Columns » Max Brantley

A straw poll

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There are at least 20 people who want to be elected president 628 days from the day this column was published, an election that will be different from any other in my experience.

Some historians say it’s because it’s the first election since 1928 without an incumbent president or vice president on the ticket. That year, Republican Herbert Hoover defeated Democrat Al Smith, who would have had Arkansas Sen. Joe T. Robinson as his vice president.

Hoover had never run for any office, although he had been appointed secretary of commerce. His supporters attacked Smith for being a Catholic and he was opposed to prohibition, two things that made some southern Democrats vote for Republican Hoover. Even the Ku Klux Klan was for Hoover.

So the 2008 election will be strange. Texas and some other states plan on voting for nominees Feb. 5, nine months before the election. Billions of dollars will be spent for a campaign this long.

Arkansas has at least two potential contenders — Republican Mike Huckabee, our ex-governor, and our former governor’s wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, Democrat.

I wrote a list of eight Democrats and nine Republicans and put them on paper ballots. I then gave the ballots to 61 Arkansas people — men, women, whites and blacks. Most of them were people I know — people who are from 35 to 77, intelligent, newspaper readers, regular voters and are Republicans and Democrats. All but a few live in Little Rock or North Little Rock.

The results:

• Sen. Hillary Clinton (D), 13 votes — 7 women, 6 men.

Rudolph Giuliani (R), 11 votes — 4 women, 7 men.

• Sen. Barack Obama (D), 10 votes — 8 women, 2 men.

• Sen. John McCain (R), 8 votes — 1 woman, 7 men.

• Mike Huckabee (R), 5 votes — 1 woman, 4 men.

• John Edwards (D), 5 votes — 1 woman, 4 men.

• Al Gore, former vice president (D), 4 votes — 4 women, 0 men.

• Two men voted for Newt Gingrich (R) and two other men voted for Bill Richardson (D).

I wasn’t surprised that most of the people said they would vote for Hillary Clinton. She’s a smart woman who did a lot of good things in Arkansas when her husband was governor. Bill Clinton was a good governor. I groan when I hear someone say Hillary shouldn’t be president because her husband had an affair with a female in the White House, as if he were the first White House tenant to ever do so.

It’s probably not surprising that so many liked Obama and Giuliani. Obama is exciting in his speeches and shows his knowledge. Giuliani was hailed throughout the world for the fine way he kept the city of New York operating after two hijacked airplanes plunged into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Gallup’s polls say that now 34 percent of people are Democrats, and 31 are Republicans and another 34 percent call themselves independents. Four years ago 26 percent of people called themselves liberals, while 27 percent were conservatives. Now, 32 percent are liberals and 23 percent believe they are conservatives.

So who’s to win next year? Frankly, right now I am more troubled by the unlimited money being spent to run for president and that the two parties are arranging things so that they will have elected their nominees eight months before the people will get to vote.

Max Brantley’s column will return next week.

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