state out loud the candidate they vote for. Think of it as a Pampered Chef party for politics. Unique rules allow participants to debate and change votes for the final tally, if they wish. This is what McCain voters were instructed to do in West Virginia, which led to a victory for Huckabee. We’ll leave the complex calculating of caucus delegate totals to the professionals, as each party determines the numbers differently. Only a handful of states have caucuses, as most have primary elections.

The primary.

This is not a room full of children, but a state election where registered voters cast their ballots. Each state has different rules as to who can vote in the primary election. For example, Florida was a closed primary and only registered Republicans could vote Republican. Utah’s primary was on Super Tuesday, February 5, so-named because it was the largest day of primary races, with 24 states holding elections. (Utah’s winners: Romney and Obama.) Both Clinton and Huckabee did better than expected, although the leads remain with Obama and McCain.

Delegates and superdelegates.

The candidate who wins has the most votes — delegate votes, that is. Delegates are awarded based on a proportion of the state’s popular, or population vote, or on a winner-take-all basis. The magic number of delegates to win the nomination for Democrats is 2,025 and 1,191 for Republicans. McCain’s lead in delegate votes makes him the front-runner, if not the nominee for Republicans. The Democrats’ race is too close to call. Superdelegates are people within the Democratic and Republican party leadership that can vote for who they want regardless of how their citizens vote. Rarely do superdelegates play a role, except in tight races — watch for this, as Clinton has the advantage in superdelegates.

The pundits.

Like the snarky judge Simon, pundits can be entertaining — or annoying — but even they often get it wrong. With a little reading and effort, you can prognosticate with the best of them.
Whatever your interest this election, there are resources to answer your political questions. If you haven’t registered to vote, it’s not too late for the November election. Go to www.vote411.com or contact your local county recorder more information. And get some rest; it’s a long time until November.

Contributed by Wasatch Woman Magazine March/April 2008

Michelle Leonard is a freelance writer and public relations consultant. She lives in Orem with her husband and their three children.

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